The Fires of the Evening

A Poem by Howie Good

I like how your legs
wrap around me
like the last beautiful evening,

how I’m the day world
delving into shadow,

how,

when we toss
like a small green boat
on a vast yellow sea,

everything is bathed
in red violet.

(Editor’s note: in the spirit of giving, I feel the following is important: a link to one of Howie Good’s favorite charities, The Crisis Center, Birmingham, Alabama: https://sites.google.com/site/rhplanding/howie-good-dreaming-in-red)

Monday

A Poem by Doug Draime

I’ve watched the storm
clouds come slowly,
the rain begin to fall. The dog
curls up near my feet and Carol walks
by flossing and brushing her teeth, talking
to him and as she finishes and begins
to wash the dishes,
the thunder cracks
like a cat-o’-nine-tails and lightning
is illuminating the mountains surrounding us.

The Trees of Winter’s Grace

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

(Editor’s note: This poem was first published in Russell Streur’s The Camel Saloon)

Introduction:

The Sacred Trees—oak, willow, ash, date palm, wild plum
The Trees of Prosperity—holly, box, ivy, bay, laurel, conifers, oak
The Druid and Christian Tree—evergreen, oak

1.

Snow is always cause for courage,
and love,
a need to pray, forgiveness,
wamth.

2.

It was then the small boy came knocking,
the wind a blizzard of disease and frostbite,
and the old couple opened their home to him,
offered him from the little they had,
hot apple cider, a stew of potato, warmed flour.
They gave him the warmest place in the house
and covered him with extra blankets they themselves used.
In the morning, he was gone and they had slept through
the snow drifting in piles covering their door.
He left no tracks, he took nothing with him,
but when the sun came out and the day’s frost began to ease,
they saw the beginnings of a grand tree,
its leaves pointing to heaven, its branches laden with fruit.

3.

Years later the child now a man found himself
in the Germanic forests near a town buried in snow.
He saw the people kneeling before a great oak
and he knew it offered support for the spirit,
but little for the belly or the pregnant.
He chopped it down when the people slept
and when he began to cut it into firewood,
they woke frightened and enraged.
He stood his ground, raised one hand
to where the tree had been, pointed with the other
to show them what was to become
and the people watched as the ground moved
and a fir came from the seeds of snow and earth,
its branches laden with gifts of greenery,
food, fruit, nuts, and roasting meats.

He married a year later, a princess of Viking strength,
a woman who held a staff larger than a tall man
and liked to color the long nights with stars and rainbows,
fruits and fresh bread, venison and anything green.
Together they wandered the Northlands
bringing song and trees that remained ever green
even during the dark of the winter
when the sun slid beyond the ice for its long sleep.

4.

The Arabians chronicled his adventures later in life
after the Qur’an, after the solistice of the Druids,
after the closing of the Germanic book on Winter’s Magik,
after the last celebration of the Roman festival Kalends.
It was told by many who claim they saw it with their own eyes
how one winter when famine had struck the land
and water had dried up, great snows came from the north
burying everything and the people were not prepared.
Then a man with a beautiful wife walked among them.
They stopped in the center of the village,
blew into the night, and the wind stopped,
the snow cleared and suddenly trees were everywhere,
great laurels and firs, bay and ivy, their leaves strong,
their scent the perfume of warming and good health.
They say winter was hard that year, the hardest in history,
but that morning the people found clothing for the weather,
supplies of dead dry wood at each tree’s trunk
and enough food to last until the coming of summer..
Snow never fell again in that region, but when that snow melted
great wells formed across the land. The trees
shriveled in the heat, petrified into sand and stone,
formed shapes to hold clear water,
and the shadows of the two people are still there
imprinted in the shadow of sand dunes,
carved into rocks holding clean water,
etched into the bark of the sacred date trees.

 
.

 

Sunset At Puerto Vallarta

A Poem by Doug Draime

–for Carol

The way everything moved, slipped
in or out of gear, as the sun
was setting and the hotel beach boys
removed the sway back canvas chairs
from the ocean’s edge. The restaurant’s
lights coming on ; a few two-men fishing boats
coming home over the horizon,
like tired old boxers in the 8th round.
Several gulls hook and glide. And the
reflection of your gray-blue eyes out
over the ocean, bouncing from sun to
water, water to sun

 

Blackbirds

A Poem by Donal Mahoney

A moment ago,
in a flicker of pique,
with a wave of the hand,
I dispersed them.

Glorious birds,
now they are back,
gold talons wrapped,
roosting.

Glorious birds,
high on a wire,
spearing the nits
in their feathers.

Radicals, Unfree

A Prose Poem by Justis Mills

Let us suppose for a moment that the skeptics are right. For the sake of argument. Let us suppose that there are furrows between sorts of experience, of suffering, and that these furrows are not navigable. That we may only read messages fired over gaps, across borders, and speculate no further. That we are lonely creatures.

If the skeptics are right, we have so much work to do. We have to be quiet. We have to listen to people who strive to think slowly, to blot out inner lightning. We have to pay attention, actively, to many things we try to ignore. We have to build trebuchets and load them carefully, calibrate the angle.   ____________________________________________________________   ____________________________________________________________  Lennie:  Lennie: So what does all of this mean?

Justis: Sure! The idea was that there are always people who are pretty sure that almost everyone else is wrong about almost everything. They’re under the impression that people with different sorts of experience can’t properly communicate in any relevant respect. Older and younger, people of different races, or genders, or from different places, etc. Because their life experiences are too different for communication to actually work.

So if these people are right, everyone’s in trouble. If they’re right, we’re all isolated! And trying to communicate at all becomes extremely complicated. We’d have to be paralytically aware of our own situations, and those of the people we were talking to, and use plenty of disclaimers to connect even in a cursory sense.

Fortunately, those people aren’t right. It is possible to communicate. But everyone else is wrong, too, because we assume that it’s a lot easier than it is. Skeptics negate plenty of stuff that’s actually there, but everyone else assumes stuff to be real that isn’t there. A lot more of it, so that we can survive in our day to day lives.

 

 

Greetings of the Season

A short story by Jan Wiezorek

Miss Weaver opened the door with a handful of damp letters and rocked bowlegged to the first booth right inside.  The Uptown Coffee Shop was empty except for waitress Elizabeth and a dark, bearded man over by the windows in the far booth.

“Evening, Lizzy, how was your New Year’s and all?” Miss Weaver asked.

“Well, my word, if it isn’t Miss Weaver.  What are you doing gallivanting out this late?  It’s good to see you.  How are you feeling, dear?” Elizabeth asked.  She broad-hipped her way to the table with a metal-cornered black menu under one arm and a carafe of coffee in her right hand.

Miss Weaver shook her cotton coat with the big buttons and hung it on the standing rack.  Before taking her seat, she reached up around Elizabeth’s waist and gave the waitress a big hug.  “I’ve wanted to do that for the longest time,” she said.  “Just couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d stop by.  I could use a hot cup.”

“That’s what everyone is saying tonight,” Elizabeth said.

“Who doesn’t need a hot cup in this weather?  I’m damp to the bones.”

“This rain is so peculiar for January,” Miss Weaver said.  “I just can’t get over it.”  She adjusted her pink-framed glasses and focused on a red envelope.

“It’s good for your complexion, my dear.  Now, what can I get you?  Or, do you want to look at the menu?”

“Well, I got this one from Mabel,” Miss Weaver said, pointing to a letter inside an open holiday card.  “You don’t know her, of course, but when I was young, she invited my mother and me to her husband’s church for services.  She’s only eighty-nine years old now, she writes, so she must have been very young when she first dropped by to invite us.  And she’s been doing it every year since.”

“Isn’t that sweet?” Elizabeth replied.

“She writes, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want because I know the best is yet to come.’  Isn’t that clever how she improvises on the Psalms?”

“It’s a wonder,” the waitress said, and took a deep breath of patience.  “You’re just opening your cards now?” she asked, placing the menu down on the tabletop with a design of little rectangles with rounded corners.

“Dear, I’ve been under the weather.  I didn’t bother to check the mailbox, much less open any correspondence and read it.  Did you notice how everyone added little notes in their cards this year?”

“No, honey, I didn’t.”

“Oh.”

“We all got drunk and the bitch started playing with her nipples,” the man in the far booth said to himself, overly loud.

The ladies turned their heads toward the man who was by now laughing at his own comment.

“Such an element out and about on a night like this,” Miss Weaver said.  She looked back at Elizabeth and brought her tongue forward, scraping it against her teeth.  She breathed in and made a sucking sound.

“Takes all kinds, my dear—and we get ’em, too,” Elizabeth said.  Her short brunette hair looked greasy, and her light-pink lipstick was smudged.  “Honey, cook left early, so I’m all by myself tonight.  What can I get for you?”

“Oh, just a coffee and a grilled cheese—easy on the grease.  Doctor’s orders.”  Miss Weaver took a moment to pull Elizabeth down toward her once again.  “Are you safe here all alone?” she asked whispering.

“Heavens, honey, I’ve been working nights here for so many years.  I’m able to scare away the best of them,” Elizabeth said, her blue eyes sharp and clear.  “If anyone gives me trouble, I order him a knuckle sandwich—on the house.”

The two ladies laughed and stole glances at the man, who Miss Weaver could see was in his own world, talking to himself¸ laughing, and licking the stubble around his mouth.  She put the note inside the festive card and slipped the card into its red envelope.

The man was several booths away, but Miss Weaver looked at him again.  His face was the color of milk chocolate, and his facial hair white and curly.  She saw a tall, green duffle bag standing upright next to him in the booth, and she wondered whether this man, accustomed to eating and traveling alone, was one of those.

He can’t be in his right mind, she thought to herself.  She wondered what he must be doing and what his life would be like later tonight.  Miss Weaver sipped away at her hot cup and imagined him standing in the recessed entranceway of a corner store, with his duffle bag on the ground, shifting from foot to foot, and lighting a cigarette butt that he found near the curb.

Maybe he had family nearby, but maybe they had had enough of him and put him out.  Of course, the way he looked, she thought, anything he might say could well be poppycock.  She giggled at first and then shamed herself for doing so.  Miss Weaver rested her right hand on her chin and thought back, years earlier, to the men who stood outside her own mother’s small pantry.

In her youth she remembered how mother fixed free luncheon sandwiches for hobos—men like him, perhaps—never inviting them into her small kitchen in the flats near the tracks, but allowing them to linger on the back stoop, offering them something for the road, which they took with thanks and left.  Maybe he was like one of them.  They were simple folk, her mother always said, but honest and needy.  His hair was tangled, and she thought he must smell, but she couldn’t tell for sure.

Perhaps if I shared a word with him, it would brighten his day, she thought.  “It’s a cold night, sir,” she said.                   He didn’t respond but focused his black eyes on her face.  His upper lip turned outward, and his stare, she thought, offered no hint of what he might be thinking.  She thought she’d try anyway.

“I say, it’s a cold night.  Did you enjoy your holidays?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Oh, that’s a shame.”  She sucked her tongue up toward her lower lip, and her sound was loud enough to be heard.

“You want some sugar, honey?” he asked.

“No, I have some right here.”

A burst of exhalation rushed out from back behind his sinuses, through his wide nose, and out the two small nostrils that sat on each side of his snout.  To Miss Weaver it was a crazy kind of snickering laugh, and she rose up from her shoulders, lowered them, and looked down at her coffee, her hands shaking somewhat.  Why he needed to turn an innocent question into an insolent and disrespectful turn of events was beyond her.

“Sir, your humor is slightly off color,” she said.

Immediately she thought that was perhaps not the best way to phrase her disgust.

“You’re the one who’s color is off,” he said.  “I’m a rich chocolate brown.”

“And so you are,” she said, adding a giggle to lighten the mood, but uncertain that response was right, either.

“Honey, here’s your grilled cheese,” Elizabeth said, carrying a sandwich with half a pickle and a paper cup of cole slaw.  “Need a warm up, hon?”

“Indeed, I do,” Miss Weaver said.  “Perhaps our friend needs some, too?”  She took her right hand from her chin and gestured toward the man, his thin eyebrows curving across his face and joined at the middle.

Elizabeth walked over to the man, poured, and laid a check on the table.  “We’re closing soon, so you’d better get moving.”

“That sure is holiday hospitality,” he said.

“Listen, buster, pay your bill and leave.”

He slapped some change on the table and gave Elizabeth an eyeball’s worth of defiance.  “When I’m finished, I will.”

“Good,” she said.  She rolled her eyes toward Miss Weaver, who smiled and refocused again on her coffee.  “Is everything alright, Miss Weaver?”

“Oh, fine,” she replied.  Elizabeth left to continue cleanup in the kitchen when the man took a last swig, stood, and hauled his duffle bag with him, stopping at Miss Weaver’s booth.

“Ma’am, I was wondering if you could spare a little change?” he asked.  “Sorry if I insulted you.”

“Now you ask for money,” she said, looking up at him with a worn expression, her forehead knitted together and the wrinkles on her face and hands showing in the glare of the florescent lights overhead.  “In my day we were respectful, especially if we were to rely on help from another.”

“Just asking for a little change to get me through the night.”

“Where will you spend the night?”

“Probably somewhere nearby.”

“It’s awfully wet—how will you stay dry?”

“I’ll find a doorway or an open car.”

“A car?”

“You’ve never stayed out all night in a car?”

“Not in winter surely, and not recently in any case.  Maybe while camping years ago.”

“It’s better than standing in a doorway all night long.”

“You don’t go to the shelter?  It’s just down the street.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not the shelter type.”

“I see.  What’s your name?”

“Britches.”

“Well, Britches, I’m Miss Weaver.  I do have a little extra change.”  She reached into her cotton coat pocket hanging inside the door on the rack and gave him two quarters.  “Sorry, that’s all the extra I have.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re most welcome, Britches.”

She saw him put the change in his filthy jeans and turned toward the counter by the cash register.  The children’s home donation canister was right there.  She saw him.  He stuffed it into the top of his duffle bag.

“Sir, that’s not yours,” Miss Weaver said.

“It is now.”

“Sir, that’s not allowed.  Elizabeth,” she called out.  “Elizabeth, he’s stealing money.”

Elizabeth came from the kitchen in a hurry.  “What’s wrong?”

“He’s got the donation jar in his bag,” Miss Weaver said.  “He just took it.”

“Listen, buddy, put it back before I call the cops.”

He raised his right hand.  It held a steak knife.  “You want some of this, bitch?”

Elizabeth took out her cell phone, ready to dial 911.

Miss Weaver saw Britches act like an athlete.  She felt him grab her by the waist and pull her up roughly against him into a tight hug.  He smelled of urine, most foul.  The knife point was up by her neck.

“Mess with me and the old lady gets it stuck right here.”

Miss Weaver could feel the knife pushed against her throat, making it hard to swallow.  She wanted to scream, but instead she grimaced when he moved the knife and rammed his hard knee into her side.  He adjusted his grip on her with his left hand, she thought, grabbing at her chest, with the blade now inches from her right eye.  She hushed into quiet sobs, and terror rose out from her arms and toward her quaking fingertips.

“Open the cashbox and give me all you have,” he said to the waitress.  Miss Weaver saw Elizabeth drop the phone on the floor and open the cash drawer.

“Put it all on the counter and back off,” he said.  Miss Weaver could hear his voice, like gravel against tires.        He shoved me, she thought, and she felt herself fall to the floor now and onto her left hip.  The glasses flew from her face and slid toward the stools near the counter.

Before she knew exactly what had happened, damp air outside rushed over her legs, and the door closed as her hip pain increased.

“Miss Weaver, are you alright?” Elizabeth asked, rushing from behind the counter and over to her on the floor.  Elizabeth lifted Miss Weaver up by the waist and onto her feet.

“I hope so,” she said.  “Lizzy, call the police.”

“I will, hon; let me help you up first.”

“I’m sore, dear.”

“Can you walk?”

“I’m awfully sore, dear.”

“How are you?”

“I think I’ll live.”

“That was quite a fright.”

“Yes, dear,” Miss Weaver said.  Elizabeth reached down for the glasses, and Miss Weaver put them back onto her own face.

The money was still on the counter, Miss Weaver saw, and the duffle bag had fallen  down by the door.  “You mean he didn’t take anything?”

“No, hon,” Elizabeth said.  “I ducked, so I guess he ran, the coward, and left the money here.”

Elizabeth reached into the duffle bag and put it back on the counter by the cash register.

Miss Weaver sat at her own booth again to calm herself.  Finally, she looked down, around, and on the floor.  All of her holiday cards were missing.  I wonder what he could have been thinking, Miss Weaver thought.

“Lizzy, I need a hot cup.”

“Yes, dear.”

Simply Eating Her Salad

 

A poem by Michael Estabrook
 
Sometimes I become completely overwhelmed
by merely being in her presence,
like this afternoon
at McDonald’s with the grandchildren,
suddenly I’m choked with emotion,
barely able to speak,
while simply watching her
sitting there eating her salad, quietly, unassumingly.

I had to work at not crying,
(What a silly spectacle I would have been.)
dabbing at my eyes
with a crumpled McDonald’s napkin.
Guess my eyes are watering
because it’s so cold outside.
(Sure, nice try, you silly old man.)

I can understand being so smitten
when you first fall in love–how can you help it!
The beauty, the youth, the vigor and vitality,
the inescapable mystery of it all,
crashing over you like an avalanche in the Alps.
But come on! I’ve been at this now a long time,
with this woman almost half a century!
How could it be possible
that I still get all choked up watching her
sitting there simply eating her salad?

Gone with the Wind

 

A Poem by Linh To Ngo

To live in this life, one needs a soul
For what, you know? To let go with the wind
Wind swept yours away
But not that sure will bring you another’s

To live in this life, one needs a heart
For what, you know? To stop someday
That very moment one’s life stops
But not that sure it has a beginning moment

To live in this life, one needs a love
For what, you know? To be broken
Leaving a deep wound
But not that sure it would heal someday

To live in this life, one needs so much
There are things those never can be enough
Don’t cry, my dear
I would be living with you in your life, tomorrow.