26 November 2017

sorry, jesus, for letting you down

sorry jesus for letting you down
when the world turned voracious
on the teeth of dishonesty
cruelty and love proclaimed
behind hands with fingers crossed
the heart you bestowed broke
finally it could take no more
in a sidereal year of midnight
lit by prayer's occasional flare
it beat its last pulse of goodness
expiring on a bed soft as arctic brine
tasting of tears, bitter vintage
from the remains of broken dreams
the sleeper once attempted
to build in a promised garden
only to unearth the lie of love

19 November 2017

Addendum to the Road Not Taken (Ghosts)

The road was embraced with melancholy and longing, getting back to another version of home. Freshly scrubbed sky of Virginia blue tinging everything in sight under the watery sun. A split between heart and head throbbed heavily under a breastbone shielding lungs that struggled to draw enough air. Leaving, arriving, restless.

I picked the bigger road partly because it was faster. More impersonal. I could find a place of branded anonymity in which to eat. A place to be in the crowd but not of the crowd. In short, I could avoid interaction without being alone.

Craving company to fight off the loneliness but lacking energy to be a good companion: this will be my doom.

Saltwater flows in my veins alongside the blood. Riverine tides with estuary ebb and flow pull on my heart wherever I go. Yet that in part prompted me to avoid the scenic route. It ran too close to the water. Earlier that morning, I had shivered awake from unsettling dreams of the ocean and the night. Whimpering turning into a sharp intake of breath.

I had fallen or was pushed from a ship, the bulk of which I spied receding in the distance. The blood-tinged orange sun was nearly down. Stars were coming out and cool wind ruffled the water. I trod water while contemplating a death by drowning.

I knew for certain, under that deep indigo sky, that the ship was not coming back. My unsettled mind swore it heard laughter floating over the water. It saddened me to no end that this laughter might be the last human sound I ever heard. A hard scrubbing in a hot shower eradicated the uneasiness.

I pushed some breakfast down on a jittery stomach. It refused to hold still. Sheer willpower kept it in place, which braced me for the drive. Lunch would be somewhere on the road for sure.

So it was that the car brought me to the decision point. Highway or byway? My heart already knew the answer. My head had abdicated responsibility a long time ago. It was to be the highway, and not only for the reasons set forth earlier in this ramble.

A bigger, more poignant reason was I just could not bear the thought that the quieter scenic road would bring to my eyes a lone boat on a river, or a solitary duck winging through a November sky filled with the whispers of all the losses I endured in the past year. Those avatars of loneliness would have broken me down in tears, and I did not want to besmirch with such emissions a landscape so beholden to my heart. 

Fall and winter in the tidewater holds a bittersweet beauty of its own. One best contemplated without a heavy heart and weary psyche. That Sunday drive would be on the fast road, the anonymous road, where I could eat surrounded by cacophonous isolation and be grateful for a crowd that would help me pull the curtains on the road not taken.

I did not take that road on the return. The usual route back to Maryland, small towns and browning leaves by the rivers crossed in the light of a sun in repose. Ghosts were whispering to me to visit them. I confess that on this trip, I was a coward. There would be no conclave with the undead.

It was no fault of the season. Nor fault of the rivers. I adore fall upon the estuaries. Water has its own magnetism. The pull is strong upon my heart, no matter what time of year. The promise of sunlight on rippled wavelets, geese creating flying V's in the November air, or even the culinary tug of fried oysters in a small town family restaurant, these are all grand things.

But when pewter skies and soul weariness grip the eye and the heart, the barrier between sighs and tears thins too much.

12 November 2017

Awake By the Sea of Dreams

My right arm woke me up. I was dreaming. Bad dreaming. Fighting things I could not clearly see, I flailed and screamed in desperation. Clenched fist on the end of a swinging arm. In the real world my arm spasmed. My fingers smashed into a pencil cup crammed with pens and a small crafting knife. The pens spilled over the desk in muted tintinnabulation. The cup itself clattered like a cowbell against the steel sash of the window, ricocheting into my chest as I flung my self up and awake. The world swam into focus.

“Where am I?” I croaked. It was nearly dark except for lamplight and a gauzy moon rising over the headland. My face was wet on one side.

My hands shook. I raised the left one to my left cheek. It felt hot and damp. And flat. I had been sleeping, head down on the desk. The dampness turned out to be drool, confirmed by the wet patch on the note paper in front of me.

Night. No idea how late, or how early. The sea groaned and boomed down on the tide line. Breeze, salty and cool, blew softly through the open casements facing the beach. The fire I had lain hours ago was down to dull embers. Red patches like the eyes of spiders crouching in the firebox. Faint yellow rays leaked from the lantern perched at the end of the desk. Something told me it was in need of fuel.

I decided it could wait. My heart was still racing. Phantoms were fading from my mind. Shivering, anxious, I found myself with no desire to recall what they had been. Not now.

I looked around the cottage. Nothing unusual could I see. The louvers on the west side were in place. I remembered adjusting them earlier before I sat down to write. The fading sun had been a bit much, then. The door was still closed. Locked, too, from what I could see.

Turning back to the water I could make out some profiles in the weak moonlight glow. Clumps of seaweed on the beach. The curl of breakers, with faint phosphorescent edges, sliding up the beach. A dark blocky shape on the horizon, small and indistinct. Pinpoints of light wavered on the swell. A freighter, maybe? Bulk carrier? No way to tell. The shape momentarily disappeared, dipping I thought below the horizon. Fog might be gathering out there. Or heavy chop. The wind was picking up.

I shivered again. Manannan stirred, I could feel it in the thrum of the waves hitting the sand. How long I had been asleep, there was no way to know. I had no clear recollection of what I had done between arriving at the cottage earlier in the day and when I sat down to write. Except dinner. Dinner had been a hasty affair of roasted fish and day old cornbread washed down with tepid tea. Then I sat at the desk to write. I had hoped to cast off the jumbled emotions and stresses of the previous week.

The cottage is good for that sort of thing. To my chagrin it is not without failure now and then. Tonight had been less than a success.

A sharp puff of wind hit my face. The cool, briny air perked me up. With a napkin I wiped my face. The simple action brought my pulse down further. Anxiety receded not unlike the wavelets down the strand. The bad dream was dissolving like mist. The walls of the cottage lit up, brilliant white in the beam of the lighthouse up on the head.

Day bloomed briefly to sparkle on the disarray of pens strewn across the desk. I began to corral the pens into the cup. The crafting knife had lodged itself point first in the bead board paneling. I tugged gently to free it. It was then I noticed writing scrawled across the top sheet of paper. The light flared, was gone.

So. I must have written something. Not much from the looks of it, although the remaining light was too dim to make out what I had jotted down. I put the pens and the knife in the cup. In the shadows I sat breathing slowly for a few minutes. For some reason I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I had written. The lighthouse beam pulsed and flared. I did not look down. My interest had attached itself to the ship or whatever it was out there on the horizon. I watched until the sea or fog or who knows what made it disappear.

I reached for the lantern. Turning up the wick, a pool of yellow light spilled across my desk. Leaning forward I could make out my spidery scrawl, dark blue ink tracking across the cream of the paper, curling slightly from damp and spit. There were two sentences written there. Terse, compact, brittle in the lamplight.

“In the battle for self-worth being your own worst enemy is a guaranteed path to defeat. In this arena, I exist to be rejected.”

I don’t know what surprised me more, the deep cuts of the words or the sudden tightening of throat and moistening of eye that stole over me. Head in my hands, the cottage dimmed in a swirl of emotions that took my breath away. The events of the week bowled me over. No amount of speed or finesse was going to take me from their path.

This explained the dreams. The shadows in the cave of the head and the heart. Fighting things I could not describe except through the dread and pain they laid upon my desperate soul. Well-mannered ghouls plucking at the flesh. The flesh itself recoiling and quivering as it sought escape.

I rocked back and forth until my breath was under control. The cool damp had made its way into my bones. The ghost of William Faulkner whispered in my ear “A man always falls back upon what he knows best in a crisis—the murderer upon murder, the thief thieving, the liar lying.” I had no plans to kill, steal, or lie, but what I was going to do was make a pot of tea. Warmth would help, Tea would have to do for warmth, as there was no one with me to offer theirs.

And probably wouldn’t be, pessimism congealing in my heart. I picked up the paper. The fire would need stoking. My hands ripped the paper into strips. The dry scrape of it abraded my heart. Leaning into the fireplace, I blew on the embers while casting about for the poker. A few thrusts of the cast iron, a few breaths, and the embers glowed as if eager to burn the past. The present. Telling omens for the future.

I cast the ragged strips into the coals. They writhed and curled and burst into flames as I watched. Shadows danced over my face and the walls. I fetched the teapot from the mantel as the paper swiftly burned down to ashes. Out past the eastern windows the Sea of Dreams muttered and moaned, waiting for me fall asleep once again.

05 November 2017


Joyful spires built on foundations
laid in bright white gold sunlight
Under a sky of ecstatic blue
growing as fast as hands
could pour the shells and quartz
Into the molds formed patiently
by eager heads and hearts
Gadding about in a newborn day
Made just for them, by them,
glistening eyes so blinded by glow
the proximity to the waves
was overlooked and unheeded
Until the sea swirled in, uninvited,
swiftly swallowing the hope
that grew along the tideline
Swept out into the breakers
leaving only marks below
a surface bearing bruised
memories that once knew
the secret at the heart of the world