The Wide Open World

In that time, there were two farmers with four children: one son and one daughter and two who were neither sons nor daughters. The son could smoke anything, and the daughter could drink anything, and one of the children could tell any lie and the other one could find any hidden thing.

Eventually, the farmer and the farmer died, as is the way of things, and their four children were thrown into the world to seek their fortune; the farm had been mortgaged to the local lord and so they were landless. They took to the road, which was likewise full of the starving children of other farmers, and beat against the gates of the city, which remained shut.

“Listen, my loves,” said the daughter, “if we keep drifting we’re doomed.”

“We are doomed either way,” said the finder of things. “Death is our only inheritance.”

A crowd had gathered, and the liar climbed into a tree to address them. “Justice!” they cried. “Justice is a hollow log, and honesty an unplowed field. They have shut us out of the woods, and chased us away from the streams; they have stolen our land for taxes and drowned our mothers in ditches. But I have seen a vision, a brighter future this side of heaven but that side of blood. Take up arms, my loves: we have nothing to lose but our lives!”

And the son leaned against the fence and smoked his pipe and kept his own counsel.

February 2010

Back home, the cherry trees are blooming
the waterclock of the year has tipped over and spilled out spring
But 2,500 miles away my brother breaks through snow
thin scarf and canvas shoes a fragile barrier against the wind
visiting my sister in Chicago, red-faced and grinning behind the camera

In Hawaii my mother waits on her balcony
Watches the ocean 20 stories belows
Waits for the tide to fall back and up again
bunched around the clumsy fist of a tsunami

My father is sprawled out in bed
tv blaring unattended
crosswords and beer near at hand
the weather beats against the glass and falls back
heart-racing and dazed
one more bird on the lawn.

Egg Tooth

The night sky is red, brick red, and starless: the clouds are low over the city. Quiet, tonight, no sirens, no gunfire or fireworks, only the dull constant wind of the freeway, less mutable than the ocean. Miles away.

Walking back from the bar, from the train, Isabel passes the church: a truncated cone of glass overlooking the water. They’ve turned everything off for the night, but light filters through from the street, tracing the outline of the stained glass windows in reverse. Baphomet looks down from this side, his face placid as a goat’s, pupils square and unreadable, one hand raised in benediction or derision. She smiles and waves, huddled against the wind, and he turns his head to watch her pass.

The lake is low tonight, and full of light. She moves through a flock of geese; they, too, swivel sinuous necks after her, small eyes watchful and waiting.

Mating Season

The year has turned once again and the dads have come back to the hills, as they always have, pulled by some mysterious force, some unspeakable compulsion. The journey is long and dangerous, and many dads arrive scarred and bloody from travel: missing eyes, severed hands, skin pulled away from the muscle underneath. One, near his end, is more scar than dad; in the half-light of evening you can watch the ponderous thump of his heart through the parchment of his skin.

“Good team this year,” says one, a young one, scratching an unfamiliar beard. This is his first year, and he is shy, eager, and dry for blood.

“Could go all the way,” agrees the old one, his milky eyes focused on nothing much, the puckered mouth of his wrist searching the air. “If they want it enough.”

The young one edges closer and shivers as that rough stump finds his shoulder. He closes his eyes, and thinks of the coltish daughter waiting at home, the yearling son hiding behind her. “Still, you never know.”

The old one laughs, deep in his hollow chest, and leans in close to the young one, his breath hot against his beard. “No, you know. You know.”

Dylan

He breaks the water, the cold steel surface of the water, and hauls its unbounded body onto a convenient log.

We are grilling, I think, or maybe walking the dog, her paws thick with mud and her lips white with drool, swaddled in our coats. The rocky slither of the beach is everywhere; this is as full as things get in November. Gulls are everywhere, chasing after the ferries.

He holds it down against the wood, its arms clutching feeble at his arms, already drowning in the air, and coolly punches it to death. He makes eye contact, grins.

What are you doing, we want to know. Why did you do that. What is wrong with you.

Art, he says. For an assignment.

We yell at him. He shrugs.

It’s dead already, he says, who cares. There are tons more of them down there. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow and get another one. More art, right.

Later he gets threatening calls, he weeps, he pleads ignorance. We forgive, the beach and the water, but we do not forget. Something should change, he says. This shouldn’t happen again.

Yes, we say, this is true. This is all very true.