Frog Song

“I love the song of these dear ones,” she said
as she sipped wine beside the reed-riddled pond.
“And I love this wine. It is a lovely red.”
Behind her the mansion stood, a red dusk beyond.

She let the young man with the golden hair
kiss her neck as he touched her black-gowned hips
and though she was older than he, she was still fair—
except where concerned her late husband’s lips.

“Yes,” she said, “I declare this croaking song
the finest I have heard since before my wedding.
Frogs are princes, you know. They can do no wrong
so long as they are croaking before the bedding.”

The young man laid his head upon her breast,
his curly hair glinting gold against mottled skin,
and she kissed with wine-stained lips that gilt nest
and laughed to think of her husband’s wrathful kin.

“Those complacent fools,” she said, “they thought to steal
from me what was mine by right of marriage,
but there was no breaking the words of the Will.
No longer am I horse to their whip and carriage.”

The clamorous chorus of frogs rallied,
gurgling amidst darkening New England waters
and she twirled her finger in his hair as she tallied
the delicious scowls of step-sons and step-daughters.

But nothing was more delicious than that last sound
her late husband made as the glass fell from his grasp;
a sound like a faltering footstep on boggy ground—
the croak of a throat given to a phlegmy gasp.

“There is nothing the right wine cannot accomplish,”
she said pushing the young man’s head farther down.
“The right vintage is a genie granting any wish…”
She moaned as he kissed her within her mourning gown.

The picnic at the pond sprawled but a little way
from the fresh-cut headstone, and the unsettled earth,
so her late husband could join them on that joyful day
of his own Wake, with its amphibious frog-song mirth.

Chilled To The Bone

The frigid wind wound through the eaves of the old townhouse, humming abreast of the French windows and quivering the finely shaven slivers and powder scattered about the porch where Arnold sat, notching another flute with a cold knife and a colder eye. The wind helped him tune it with each nick of the knife, breathing into the flute steadily so his old ears could hear the note changes accomplished by a millimeter adjustment, his knotty fingers pressing and lifting from the holes intermittently. Leaves trembled in the yard, beneath the old oak tree, and the homemade windchimes that adorned his lawn rattled like bones. It was near suppertime, and the sun was setting over the gable roofs of his neighbors’ houses. In Summertime the sidewalks were always busy with people walking dogs and joggers running in twos and threes. Now, with Autumn rusting and disrobing the world, nothing walked the sidewalks except the tumbling leaves.
And the livid figure of Mrs. Harper.
“Arnold,” she called from the landing of his steps. “Do you have a moment?”
Arnold did not look up from his flute, his old face etched with concentration and age. He knew what Mrs. Harper looked like, and did not need a reminder. He had seen her enough times in the town hall meetings, scowling at everyone while decreeing herself the eminent member of the Leewood Historical Society. And he did not say anything in reply, for he knew she would take it upon herself to speak to him regardless of whether he had a moment or not.
Naturally, Mrs. Harper walked up his steps without his invitation, her clogs clopping hard upon the wood. She wore a black bonnet over her silvery-blonde hair, and a black coat that hung down to her knees. Beneath it her white dress clung snugly to her skeletal frame. She was in her late fifties, but her makeup and her designer purse belonged to a socialite of a younger age. She had been a rich man’s trophy wife once upon a time; now she was a rich man’s widow.
“Arnold,” she said in the same condescending tone with which she spoke to everyone, “you cannot have those windchimes on your lawn. They have not been approved by the Historical Society.”
Arnold said nothing. He continued scraping away at the flute; listening to the winds through the narrow instrument.
Mrs. Harper pursed her red lips in vexation.
“Do not ignore me, Arnold,” she said. “We will be pressing for fines if you do not have the windchimes removed by the weekend. Do you understand? The garish things cannot be allowed to stay!”
The only sound from Arnold was a snort, and the scrape-scrape-scrape of knife against flute.
Mrs. Harper crossed her arms, shifting her hips to one side. Often this had an effect on people around town. It was the same as seeing a tiger crouching, ready to pounce. But it had no effect on Arnold.
“We have already been very generous,” she said. “We could have started the fines last week, but some of us chose instead to give you one more warning because we like to be perceived as fair about these sort of things.”
“Fair, huh?” he said, his voice as rough as a blade on bone. “And was it fair when you all killed her?”
Mrs. Harper sighed with impatience. “We did not kill your wife, Arnold.”
“The chill got in her bones,” he said. “And once it got in, it never left. It will never leave.”
“That has nothing to do with us…”
“You would not let us put in a new heating system last year,” Arnold said. “She died of the cold.”
Mrs. Harper appeared unmoved. “We all have the same heating system, Arnold,” she said. “None of us have passed away from the cold. Anne was simply sick.”
“And the cold made her sicker,” Arnold said, still not looking up from his flute and his knife. “She died because you are all too mulish to let anyone live the way they want. You’re all arrogant and self-righteous.”
More slivers of flute fell as the knife quickened along the sleek white instrument. The knife’s blade looked like black glass. Mrs. Harper eyed it distastefully.
“If you didn’t like it, Arnold, you could have simply packed up and moved away.”
Arnold did not have to look up to know that a disdainful scowl creased her face— the same knowing scowl that she wore as her customary attire for town hall meetings.
“And how could we do that when no one was willing to buy this house?” he said. “We didn’t have the money to move if we couldn’t sell the house. We were both retired. We were both living on a fixed income. And no one wanted our house because people like you wouldn’t let them have any control over it.”
“It is a historical residence,” she said simply. “You knew the complications when you bought it.”
The wind hummed against the house, piping in the flute; scattering dead leaves. Mrs. Harper shivered and hugged herself. Arnold breathed in deeply, and exhaled, as if matching the wind’s restlessness.
“Who can really know the complications that come in life?” he said; more to himself than to the unfeeling woman in front of him. “When we bought it, Anne was young and healthy. But as she got older, the cold got in everywhere. This old house…you didn’t even let us weatherize it. And the chill snaked in from wherever it could. And all because you are all too…” He took another deep breath and exhaled. The wind teased some notes from the flute, as if taunting someone. “Well, there is no mercy in this small town. No one cares about anything but power over their neighbor. People like you think that if you can control someone’s house it means you have the world by the ass. But you don’t know anything about power. You may be cold-hearted, but my heart’s grown colder over the last year. Colder than any of you might want to know…”
Mrs. Harper shook her head impatiently. “Just remove the windchimes, Arnold. If you don’t, we will fine you. And none of us want that unpleasantness.”
“The windchimes stay,” Arnold said. “She always liked to have some, but you high and mighty fools never let her have any. Now she can listen to all the music she wants.”
Mrs. Harper clopped forward angrily. “Then you better make sure you have enough to cover the fines,” she said. “Because we’ll be fining you every day for the rest of your life!”
He finally looked up from the flute. He did not see her, and yet saw her well enough as he remembered her through all of the town hall meetings. His hands continued scraping away at the flute with the knife.
“I am willing to pay any price,” he said. “Any price it takes.”
Mrs. Harper staggered back, nearly falling down the steps. “What did you do to your eyes?” she asked in horror.
Arnold listened to the winds, and the flute, and scraped another sliver from the flute. White dust fluttered from the knife’s edge, like snow. “Any price it takes,” he said. “The windchimes stay.”
His frostbitten eyes looked down again at the flute and the knife, seeing neither. Mrs. Harper left the porch, feeling stricken. Clopping unsteadily along the walkway, she paused to look at the rattling windchimes. They were strangely proportioned things, and rattled with strange music. Some were small as fingers, whereas others were long as a woman’s arms and legs. They were lacquered dark brown, yet there was something wrong about their texture and shape. They did not seem to be made of wood, and the ends of many of them were knotted with joints. They reminded her of something, but she could not think of what.
Halloween decorations, she suddenly realized.
The shock was too much. She hurried away from Arnold’s house and went down the street. She could hear the piping notes of a flute faraway. The music followed her home, and no matter how many layers of clothing she wore she could not warm herself against the chill of the rising winds.

Guts

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A bold, doe-crazed, bounding buck
came toward a fence fanged with barbed wire,
but instead of going around, he tried his luck
by leaping over what divided him from desire.

He caught himself on the coiled thorns of steel,
tearing himself open so that his guts unspooled and fell
to festoon the fence line to thereby reveal
his viscera unveiled from its ragged pell.

The does gazed at him briefly, then looked away,
grazing on grass as they had before—
although he had proven to them his guts that day
he had not proven him possessed of anything more.

Scraps From A Ruined Tableau

Cottontail clouds,
fluffy,
soft,
numerous in breeding season,
but moving with all the gentleness
of a newborn baby’s sighs
drifting in Summer’s idle aether…

A breathless bluff as abrupt
in its sheer brokenness
as God’s bleak, unfeeling brow
while crowned with a child’s wagon
overturned onto its dented side,
the squeaky wheel spinning
black and white as
death and life
along the dizzying edge of a
sleepy ravine…

Gusts of air
suddenly flustered
by the frenzied feathers
of a flabbergasted flock aloft
and awhirl as if in dismay
of a black figure with outspread wings
trying to ascend to the heavens
with his frantic downfall…

A little blonde girl
tenderizing the sockets of her
blue eyes
with knotted fists,
each knuckle annointed
with futile tears
for the failed fledgling
she must not glimpse
or else her
sibling sympathies
shall compel her wings, too, toward
wispy air
and, likewise,
unflinching stone.

The Sword And The Sheath

In times of war I should like a viking
to fight on behalf of my beloved people,
but in times of peace Christ could be my king
to forbid blades beneath a beckoning steeple.

In times of vengeance I should like a knight
felling an evil man given to wicked acts,
but in times of justice I wish the right
to a lawyer and jury to hear out the facts.

In times of defense I want samurais
to stand as one, together, their katanas drawn,
but in times of calm we would be quite wise
to heed the Buddha with every rising dawn.

Know that I do not seek to draw a blade
from out its soothing, silent, sleepy sheath,
no more than I wish anyone be bade
to lay upon a coffin a funeral wreath.

Nor am I a man of contrary minds,
contradicting himself with his convenient turns.
Of necessities there are many kinds:
those of peace, war, mercy, and death, or so one learns.

The Price

The roof flew from the barn and somersaulted down the prairie like a tiller blade, churning up earth and flashing with the sharp sheen of its tin. From the front porch, at a quarter mile’s distance, Maggie watched the tin roof frolic in the March-matted field. The barn dissolved shortly afterwards, the bedeviled twister unraveling its old wooden planks in a spiral of uplifting torque. The tornado’s power overawed Maggie as it undid everything her father and grandfather and great-grandfather had created throughout the decades, erasing their hard work within a matter of seconds. She felt the same winds whip her brown pigtails wildly against her face. The unthinking violence of it all thrilled her, every nerve in her thirteen year old body tingling and vibrantly alive.
Maggie’s momma and daddy had gone to town to buy seeds for the planting season. She was alone with her baby brother, Mike. She could hear his wails over the howling of the winds. She wished he would be silent for once. His shrill voice reminded her of the children at school, all screaming and wailing and shouting for attention. She despised them. She despised her brother. She despised her parents for leaving her alone with him.
She marveled at the tornado.
“The March Hare,” she said to herself, though she could not hear herself over the howling of the winds and the wailing of her brother.
The tornado drilled onward, a massive column of spiraling eddies stripping apart silos and granaries as it continued its rampage toward the old farmhouse. Her baby brother’s wails rose, like a saw on sheet metal. Their farmhouse had no cellar or basement. She knew the tornado could easily tear the house up from its foundation and unfurl it like a moth-eaten blanket across the field. There was no escape. The tornado did as it pleased, unconcerned with trivial human matters.
Frowning, Maggie stepped off the porch and walked out across the field. Her white skirt flapped as if a bird desperate to fly away. She pressed it flat against her legs with her hands— not because of feminine dignity or shame, but because it irritated her with its panic—then she continued walking toward the tornado. Her pigtails whipped her face harder, as if flagellating her for her foolish willfulness. But she was undeterred. She went right up to the tornado. The tornado raged in its circle, as ever.
Then it seemed to hesitate.
When Maggie began to stagger toward the tornado, and started losing her balance, the tornado backed away from her and attempted to go around her, to either side. It was like a bewildered bull coming to a tree, unsure as to whether to go left or right. Yet, Maggie continued marching toward the tornado, stumbling and staggering and fighting to stay on her feet. Her tiny figure pressed the gigantic whirlwind back, as if a horsefly biting at a horse’s nose.
Finally, the tornado began to unwind, its spiraling column of debris and darkness slowing. It came undone, diminishing and dropping all of its playthings across the brown prairie grasses. The last shreds of wind dissolved into still air, at last, and a tall, red-skinned man stood before Maggie. He had dark black hair and wore a pelt of rabbit skin across his shoulders. He wore only a loincloth of rabbit skin upon his lower torso. His body was marked, seemingly at random, with war paint.
“You are a heedless girl,” the man said. “Do you desire death?”
Maggie stared up at the tall man. There were tears in her eyes, but they were not tears of fear. They were tears of envy. “I want the freedom you have,” she said.
The man crossed his arms and pondered the girl. His dark gaze never faltered; he never blinked. “Such freedom is death for mortals,” he said. “It is death for me, but I am born again with each whirlwind, for I am a spirit of the plains.”
Maggie tightened her small fists. They were tanned from years of laboring in the field, and calloused like leather. “I want to be a spirit of the plains,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go to school or take care of my baby brother or spend all Spring and Summer and Fall harvesting and working and breaking my back. You live how you want to. I want to live the same way.”
“It will be your whole life all at once, and never again,” he warned her. “It will cost you everything.”
“I do not care,” she said. “I don’t want to be married and then buried. I don’t want to live in fences and houses built to pen me in like a cow or a sheep or a dog. I want to live the way I want. Free. For myself.”
The man stood in complete silence for a little while longer, then nodded.
“Very well,” he said. He lifted his hands and grasped hold of the winds. He seemed to knead them into threads, then spun them together with his arms, as if coiling rope. He spun them until they began to moan, then howl. He then enshrouded Maggie in the spiraling air, like a swaddling blanket, and watched as it grew into a great spiraling column of destruction.
Live free,” he said.

The tornado rolled across the prairie, spiraling exuberantly with its newfound life. It destroyed homes and businesses and killed many people. Those who survived the storm swore the winds sounded like a young woman cackling in glee. It was a storm of the decade, they said.
When the tornado finally unwound, all that remained was the detritus that the tornado tore up and ripped apart and flung around itself. As the last whisper of wind dissipated into the warm Kansas air, there could be heard a single faint whisper of peace and calm without regret.
Freedom.”

Serial Romances

A trellis entwined with Virginia creeper
beneath a bower of Magnolias in bloom,
and a cold stone bench, upon which a breathless sleeper
lies in gossamers woven round from the moon’s loom.

Lights, like fireflies, on the Mississippi River
and hobnobbing drinkers, each kissing wine-stained glass
while a socialite with pearls and curls is all aquiver
as a man with a black cravat exudes such class.

They abscond to a yard of dew-bejeweled tulips,
which, he claims, is part of his grand manor estate,
and while he lovingly pets her petticoat-petaled hips,
he tells her that their meeting is but divine fate.

She swoons with the climax of their moonlit meeting
and lies upon the bench, given up to all things
while he walks to the port city dock, thereupon greeting
his fellow passengers as the steamboat bell rings.

He glances back at the Creole city, so bright
with glowing globes festooned all along its French streets,
and fingers the pearls in his pockets, so smooth and so white
like the skin of a woman beneath parting pleats.

Standing on deck, he meets a lovely Southern belle
and she asks what he likes most about steamboat life.
He smiles, charmingly, and he bows, saying, “Mademoiselle,
I love plucking flowers at night,”—his grin a knife.