Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hidden in this Picture

Here is your introduction.
Each part was written as an experiment of telling a story in three paragraphs based around an antique store-bought photo. I dug through a bin and selected twelve. If the colors of the 1980's are brown and yellow (and often mid-ocean blue) then the color of these photos are faded greys and blacks, creams that used to be whites. Some show stains by neglectful coffee drinkers. But you can see more lines than colors and , hopefully, you can see movement. You'll see streaks of light and duplications. You'll want to attribute them to the camera, but it's all in the shot. Some hang just out of the frame. Broken halos and weary travelers, rich men, workers, birds, bears, and dogs. And it's all been taken care of because each one is a part of the past. The young soldiers have been trained and branches have grown. No ones coming after you for the memories. No matter how strong the images are, they fade. They fade into comfort. They make it to the page when they are ready. Some won't but there isn't an interlocking story. I tried for a feel but they were all experiments in style. Forgive me for the mess.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Pond Not Shallow

(Part 12 of Hidden in this Picture)

I let the dirt stain my heels one day after another, keeping my eyes on the drive and an ear out for calls to come home. I stand shoulders braced and back arched to the wind. Was that a bear? No, just the shape of the wood 'cause there is no longer any sky and the lack of light makes my morning path sinister. I feel the animals all around me but I see no one. They don't avoid the snapping twigs that sneak under my feet and slide against the shifting gravel but push through blurring my eyes with their low paths and hidden movement. The house is far out of sight and the voices will not reach me.

Drip drip down to the water. The sun won't shine in the sky but still brushes along the top of the pond. I drop my stick deep down through the ringed shadow 'til it hits the floor. Pants roll up accordingly and I hesitate, one foot at a time, water rising to the hair along my ankles and my toes push me out again. I try to reach the light against the far part of the lake but it's too deep even with my jeans touching the surface and though I'm used to the cold, I can't make my limbs move forward. I turn my back to the orange of the light, to the branch hanging over where I pocket-knived my own strand of red hair as you slept in its shade. I remember the pale and freckles attracting spiders, the sudden jump and screams falling into brushed off giggles in the picnic afternoon. I remember the warmth of the breath as you dug your face into the wool of my shirt, resting your head on my shoulder.

The light fades fast from the water, not from the trees. I lose my shirt to dry my feet then wrap it around my waist. The rope won't hold from the summer's heat, but I found the roots and a knot, then a hand on a branch and another. Trees grow deeper and taller next to water and this one shoots deep into the sky, clouds cover without light except the red lining, shining long past my sight. The further I climb the closer it comes. I can see your old rooftop and mine, where they sit together. Now the old ranch-hand moved in with his wife who makes pitchers of tea for my mother but nothing for me. No longer your two dogs and swinging high on the porch but cats sneaking under my fence, the path you used to palm. I think I hear the sound of your folk's old truck 'til I hear my dad's voice, "Climb down and come home."

Little Girls Crossed Legs and Arms

(Part 1 of Hidden in this Picture)

At the neck starts the shadow - the leaves on the tree and the shade on the panels - but they start from the waist down. There are two of each -two, two and two - little girls crossed legs and arms. All hold hanker chiefs, one on each head, another wrapped around their fingers. One head turns and then two look bored but the lights are stretched tight the time that it counts. Shinbones stick out of a field of cabbages and boney knees show, because it's hard not to kneel when you are building fences. They swore they would help if I bought them boots and new jeans and we would stop when the wind turned. So we put down the bricks 'cause they mark the ground to where the fence should lay. Truth is, they're not fences, they're raised flower beds for the soot and the rain and the soil.

I use the hammer and one holds the post. Flinch. The first drop hits my neck but she doesn't notice. The second has her head in a book and the third, asleep at a knee. At the second drop, all eyes look up. My wife calls from the corner and they run with covered heads and words and inks that drip. I pick the hanker chief left hanging from a pocket and wipe my face. Closed eyes, beads fill my skin. Flowers won't be here 'til spring and the trees won't bear fruit for years. "You are coming back when we plant the roses."

The splinters are from the chair. It's just not ready.
"The flowers look good." We throw the bad fruit out in the front of the morning and carry the rest up to the house in the basket. "Some of it's not ripe yet." I twist and turn with sand paper in hand. Just one pair of mud boots by the door now, two umbrellas. The last arrives in the morning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Man Stood Rocked in Snow

(Part 4 of Hidden in this Picture)

A trudge and a trudge as he walks along fallen flakes in the wood - boots up to his knees, pack on back - but he walks with confidence. The sound of the warden's voice still stung in his ears but he pushed on through the snow. An old con job got him his clothes, cash in hand at the grocers, then next door for supplies. "Could you tell me how to reach the state line?" He looked up as he slipped on his boots. "Which way you going? North or south?" South held more sirens and sniffing hounds so he headed up to the border cross - ten miles of snow and forest. "Men like you try it everyday." Salted pork from the grocer and a scarf from the supply shop. The snow didn't flake, only landed as dust on his head and pounded his ears while the wind tunneled up and of the coming trees. This was the end of the clearing but the trees were the path out.

The cold ached in his bones. He wished he had a hat instead of a fist full of green that he scattered at the foot of the forest trees. The money was supposed to get him somewhere warm but now it wasn't worth it. He thought of getting out, walking through deserted streets of town - a bank, a bakery, and finally some lodge to stop into for a drink. Empty of all but an untouched barmaid, just taller than he with soft shoulders, first harsh against his advances, then warmed by his weary story. He thought of the covers of periodicals at the grocers and the women he loved more than anybody and imagined all the stood between them - miles, money, producers and agents, family and the law. He pushed branch against branch, snapping the small in his swollen hands and fought the cold by trying to breathe only warmth by catching the breath that came before it.

He came to the edge of the wood, frosted tear in the corner of each eye, waiting. He could see the town - shop after shop, snow covered street and snowmen stacked around each other. Smoke poured out of a saloon on the closest corner to him. Snow started to fall light on his back as he crouched along the last living shrubs and dumped charred firewood before the clearing. His tongue felt cold against his teeth and he wondered what bar food tasted like. Was it too far back to fish for the singles he had thrown on the forest floor? The snow would have likely salted over them by now. His eyes felt too dry to see them anyways. First, the saloon, then if no one was waiting for him, the deli next door. He twisted against the earth. Sounds of hooves and swears filled the trees silence. He knew the warden and his fleet sat right behind and he could almost feel the cold barrel of the gun against his neck. He stood, stepped out to the street and spilt his blood out onto the ice. It felt warm on his face and his fingers as strangers peeked out of buildings and the gallops grew louder and he was unable to breathe in the warmth from his gasps.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Tree Goes Up Today

Small town, home town sleep in when its cold and the sun is up and out cant quite cut the winter but your quilts protect you with the smell of the closet and detergent - the kind your mother still buys. You look to your left, towards the window at the sun and you see your half-glass of water with a top shell of ice. you look towards the right and see the back of your eyelids as you pull the quilts up, tucking them under your shoulder and stretching out your legs to feel the wood of the foot board as you smell the hair strewn across the pillow next to you. You slide back into sleep thinking about yesterday's rain while you cleared the garage - up in the rafters, pulling down boxes of Christmas ornaments and busted up chairs - so close you can hear it pounding through the shingles inches from your ear. Animals stir and bells ring out lightly enough to guide your dreams. The smell of bacon and eggs makes you taste orange pulp on your lips. The sky is clear. The tree goes up today.

Birdcage Not Quite Centered

(Part 2 of Hidden in this Picture)

"I know it looks white but he's a finch...or a sparrow."

You set the cage on your favorite book, with its broken spine, in the garden. Wood shavings on stone and short sudden movements within the cage. I hear you step - one, two - and see the light go from an open door as the sky slips into darkness and the flower fades from sight. I'm afraid the rats will get him but you say, "There are no rats in the garden." There are cats though, with their chests on the floor and their pawed arms stretched out. You tell me, "Go to bed." From my sheets, I check the window. The cage from up here looks like a cake pan and makes my belly weak and my eyelids soft. I imagine a hop and a chirp from the cage. A bird in the middle of the frame but the cage not quite centered and the cats and the rats and the thin wire bars, the only means of protection.

In the morning the wings moved through sunlight, past the rain, early morning dew filled its feathers, spread out in the opening air. Pants then shoes then the stairs and you - knowing I'll try to perch him on my finger, "He won't stay." I blink and look out the window at the survivor, fighting in the alley between orchids and azaleas. "He is just going to fly off your finger." I swear to keep my hand in the cage. "It doesn't matter," head shrugged, "he's my bird anyway." School prizes never last long and those goldfish won't last a week, but a class room market has eighteen choices. You brought something I made for Mom. Abigail brought feathers and a tail, a beak and movement. He hit his head on the top of the cardboard box and you swore not to open it 'til you got home.

You are older but by only a year and how heavy could cardboard and a bird in flight be? I hold the door, standing in sawdust. He flaps against the walls. Holding up the box, "How much for a cage?" Old white whiskers and ears lean over the counter to see your short voice. "Well, what kind is it? Is it in there?" I shout that its a dove and then, thud, with a box in my chest and a ruffle of feathers. "It's a small one. Ten dollars will do." He disappears slowly then three rise from the floor. "These are mine. They are old but it's what I can give for ten dollars. Which do you like?" The third sat rounded top and swinging perch next to the others boxes. "Let the bird decide." Peanut butter painted perches and a sprinkling of seed - I stood holding the glass door shut when you popped the box and the wings shot towards the door, then the window and then settled along the rafters. I peaked around corners. "Give it a second, He'll come down." You dropped your box to your knees and he glided in from the ceiling into the rounded metal cage, my cage, and stuck beak under wing.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Three Dead Boys

Three boys lay dead in the grass while the rocks block the drive and the cars park along the road. Their sprawling bodies reveal their sock stripes, neglected by limp fingers, waiting to be pulled up around their tightened calves. We look around them for anything of value, anything that that won't look like tampering with the scene. The old man appears from no where an stares. "It's too beautiful a day for crime. The sun is out, trees green, and the breeze pours thru there with ease and delight. Today is no rush." I look to you but you are looking up at him. Grey suit, short white whiskers hanging off his long chin. He peaks down at us without moving his head. "Of course, the night was long. Tricky as they may be." We turn back to the bodies. I've got my kite wrapped around my wrist, you sit on the back of you feet, grassing up your knees. I look back to the old man for answers. He is gone. "Maybe we can get their bill folds," I circle around them trying not to get too close, "and check that pocket for gum."

My hand turns red from waiting. Head rounds my shoulder each car that passes, back straight, hands down to the side. You re still sitting. Hands on knees, breathing like you are smelling - trying to catch the sent of the crime. I beg you to say something. "Coulda been wolves." Only your eyes turn. I look to the grass and circle around them, tough. "Ain't no wolves in this part of the neighborhood. Plus, no tracks on the lawn." I check the lawn silently, and the bushes nearby(only a pile of o bottles), then for marks along their necks. "No marks on them either. Nope not wolves. My best guess is they froze." You get to your knees, tears in your eyes. "Froze?" as you march up to me, "But it's not cold yet." I turn my back and poke the kite into the earth. "You heard the grandpa. 'Night gets long.'" But I'm still not sure.

We creep in close to the bodies and kneel beside them. I watch your open mouth as you lower your ear. Whispering, "This ones breathing." Now I can hear the rattle of breath, cold creeping out of the lungs. "No, no no, no no. The dead can't breathe, plus we called their names." Your sister said the blond one is Jamie and I know the fat one's called "Tuff". You lean over the bodies, "Yeah but we don't know the last ones name." The last one has mouth open, teeth we from dew, reflection from the sun. His cream color pants and crimson sweater look the most worn, torn in the elbow, white shirt with thin red stripes stick through. His eyebrow twitches in the wind. I stand and kick his boot, checking for ice. None fall off, I crane my neck to be sure. "What'd you do that for?" as you're standing. "It's is definitely wet down there, not sure about the ice though. I call this one 'Boots.'"

"Boots! Boots!"
"Hey Boots! ...Hey! ...Are you all dead?"
I told you that I knew they wouldn't answer and circle 'round to my kite, still stuck down in the yawn. My backside hits the ground beside it. I start to untangle my string. You rustle, or the wind rustle behind me. "Shut up with all that racket!" You get quiet, walk towards the gutter. I call after. "Wait, where you going?" Grass in your hand, you turn your head, standing in your boots. "Looking for tadpoles," and turning, start walking. "But, wait. I -- don't you want to wait for them to -- see if they are dead or not." Still walking, shrugging your shoulders. "Wait. What are you going to put them in?" You turn around and run back to me.

"I got just the thing." I get up off the ground and run out to the bushes, you follow. Back down to my knees, sticking my head in, handing out bottles.
"What are you doing there!" I throw out the last bottle and you drop it, turn to the fat policeman. "Where did you get those?" I look at your tears. All but one bottle has slipped to the grass - the last one folded up in your arms. You breathe mostly in. "We are using them to get tadpoles. There's nothing against it." Then you catch your breath to speak, "We didn't kill them. The wolves did. One of them still breathing." The cop slides the bottle out from your arms and guides over to the three bodies.

"What are their names?" His hand on your shoulder. I pointed. "The blond one is Jamie, and he's Tuff and that one's Boots." We watch the hem in his slacks stretch as he kneels beside them."Boy's! Wake up!" They jump, tripping on shoes, choking on breath, and ran as he shook the bottle behind them."You boys sure you don't remember their names?"I try to repeat myself, your stare shining up at me, a tear still in your eye."I'll have to take this with me. You'll have to find something else to catch your tadpoles in."

Those Aren't Silhouettes, They Are Shadows

If I had the whiskey, I wouldn't need the tea. Isn't that what duty-free was created for? I am falling for rug shops in basements and getting robbed around every corner. My best move is to be to push the latch in on this Moroccan door and listen for the calls to prayer, wait for the sun to come up in the morning. The bread is hard and the soup cold. The only thing eatable is this roasted chicken and i'll the coke bottles found in the pharmacy. The medicine man tried to make me buy oil by rubbing it on my temples but I just pointed to the bucket of melted ice and held up two fingers. I'm sure I payed for the oil too. I cut my hand on the cap of the first one. No opener, just the edge of a windowsill and a hard palm. Any other hotel in the world would have kicked me out for the chip I left, but this one adds to the place. Mis-matched sheets and furniture. One light bulb over a stained sink. I wouldn't even call it a hotel if I had the choice. I cant remember any ones name. It doesn't matter. All they bang on about is my money. My best move is to sit here in the dark and wait for the sun to come up over the morning. I'd pack my things but the pen and paper is all I pulled out of my sack all day. My lonely light bulb is making me see silhouettes and the the lock rattles with every breath I take. The key is to keep my hood up and stay under these covers. My wallet stays in my jeans and my jeans stay on my body. They both dig into my hip. I'll loosen my belt and top button but I'll stay zipped up. My jeans get a fresh coat of blood on them each time I remember to wipe off my palm. The pillow gets its fair share too. I'll buy bandages in Spain tomorrow. Ah, Spain tomorrow. For now, I'll lay here, nursing my leaking hand, waiting for sun to come up in the morning.

I pray along with each call even though they make me jump. The sound is shouted out sinister. I turn my head. Mecca is bound to be just out my window. I don't ever get much past, "Dear, oh dear God -" before I dose back off. I guess it is hard for him to give an answer. I wonder if I should have been in church. Any church, old ladies and gospel hymns, death and redemption, a pass of the plate, even if I don't believe it. Maybe then I wouldn't be where I am now. Maybe I'd be home or in southern baptist schools like my brothers. Following father after grandfather. But tradition's not in my blood. Maybe I'd be with someone. Probably the green eyes with the curls. But I have always been better alone. What is it the old men always tell you in donut shops Easter morning? "Women are fine but what you need is adventure." I choke down warm coke and feel my mouth rot. Not only from sugar but from smoke. I miss the water that strengthens teeth. Cupping from my dripping sink only taunts my raw mouth and chapped lips. Still somehow digging out my toothbrush seems like far too much work. It's only six hours til sunrise as is and I've already spent eight here. No time for anything. The call to prayer will be shouted again violently any second now, as soon as I forget to brace myself for it. I'd time it but the light on my watch won't stay on long enough, and moving an inch under these sheets just embraces the cold. They threaten to freeze me to bleeding death. My only chance is to curl up here, try not to make a sound, and wait for the sun coming up in the morning.

I ask my self what Tangier was built on. European traders and horse riding bandits are all that come to mind. They now come to stand, blacking out the light from my persevering bulb, daring me to make my move. I weakly shout out, "Where are all your horses?" My breath only comes in half way and I hold onto it as long as I can before letting it out. The bandits want it but I have to give them as little as I can. I am running out of cash. I don't live in Africa and two weeks is long enough to be homeless. Why did I stretch it to four? I will bolt on the fastest ferry out as soon as the sun comes. If the door is locked I'll scream til it's broke open. If the guides are outside waiting with stories of their children and their promises of trips up the mountain I will jog down the the steep hill to the dirty pier. If they follow I will throw money at them as I have done at everything here. Swindlers in their cafe, the poisoners in the basement rug shops, the crooked guides with their walking sticks and questions; when I leave they will all get a piece of me. They can take it. They're already bleeding me dry. And all I want is off of this continent. But I know I have to fight that alone. Their silhouettes stand in front of the light, waiting for me to come, but the only fair way out is to sit here and watch the sun come up into this morning.