Four cardinals

March 7, 2010

Four cardinals
beat as one
grace knotty limbs behind me
no song forthcoming yet.

But today smells like change:
sniff April in the muddy grass
push past one last soiled snowpatch
that four cardinals ignore.

Four cardinals.
Thunder growls.
An eastern breeze.
A bloody footprint.

Winter’s hurt will soon fade
in the light of a new season
and four cardinals
pray as one.


Enough (a fiction romance)

January 31, 2010

Macy’s receipts and postcards,
dim snapshots and bar fliers,
torn train stubs and bad poems:
tangible remnants
of the intangible.
The never was, the never will be.
Promises never made need never be kept.

What kind of fool am I?



September 26, 2009

I have ridden this train before. I have taken the Lake Shore Limited many times
from Toledo to New York City. Usually I have had to ride coach all the way, trying to
sleep sitting up with my jacket rolled up as a pillow beneath my head and my back
turned to whoever is sitting beside me. If I am lucky, I have both seats to myself and am
able to curl up with my knees against the adjoining back cushion, my feet occasionally
slipping off onto the floor as deeper slumber claims my consciousness.

Every once in a blue moon, though, I am flush enough to have my own tiny
sleeper compartment for the duration of the journey. This is one of those times.

I am enjoying the solitude of my mobile cocoon as we pull into the Erie station.
I am well familiar with the drill by now; this is where the engine will be serviced before
our travel continues. In general we remain primarily immobile in Erie for anywhere
from half an hour to about fifty minutes, depending on the locomotive’s condition. But
throughout the course of the maintenance, the train will be activated and halted again,
moving forward a few feet, a few yards, to monitor its progress. This is the part of the
stay that interests me the most, but as I am in a sleeper in one of the last cars, it will be
a while until I need to look out the window. So for the time being I return my full
attention to Jane Austen and the travails of the Dashwood sisters as Secrets of the
unfold in my ears.

In the meantime, the train has shuddered to a start and stop several times.
Finally, I look up to see that we have cleared the station and it is time for me to pay
heed to my outer surroundings again. Every time I have traveled this route, I have
been fascinated by this same scene. It is a neighborhood of small wooden frame
houses of varying colors, mostly faded from the elements, at least this is so for
those in my line of sight. I have always wondered about the inhabitants of these
homes, how they manage to live so near to the tracks and the almost constant noise
of the trains, the way the motion must surely shake the diminutive structures to
their foundations. I imagine a person grows accustomed to this with time and
necessity. I have grown used to my own figurative Amtraks for the same reasons.
It’s amazing, the length and limits of what a human being may be forced to bear,
isn’t it?

Suddenly a movement from the second closest house catches my eye.
This is the first time I have ever seen a sign of life emanating from this little cluster
of buildings; I am curious to see who calls this particular, tannish edifice “home”.
Even though the music does not affect my vision, still I remove my earphones and
press my face against the window.

A woman with blonde-streaked brown hair pulled back into a ponytail
apparently more for convenience than fashion has stepped out onto her back stoop.
I can’t see too clearly, but from my less than ideal vantage point, she looks to be
early thirtiesish, a slender figure clad in a white t-shirt and jeans. She lights up
a cigarette and sits down on the stoop. Now I really have to crane my neck to keep
her in my perspective.

After a minute or two, during which she occasionally smokes and seems
otherwise lost in thought, the screen door behind her opens and a little boy comes
bounding out. He is sandy-haired, about four I guess, and dressed identically to the
woman. He races out into the yard (your basic generic yard except for an empty
clothesline and what I assume must be a tool shed of sorts), bursting with the kind of
energy you can only have at that age, when everything in life still is so fresh and feels
like an adventure. I remember that feeling, I think. The woman (his mother?) seems
to remember too; she smiles as she inhales on her cigarette (Camel? Marlboro?). I can’t
see very well, but I imagine that her eyes indicate she has entered a different mental
scenario altogether. What is she thinking? Is she recalling a happy childhood memory
or a more recent encounter with a loved one? Or is she simply ruminating on a favorite
television program, or plans to lunch with a special friend later in the week? It can be
anything, I suppose, but whatever it is must be pleasing. She is smiling and smoking as
the boy bounces tirelessly around in the yard. From my point of view it appears as if he
is pretending to be a horse. I used to do that too.

Just then the gears shift on the train and we jerk forward once again, but now
the engine remains running and I sense we are about to depart. At the exact same
moment, the boy has headed towards the tracks; he is still what looks like a safe
distance away when the engine’s racket snaps the woman out of her reverie and she
focuses on the straying child. Quickly she stands up and shouts something to him that
I cannot hear, but I have an idea what it must be. Inside my compartment, I too am
telling the boy to retreat to the refuge of the yard; it is a big scary world once you reach
the tracks and he needs to stay sheltered for now. There will be plenty of time for him
to cross the tracks later. Of course my words go unheard, even by myself.

The boy obediently turns back towards the house. The woman drops her
cigarette and crushed it on the stoop with her sneakered foot. Then she looks up again
as she holds the door open for the child and I could swear our eyes meet for just an
instant. But in fact the sunlight reflecting on my window glass is likely what has caught
her attention. She turns and follows the boy inside the house, closing the door to their
world behind them.

Meanwhile, the train beings to move ahead slowly and gradually picks up speed
as the station and the cluster of slightly weathered homes remain fixed behind. For
a few minutes I continue to sit with my face pressed against the glass, the passing
scenery escaping my notice as I ponder what the woman and boy may be doing at this
moment. Possibly she is fixing them both lunch as he sits in front of the TV with his
Matchbox cars: peanut butter and jelly on white, no crusts, for him and a carton of
blueberry yogurt for herself. Or maybe she is having PBJ as well? In the end it doesn’t
matter, not to me anyway.

Clouds are beginning to form in the temporal sky outside and the residents of the
second house near the Erie tracks are fading from my mind as rapidly as the fleeting
miles below us. I put my earphones back on and David Sylvian’s voice fills my head as
I open the book on my lap again and pick up where I left off a short while ago. Soon
thoughts of Manhattan will be consuming me, but for now all is as it should be.

Last stop (gengaku)

September 7, 2009

Immobile in time I

watch you grow ever distant.

Memories recede in

another inclination.

My heart is shattered glass

resounding in my ribcage,

synched with your far engines.

You are just a shadow now,

slipping through my fingers

rather like misty mountains

on the train to Oban.

Patient (a very short story)

September 5, 2009

Outside it looked like a perfectly ordinary day. The sun was streaming through the branches of the oak trees beside the window; she watched the reflected light and shadows tango on the carpet, wall and furniture before her. She noted how, gradually, the said light and shadows moved as the sun crept higher in the heavens. People passed by on occasion, in car or by foot, apparently not paying heed to the immaculate sky, the warm spring tinge to the air, that lovely intangible scent and feel that the air gets when winter has finally shut down for another year and the new season brings the world back to life.

The Beatles sang that all we need is love as she thought of another spring day not so long ago. On this day, there were clouds, lots of them, dark ones that hovered low and thunder rumbled distantly. She was enroute to meet a friend at their favorite café for lunch and decided to take a shortcut through the park to hopefully beat the rain. While crossing the grassy expanse between the pavilion and the playground, something caught her eye and she stopped, knelt down for closer examination. It was a four leaf clover, wasn’t it? She had always hoped to find one but never really thought it actually existed. Automatically she reached for it, pulled it out by its roots…only to find that the fourth leaf had been an illusion created by her own mind or the grass beside it. Before she could react, she felt the first raindrops hit the back of her neck, quickly joined by many more. Standing quickly, the three leaf clover dropped from her fingers as she pulled her jacket over her head and began to run, imagining herself darting between the bullets of rain that now fell liberally and smashed on the ground below. In her wake, the clover landed near its plucking place, already forgotten, waiting for the next person who might mistake it for something magical before it died.

As The Beatles gave way to an anonymous female singing of lost romance, she watched the shadows dancing on the Manet print beside the black metal floor lamp and tried not to dwell on the what ifs, the maybes. Suddenly another memory filled her mind. She must have been ten years old and it was January, not April. She was trying out the brand new ice skates she had received for Christmas and she was doing so on the small pond two blocks from home. She was too shy to let her friends at the rink see her in her beginning stages on ice, so alone she ventured to the pond, sat in the snow to lace up her new white Riedells and then, very carefully, stood up on the edge of the ice. Tentatively she tiptoed out until she felt safe enough to put her feet down and take that first skating step. She thought she heard the ice groaning and creaking below; she worried that it might give way, so she kept to the sides of the pond as she relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of moving on the blades, her arms extended for balance. Eventually she stopped concentrating, losing herself in the cold wind hitting her back and imagining herself being propelled along like a kite. It was then that she caught her toe on the ice and sprawled headlong on the frozen water, banging her chin, biting her tongue and tearing a hole in her Christmas snow pants in the process. Tears freezing to her cheeks, the taste of blood in her mouth, chin and knee aching, she crawled back to the snowbank and removed her new skates. At least I didn’t fall in, she reasoned from her current vantage point, as the memory of her younger self limping home, torn and raw, receded into the distance as the sun rose higher in the sky outside the window.

Restless now, she wondered how long it would be as she glanced at her watch for the nth time and shifted in her chair, recrossing her right leg. She caught the eye of an elderly woman in a blue linen shirt and trousers sitting across the room; the woman smiled blandly and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation and comradeship before turning her attention back to her book. Meanwhile, the small boy in blue jeans and dirty sneakers crossed his eyes at her before turning around and attempting to stand on his head in the chair beside the oblivious older woman.

The song playing now was new to her but soothing to her ears and spirit. She began to relax in her seat as the piano and gentle harmonies seemed to leap out of the speakers and Norah Jones et al. played before her. A familiar hand was taking hers and gently pulling her to her feet. All of a sudden she was dancing with him again, this special person whom she never expected to see again after that ugly, hateful night last year. Bitterness ebbed, only to be replaced by peace and that feeling of rightness that only love can bring. Seamlessly they moved together in the natural way they always had done…her head fit so comfortably into the crevice of his shoulder and neck. Just as she was about to speak, though, ask him if he was back for good…the song ended and she found herself sitting where she had been all along: no Norah Jones, no piano, no lover. She blinked back tears and looked at her watch again. Tick tock tick tock tick tock….the girl jumped off the dock…the band knew how to rock…I need to mend a sock…I’m going into shock. No, he wouldn’t be back, and that’s fine. Life moves on. There’s no time for corny reveries or might have beens. There is just now, and that might be all there ever is.

Somewhere nearby a phone rang but by now she was unsure if it was inside or outside her mind.

When the door opened and the nurse beckoned to her, she stood, setting aside the unopened People magazine, and as she left the waiting area for the examination room, she thought of three leaf clovers and scabbed chins and knees, the marks of a survivor who was just lucky enough. So far, anyway.