If I Entered Hell

My Beatrice would be a monk with whom I would never confess I was in love with

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If I became the female self of Dante

I would hope that Hans Rookmaaker would be my Virgil.

Hell then would be a circular art gallery, a gradual, seven story spiral ending in an ice box.

And within the ice box perhaps Monet, paint brush in hand.

Frozen in the act of painting light, a perplexed look on his face.

“Where is the sensation?” — his eyes would ask; sensation being the only reality of life

for him.

I would ask my guide if I should tell him that he is dead — and my guild would shake his head,

no.

‘Monet lives at last, he feels the cold of his encased death.’

And my guide would pity me, and take me to my Beatrice — a monk who writes the classics and beautifies the deep well walls of knowledge.

There I would stay never saying I was deeply in love with him.

 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

 

Professional to the End

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her deep blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his. 

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her dark blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his.  He thought of just taking over, feeling her slip into his embrace and following his lead, perfectly trusting his every move.

He had never met her before face to face, they had talked a couple of times over the phone.  That was her job, customer service.  He was a client.

She was nice, pretty too, not beautiful and not athletic just pretty.  She smelled really good.

She was too nice to be up on her desk and pulling his body toward her in a less than ladylike fashion.  He wanted to stop thinking about her that way, but it was her scent, the clean, cool scent of her skin and the way she looked at him, straight on with an open smile.  He felt thin and hollow, and his heart beat deep down into his echoing stomach.

Her office was full of papers, and she was talking and working.  She was walking between her computer and the copy machine and telling him that she was always ready to help.  He needed the help, paperwork wasn’t something he was good at.  He needed her to slow down because he needed to look at her while speaking; when he got nervous, he went deaf.

Suddenly rather than thinking about fumbling with that tight-fitting slip that he knew she wore under that flowing summer dress he wished he was sitting across from some pencil pushing moron from the IRS who had no interest in helping him at all.  He felt the hot prick of sweat spread out between his shoulder blades.

She was still smiling at him and still handing him papers.  They stood side by side, and she was pointing out key and important telephone numbers, websites and email addresses that would get him through his present dilemma.  She didn’t lean in, her hands moved slowly when she talked, and the pen she used to point out what might keep him alive was tucked up nicely behind her ear when she was done.

They had not shaken hands brushed up against each other nor stopped the flow of conversation between them in any sort of meaningful way.  He was someone off the street who needed assistance, she was doing her job.

“Well, I think that should get me through.”

She was already looking at the papers on her desk.  “Don’t ever hesitate to call me.  I’ll try and help in any way I can.”

He hesitated, he had been taught never to extend his hand to a lady, but he wanted to touch her before he left.  She stood smiling totally oblivious to the fact that he had made love to her in his head during the whole damned ordeal.

He extended his hand as a sort of reward to himself.  She stepped forward smoothly placing her hand in his.  There was no spark, no electric current, only the cool, soft grip of kindness.  She was professional to the end.

Accidents

he sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional. 

“I have one question.” She looked at me with something between dread and vexation which merged and culminated in a purely “Darla-like” expression.

“I know, I know but really just one question,” I pleaded.  Darla leaned back and gave me a slight nod.  Taking that as permission I blurted it out, “What happened to men?”

Her pale skin blanched to a sudden milky gray and her beautiful sculptured lips turned a leaden color her smile conveyed a sort of evil satisfaction.  “Nothing, they’ve always been that way, you’ve just noticed.  That’s what I hate about optimists.”

Darla’s voice sounded as if she were down a deep echoing well.

Carlos, our usual waiter, was walking up to our table.  I could tell he was having a bad day because his usually pristine and pressed black trousers were splattered with something shiny from the knee down.  His small white apron had a washed out yellow looking blob almost dead center.  I felt myself turn red because the stain was dead center so I hoped whatever hit him hadn’t been painful.

“Stop blushing you idiot,” Darla whispered, “and stop looking at his crotch.”

Darla was never very nice.  I looked away and tried to compose myself.

Carlos came up to me and didn’t smile.  “How are you today?” he asked and I knew he didn’t care to know.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and whatever pie you have today,” I said squinting up at him.  He had managed to stand just where the sun was painful when looking up.  I though perhaps he should have been an international spy or an assassin rather than a waiter.  I looked over at Darla, blinking heavily.  She sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional.

Carlos walked away not letting me know what sort of pie to expect.

“You see?” said Darla.  He’s a man and a typical one.  He has had a bad day, splattering grease on his pants…

“Trousers…”

“His pants when emptying the garbage at home before he came to work.  While at work some clumsy American tourist like you…

“Expatriate, I live here,”

“Tourist spills their orange juice in a projectile fashion because they saw a spider on the table so naturally, he’s a total shit to you.”

“Oh I know men are moody and take out all their frustrations on women, I was just wondering what happened to them physically.”

Darla lifted her eyebrows to me in question.

I looked about at the street, narrow hipped men with billowing shirts and long hair.  “They are all different colors and heights but all look the same.”

“Perhaps you are simply become cured of obsessing over them,” Darla said.

Carlos reappeared, his face looking like it was carved in oak.  He placed my coffee and blueberry pie in front of me and Darla’s wine in the center of the table. “Will that be all?” I could tell Carlos didn’t want to be standing next to the table. Darla stretched out her long gray hand and pulled the wine to her side of the table.  Carols blanched visibly.

“She is here today?” asked Carlos.

“She sees you, Carlos.  I’m sorry for that, truly.  I’m sorry too about the clumsy American tourist.”

I was sorry too, Darla was relentless and very good in causing accidents.

Caves

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations? 

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations?

I hate the summer heat and to this day I lay low when summer is at its zenith.  I suspected that the small cave near the river was not just a small cave.  John Wilkie would take foolish girls there and so it began to have a reputation.  I suspect that John Wilkie, tall and good-looking as he was, really didn’t know what to do with a girl, so he took the doe-eyed ones to the small cave by the river just to get the girl to sit close to him and shudder.  There were a few fathers and elder brothers that didn’t weep at his memorial service but still, he has his name in bronze over at the courthouse square on the World War I memorial.

I digress.

John Wilkie, Salem Schultz, and Nathanial Barrow were the river rats of the town and on hot summer afternoons, they would take a raft up and down the river and spear carp and catfish.  Every once in awhile they would put a line in and pull up bluegill.  Salem’s father was a whiz at smoking fish and I even had the honor once or twice to try the delicacy as my father and Salem’s father were fairly good friends.  One such night, my hands greasy from smoked fish, my senses were deadened by the drowsy conversation between my father and his friend.  They spoke of their own fathers and their memories of the civil war, which to me, in 1914 seemed eons ago.  I was fourteen, wore wire-rimmed glasses and had grown at least two inches that year.  I stuck close to home, the library and anyplace relatively cool.

“Let’s go to the cave.”

“No, I don’t want to go to that stupid cave.”

“Why not?  It will be great at night.”

I spoke up, amongst the whispered conversation of the boys who never took any interest in a bookworm like me.  “You know, I think that cave is probably connected to a much larger cavern or cave system.”

There was a dead silence and I felt myself grow red.  The heat along my neck and face positively burned.  What had made me open my mouth?

“Who asked you worm?”  I couldn’t tell which one whispered that in my ear but all three chuckled as if the words were unique in the annals of slights and rudeness.  Perhaps that was what prompted my boldness, they were such dullards.

“Actually, I’m sure that cave is part of a larger cave.   There is even a possibility that an underground river is involved.”

I was practically drug to that cave with the words, “prove it, know-it-all, and smarty pants,” filling the air as we walked down the dirt road, and down the narrow path to the river.  The darkness was complete as the town’s lights disappeared behind the steep bank of the river.  We felt our way along the bank with the swift water just at our feet and the gleam of fast running river expanding out before us.  I was relieved when we all managed to crowd into the narrow cave opening.  To actually get into the cave we had to belly crawl.  I didn’t like it as I wasn’t fond of small places but the natural stone walls quickly gave way to a fairly large cavern.  Nathanial lit the lantern and the cave walls lit up with the spark of tiny quartz and dripping wet stone.

I had been in the cavern before and seen the impressive glitter.  There had even been some geologist down from Chicago to examine the cave.  It was from over hearing those men talk in my father’s store that they suspected the cave was part of a larger cave system.  The bought supplies from my father intent on exploring the cave in greater detail but were at the last minute called back to Chicago.

They never came back.

“It’s cold in here.”

“Hush, did you hear that?”

“Stop it, Salem, nobody wants to hear your ghost stories.”

“No, Nate, really, I think we should go.”

The cave did seem unusually cold.  I was delighted.  Perhaps this was where I could escape to occasionally from the heat.

“Hey, I think I heard it too.”

“What?”

“Like voices.”

I moved to the outer line of the light.  Nate had held up the lantern but his hand was shaking and the light shook with him.  Suddenly we were in complete darkness and what shattered me was that I heard nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no sound from the boys, no teasing or angry words and I heard nothing hit the stony ground.

I am pretty good at keeping my bearings and I felt that if I followed my left hand straight ahead I could reach the small opening that led to the river.  I knew that I had been duped but still it was terrifying to be left alone in that cave.  I moved ahead swiftly and bumped into something soft and warm.  It bounced off of me and then seemed to swing back and forth a darker shadow than the blackness about me.

I fell to the ground.  The ground was wet and smelled of urine.  I scrambled forward and bumped into a soft lump that shuddered and cried softly.

“John?”

“Worm?”

I crawled over him and he grasped my foot following me forward.  I heard a soft scratching and some whispering overhead.  I moved faster and John Wilkie nearly crawled over me.  I felt the fresh air and so did John because he pushed me aside and pulled himself out.  As I crawled out I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot and I shouted out in agony.  I made it to the small cave at the river and found John standing at the edge weeping.

My foot and leg were never the same.  I wasn’t fit for active duty when the war came.  My parents spoke in whispers near my sick bed and to me, they were always a little distant from that time on.  I was ill for a very long time.  I even had to complete my first few weeks of school at home.

I was never a popular boy so I can’t say I was bothered by the solitude.  The whispers were what bothered me the most.

“He’s poisoned.  What got Salem and Nate got a piece of him too.  He can see in the dark and his eyes flash red.”

You see, it’s important now that I stay incognito, I’m not so changed I need a cave to hunt in.

It’s Not Difficult

You can enter my mind through my heart

Just so you know, staying up late is not good for me, I’m a morning person.

Weary, I’ve stepped out on to my high tower ledge and found the big dipper just overhead;

Close but not touchable.

So, I point the momentum North and ride the will to survive into the icy cold.

The bay is rocky smooth, Superior ice blue and now I feel safe away from you.

Odd, I don’t fear the scythe-man and am terrified of you.

A vulnerability is impossible to live with.

The levitation is sudden, the atmosphere heavy, ripping down my body as I move up

No nest is a temptation from this lofty spot where I see the seas spin deep frothing white.

The ghosts step along the streets their staffs diamond willows that no one but a few knows exists.

Sit down across from me and answer my questions

Answer me

Love is what you’re best at, that is obvious while I ponder the ideology of believing in death

And not God.  So answer me, what has the world come to?

To each their own, to each their own.

To the west, to the east what was once frozen has dropped upon my front door and taken

The Limberlost

No, no she has simply gone deep as the stars have gone just out of reach

Don’t be afraid, I won’t ask any questions you can answer

You can get into my mind through my heart.

Please answer my question.  It’s not difficult.

 

Photo by Alfonso Ninguno on Unsplash

Candle Number One

I was and still am the bad girl. She held my hand through the first disastrous marriage, the second lackluster marriage, and subsequent love affairs, Harley purchase, nude beaches in France and my feeble attempt at motherhood. She walked me all the way through.

“What could possibly go wrong?”

I stared at her.  Yes with obvious disbelief. And here is the thing, I was and still am the bad girl. She held my hand through the first disastrous marriage, the second lackluster marriage, and subsequent love affairs, Harley purchase, nude beaches in France and my feeble attempt at motherhood. She walked me all the way through.

And now she is the one asking that dumb ass question.

Before I could say anything she was on with another cliché – “you owe me.”

I furrowed my brows. Yes, I owed her until I died but her voice sounded possessed.

“What do you mean…”

“You went out with my boyfriend.”

“Whaaat?”

“You remember, I know you remember — Tom?”

“Tom was your crush, chic,”

“And you went out with him, knowing.”

I looked at my friend of over forty years.

“He actually puckered up when he kissed, Vicky, I saved you a lifelong trail of misery.”

“Did you sleep with him?”

“I was fifteen.”

“You lost your virginity when you were sixteen.”

“I was eighteen and I paid, I’m still paying.”

“Birth control.” She said it in her home economics tone of voice and I had a sudden urge to kill her. “Right, can we get on with this?”

She turned back to the cake on the table. I picked up the fiftieth candle and placed it in the middle, feeling suddenly like the ten-year-old girl in the backyard – her parent’s back yard. I had just moved in next door with my Mom and step-dad number two. I was drug over to celebrate the tenth birthday of a girl I never met.

I locked eyes with the fifty-year-old woman sitting across from me. Perfect life, perfect husband, two perfect boys and scared to death of fifty.

The cake looked like a damn porcupine.

“If you light them all before the first one melts, I’ll live to be 100.”

“And if I don’t make it?” I felt a shiver run down my spine. Secrets hushed to each other under the covers, tears, and pain during childbirth, weddings, and champagne, death and boredom all faced together.

“Then I’ll live to be 80 and that will be better.”

I lit the flame, watched it flare up between us and set it to candle number one.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Now I Am Finished

Each face I see is marred by years of loveless existence.
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.

Now I am finished.
The wind blows a song of desolation and I do not mourn,
I do not covet the glimpse of your image in my mind, nor do I grieve.
The sun is merciless and I do not long for your shadow over me.
The clarity of vision is now the courage to focus on the world around me.
Each face I see is marred by years of loveless existence.
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.
No pity wells within me, no camaraderie do I endeavor to convey.
Yes, indeed I stand through Grace alone and with no boasting of self-confidence.
So need is not to be spoken of in my heart anymore.
I sleep the sleep of peace and do not long for what was never mine.
I long to hear the desolation of a world in turning and in death believe only good.
In these final moments grant me the ability to recognize what is best for those left behind,
A word, a scrap of wisdom, a plea to listen.
Listen:
I left what I wanted and focused on the sound of God’s voice
And the wind opened its song of longing for me and the sun spread warmth into my skin
And I ceased to be sorry for the years upon years of could have been.
The voice of God sings vibrato that pierces my mind to ecstasy and breaks my chains of self-slavery.

 

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.