Sing and Paint For Me

The world is crowded, striving and loveless.  I see the nakedness of the children and the despair of their mothers and do not wonder but grieve at their demand for death.

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Paint for me, my love,

the sky a deep sapphire blue

smudge the blackest blue about the rounded horizon.

Be frantic in your work

sing to me at times while praying that the stars shine

upon the patch of open forest,

I sit upon while watching you.

Sing away the fear that night brings to me

remind me that the darkness is sacred even now,

fallen as we are, sing while painting the sky.

I will pull out of my cocoon that I had shaped just for me,

me alone.

I will spread the heat of my body upon the ground enough for two.

Along the edge of the forest, I will build a hearth of stone.

From deep within me call up a cool, hot-blue fire

my mothers left for me to share with you.

The world is crowded, striving and loveless.

I see the nakedness of the children, the despair of their mothers

do not wonder but grieve at their demand for death.

Won’t you pray for the stars to shine a burning hope within the darkness you paint?

Won’t you sing to me of stories of hope rather than the obvious pain?

Look, I’ve stretched out what is left of me here,

upon this patch of open forest floor know

God sings over my faith.

Bring your talents to me.

Sing and paint.

Love’s Trouble For Me

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated. 

I, of course, worried after I fell in love that I would lose my edge.  Edge is everything in my business.  Love blunts every edge; I don’t care who you are.  It’s cruel if I don’t stay sharp, razor sharp.  If I take a swipe at someone and my edge has been blunted, well let’s face it they suffer.  If I’m not hampered by the preoccupations of love, that swipe is painless, goes without a hitch, you’re dead before your mind can reach even the idea of pain.

Yes, I’m a professional.

I was in love once before, years ago when I was young.  I mean, you know love.  I can’t help what I am, I can’t.  She didn’t understand and she moved to Milwaukee.  I was devastated.  I think that disappointment was what gave me my edge.  I wanted to hate her, I really did but I couldn’t.  Years later I had a job in that area and I looked her up.  She was still fine and she seemed happy.  I said hello and she seemed edgy, a little scared but okay.  Next thing I know she’s in Green Bay, then she’s in St Paul and divorced.  I called her a year later, you know just to check on her, make sure she was okay.  She was in Seattle.  I point blank asked her if she wanted me to look up her ex-husband and she said no.  She was emphatic about it, so I didn’t and I won’t.  She’s in Tokyo now, seems to be doing alright.

I met my new lease on life during an emergency room visit in Chicago.  One of those big hospitals.  I had run into a little bit of a problem in New Albany, thought I was okay but started running a fever while vacationing in Chicago.  I love that city; Chicago.  Anyway, I met Alice there.

Alice is tough as nails and hates her name so I call her Honey and Babe and things like that.  She’s an ER nurse and man, some of the stories she tells makes my skin crawl.  I mean she’s seen shotgun wounds, and people beaten to a pulp.  Then there are the car accidents and the scum of the earth who hurt their kids.  I was in tears one night; I don’t know how she stays sane.

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated.

I, of course, tell her I have no family.  I’m not an idiot, I keep her well protected.  I am human; some may doubt that but I am very human.  She loves to read old novels and I’m starting to understand why.  I like The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Invisible Man – man can you imagine how I can relate?

 

 

I Shall Not Reenter That Prison

Yet, I’m completely calm as Huron raves, slinging her water spout and waves.

Longing and yearning are simply not tortures I put myself through

There was a day, not too long ago, I would allow the heart to ache

Until I read Keats and was truly unimpressed and admired only his words.

 

I was born in the century where hell came through the school room floor

It expanded into large gymnasiums and Olympic-sized pools

History became a way to demoralize my faith and mathematics, God.

 

Can you hear me?  Can you hear me shout from atop my high mountain?

Down here where the seas storm taking down the souls of poor sailors

Yet, I’m completely calm as Huron raves, slinging her water spout and waves.

 

Oh beauty, if you could only feel the numbing cold and sharp water

Feel the hurt of winter and hear the cry of gulls

To feel the shock of warmth standing naked before the fire

 

Don’t you see?  Can’t you understand?

It’s the burden of inhibition, the burden of self-preservation that separates us

I’ve shed the pretense of beauty, I shall not reenter that prison.

Her Perfect Green Eyes

“You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“You know, I used to date a boy in high-school just like him.”

Cara had perfect green eyes.  I suppose those eyes were the physical feature to which I was drawn. When we first met, and just now, with her comment regarding a high-school sweetheart, her eyes narrowed and when narrowed they glowed.  The atmosphere around us didn’t matter.  We could be sitting at our favorite sidewalk café on a quiet street or in the gloom of a club dancing our hearts out; when she narrowed her eyes, her eyes shimmered in a jeweled tone green.

“I thought you too old for high-school remembrances, ” I said not really focused on her comment but on her emerald features.

“What sort of remark is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”  I shrugged and looked away.  I was always nervous around Cara but not like most people.  She chose me, you see, so when her narrowed eyes and lowered voice were directed at me I just looked away and focused on some other salient point of interest and confronted her with my voice or line of logic.  “You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“I endured like all the rest.”

I glanced back at her and she was looking toward the bar where most men leaned, gazing out at the dance floor; their faces dimly reflecting the flashing lights that glared from the ceiling, floor and walls of the club.  Her pristine skin and darkly painted lips now seemed to be the only thing that existed, her eyes now in deep shadow.

“Of course, no one really survives,” I said.

She faced me again, a wicked smile on her face, “Oh I survived.”  She seemed about to say something more but laughed instead, as if realizing she was about to say too much.  Whenever she laughed I felt that I was only her sounding board, the sidekick that made her extraordinary beauty and perfect look a little more normal in a less than perfect world.

“So what was this boy in high school like?”  I asked.

“Oh, you know.  After we kissed for the first time and I found him wanting he went about with any girl who would have him.  He didn’t want any of them except me but he was determined to show me how happy he was; how very much happier he was than say…me.”

It was my turn to laugh and I looked again at the man I had just danced with and who was now walking another girl out to the dance floor.  “I suppose we don’t really grow up.”

“Did he hurt you?” she asked me, “that man, did he hurt you just now?”

I had known her long enough not to lie.  I watched as he gyrated and swirled the new girl around and looked oh so handsome on the crowded floor and in the flashing lights.  I examined myself and searched for that pang of regret.  Was I sorry I had not been asked a second time?

“No, honestly no.  Which makes me wonder if I’ve not grown too old for clubs, dancing and searching for…I don’t know what.”

“I was hoping you were not going to say ‘meaningful relationships,’” And we both laughed at her tone of voice.

I listened to the music for a time and felt my companion shift and fidget next to me.  She got up without a word and began to dance without a partner.  She often did – she was rarely asked to dance and I noticed she was only asked by men who seemed to be as beautiful as she.  She danced close to the man that had asked me to dance earlier.  I knew what was coming and sure enough, he did abandon his partner on the dance floor.

I felt suddenly tired.  Suddenly weary of the noise and sway of humanity.  I found myself suddenly hungry.

She was like that, my green eyed beauty.  She knew when I was hungry and she knew the type of men who would follow her to her car.  She knew too I’d be waiting.  I suppose I had learned just a little more about her tonight, this slighted beauty with a low self-esteem.

“You won’t ever feed on me will you?”  She asked after a rather tedious fight I had with one of her stronger, more determined dance partners.

“Not until you are ready,” I promised.

Hollow

She knew that going wasn’t necessarily allowed.

She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on.  The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last.  She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles.  She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.

The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about

She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.

“Half price, half price now until we close down.”

A sign she felt and so put her money down.

She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.

She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.

She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky.  A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.

She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky.  The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.

“Do you want to ride?”

His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back.  He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.

“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”

“No thank-you.”

“Why not? This is our last night.  We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”

He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.

She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”

So she did and gasped at the sight.  Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.

She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.

He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance.  This time she stopped at the very top.  She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward.  She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit.  A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.

He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”

“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.

“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”

“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”

He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.

“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”

She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.

“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”

She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not.  He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist.  She liked his stare and was very afraid.

“But you would be following me home.”

His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights.  Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence.  She knew he would take and keep it.

I Never Write About Vampires

He took another sip of wine and felt again that edge, that good hurt of taste that he never experienced before. He wanted to capture that actual taste upon his tongue and not the overwhelming afterglow of emotion the wine procured for him. A sweet grape, an almost euphoric floral start at the tip of his tongue that chilled to an ash, and almost wonton woman taste that shimmered down his throat

To taste wine is an art.  Never would he say to his current lover, (a nice woman, physically very attractive and, of course, regrettably superficial), that to taste wine is an art. She would look at him, he knew,  with those incredible violet eyes and try not to laugh.  A woman who tries not to laugh is so unattractive, especially with a very expensive crystal wine glass in her delicate hand.  Suddenly the very expensive red glow in the delicate crystal globe sloshes around like a well-bodied ale; unacceptable.

He was met by a well-mannered waiter, and shown to a small, well used, round, wooden table.  The spot was chosen by the lady, (not his current lover mind you) of course.  He found himself thrilling just slightly.  What would Anna think of him, meeting another woman, in a town in Northern Vermont?

He took his seat.  He was early, by her suggestion.  Her note encouraged him to try the wine, exceptional – especially the red.  She would meet him in the evening,  and become reacquainted.  They had parted on good terms – one of the few in his life.  He was excited to see her again, over his first passion; wine.

When he was younger, he had just enough money to live and to taste wine.  There were, thankfully,  a few women in his life that would sleep with him because they found him attractive.  There were the occasional, (he cringed to use the term, so crass) one night stands due to the wine he introduced them to making him irresistible, he knew.  He was not egotistic; the wine did the job, not his manners, his mind or his body.

But care must be given to getting attached to a woman.  He was not born into a vast fortune and he was not inclined to drive the chariots of business to acquire, with diabolical relish, the two things that he found attractive in life; wine and women.

He smiled to himself, looking out at the dingy, wet, street: “Wine and women.”  Really, the connotation of that statement should not sum up a selfish snob or cold-blooded lover in the minds of the world – mostly female minds – for he was an exception to the statement – truly.  He did not want to make up his mind between one or the other – he wanted both and he wanted the best of both.  So what was he to do?  The only thing he could do – both within moderation.

He had to admit that when he was in his thirties, he spent too much time alone.  He refrained from younger women – completely un-teachable in the art of wine tasting; too fast, too virginal, too needy.  He did take comfort with some older women, but they often found him comical in a way he found insulting.  But this woman, ahh, he was close, to falling in love with her.  Until one night, alone and with an exquisite, dry white, he decided to write down what love was.

Was.

He wrote that one word on the yellow pad of paper and stared at it through the entire bottle. Was.

The next day, he met her for lunch and ordered everything red.  The filet, the sauces, the wine and broke it off with her.  She didn’t cry over the time they had spent.  She simply said, she knew the time would come – she had no hopes their relationship would last to marriage, children, Christmases before the fireplace.  She knew and was grateful for what they had.

He was astounded.  He watched her walk out of the restaurant and never heard from her again.  And 20 years later he received a letter from her.  He knew beyond a doubt that he must see her again.  The old photo of them together, wine glasses in hand at some party they attended intrigued him.  He looked up the address, the town, the place – were there – he need only accept.

He tasted the wine the waiter brought; a taste all of its own, a sort of raw, exciting taste, that made him tense and feel within him an urge to pace.  He felt himself immerse in a pleasure that made him edgy and…(could it be possible) feel just a little mean, just a little rough.  She was no doubt still beautiful, probably married.  Who but married people live in Vermont.  Perhaps she and her husband had an upscale bed and breakfast.  If she had children perhaps they were off to college, obtaining a degree in hotel management.

No, he had to stop.  He took another sip of wine and felt again that edge, that good hurt of taste that he never experienced before.  He wanted to capture that actual taste upon his tongue and not the overwhelming afterglow of emotion the wine procured for him.  A sweet grape, an almost euphoric floral start at the tip of his tongue that chilled to an ash, and almost wonton woman taste that shimmered down his throat and warmed his belly, as if her hand ( was he confusing the wine’s taste with the woman already? That amused his more clinical mind) was just above his belt, flat and warm and steady.

“Hello Roger,”  The voice was as he remember it, soft but now with an edge of worldly knowledge about it.  He started and looked up.  She wore a tight fitting dress, a deep burgundy.  Her skin was a soft glowing cream and her hair, now long, was glossy down her back.  She had not aged a bit.  He felt himself start to stammer, stopped himself, stood, and proffered her a chair.

“Always the gentleman.”

His astonishment at her beauty kept him in silence.  Could it be the same woman?  She sat, looked up at him, and without a doubt, she was the same woman.

“How are you?”

“Good, I’m good.”

“Do you like the wine?”

“Yes, I’ve never tasted anything like it.”

“Nor will you again.”

He remembered very little – except that he is now driven from the light of day and driven to drink rather than taste.

 

Ice in Chicago

The sleet and the snow outside merged into an icy, shellac gray. When stepping into the sloppy mess it went invisible for a moment, then slid away into the next pedestrian’s shoe or boot, with a squish, and a slush, and a grimace of acceptance.

The sleet and the snow outside merged into an icy, shellac gray.  When stepping into the sloppy mess it went invisible for a moment, then slid away into the next pedestrian’s shoe or boot, with a squish, and a slush, and a grimace of acceptance.  The air was intensely cold and I knew that as the wind picked up, slicing over Lake Michigan, no amount of salt or chemical upon the sidewalks would keep the sloshy, miserable mess from freezing and turning treacherous.

I stomped upon the already sodden matt at the door, chiding myself for agreeing to come out on this freezing cold day. Chicago was never a safe city but to compound, the issue was the weather.

The smell of coffee in the agreed upon coffee shop helped, who wouldn’t put their head down and seek warmth?

The coffee shop was new to me, located near DePaul University.  It was a quick bus ride over but even that had its hazards this time of year.  The bus was near to capacity and I felt for a brief moment that I had walked into a doctor’s office waiting room when I boarded.  There were the red noses, the sniffles, the solemn, miserable-eyed stares from just about everyone.  A small child in a red knit hat sat upon his mother’s lap, his mouth open, a yellowing crust hardening below his nose.  I thought of turning and returning to my nice warm apartment.  Instead, I slowed my forward momentum, looking around at those who wouldn’t make eye contact and grabbed a rope.  I refused to think of who had gripped that bastion of public transportation before me.

I hung on as the bus swayed and jolted while we parka-padded humanity kept time to the momentum of Chicago ruts, potholes and traffic as best we could.

On a fine day, I would have walked, actually even on a cold day — but the thought of ice stopped me.  I walked through snow, no problem, rain, that could be pleasant, ice in Chicago, was another story.

Feeling as if half the battle was over after the bus ride, I walked up to the coffee house counter and a young man came forward. I gave a glance around, the place looked clean and the young man across the counter looked healthy.

“I’ll just have a cup of your house and that scone over there — do you make them here?”

“No, we purchase all of our baked goods from a specialized bakery here in Chicago.”  He spoke to me as he poured my coffee and warmed my scone, telling me, via a well-memorized script,  that the baker used only non-GMO flour and fresh ingredients, he even handed me a flyer about the place.  I took it but never read it.

I sat down as far away from the door as I could possibly negotiate and waited. He said he would arrive at around 6:15 or 6:30, depending on how transportation went.  I understood that.  The CTS was usually pretty good — but the weather was a factor.  I looked down at my coffee and scone. I was hungry but not for what was before me.  I understood, our first meeting really couldn’t be for dinner, a coffee shop would make a better excuse for both of us if we took an immediate dislike to each other, he could even glance in and keep walking.

I took a bite of the chalky white scone before me and thought, now would be a good time for him to walk through the door as I fought the dry pastry in my mouth.  I grabbed the coffee hoping that would help me dissolve the mess and felt the inevitable scald on my tongue. I swallowed hard, sat back and tried to blink the tears out of my eyes, thinking that any moment he would walk through the door.

He didn’t.

Actually, I was able to finish the scone, get my free refill and lose myself in the novel I was reading on my smartphone.

When I looked up I was the only one left in the coffee shop and the night was dark.  I got up pulled my bag up to my shoulder and placed my coffee cup and plate into a plastic tub near the counter.

It was 7:15.

The young man behind the counter gave me a small sympathetic smile as if to say — “he stood you up.”

I smiled down at my now dry shoes.  I then walked to the door and opened it to the cold and icy sidewalk and thought window shopping can be cold work in Chicago.  It was a sort of consolation.