Spiral

The snail shell glows, amber at dusk,
a small helix on the hot road—
was it dropped here, this inert husk,
forgotten by a passing toad?
Silent, unmoving, a snail shell
spirals inward, outward, a gyre
tracing Nature’s secrets, the Braille
of tornadoes, whirlpools, desire.
The helix shows what we know
as the whorl spins without motion:
what is above, too, is below,
the vortex an innate notion.
It is a spiral galaxy,
a paradox of space and form,
of rise and fall, a fallacy
of the exception, and the norm.

Entropy nibbles at the shell
like a toad fond of gastropod,
but no amount of life can quell
the hunger of that endless god.

Routine Regrets

Lingering ghost, wraith without a head,
standing beside the four-poster bed,
reminding us of the missteps made
and things left undone, the bitter trade
of thrills for comforts from a routine
to thwart the unknown, the unforeseen
so our lives are secured by the rite
of habit, of caution, day and night.
She stands there, as headless as our lives
while steadfast in scheduled nine-to-fives,
the ritual headless, saying nought,
yet we know she would say that we ought
to have done more when we had the chance,
but each night we lament circumstance,
for she attends us at our bedside—
attends forever, our deathbed bride.

Change

This ancient chrysalis chafes,
keeping too close to the skin,
like one of those small bank safes
magicians lock themselves in.
Sealed tightly shut, I do doubt
that Houdini could escape,
and I only want out—out!
It is an ironic jape.
Life is a zombie’s coffin,
a Pharaoh’s dusty old tomb
like what they put Karloff in:
a mummy with little room.
You suffocate while wound-round
in bandages of the past,
yet however much you pound
the old casket lid holds fast.
To break free, you must first die,
yet to die you must first grow,
shedding larval husks to fly
like the Mothman, on the go.
Perhaps the bridge must fall down
before we hear the warning
of that cryptid, leaving town
while others are still mourning.
Of course, on the other hand,
change comes when least expected,
Mr. Hyde taking command
while the signs are neglected.
It can be like Dracula
waking to a brand new age,
exchanging moldy moolah
for fresh ink on a crisp page.
Turning over a new leaf
is not so easy as said,
no easier than the grief
that comes when mourning the dead,
or eating the dead, like ghouls
who hunger for what is past,
the bitter, nostalgic fools
in cemeteries amassed.
This living-dead life idles
like Frankenstein’s creature bound
to bygone flesh, the bridles
electric, but with no ground,
so the charge does not charge,
but burns the assemblage whole,
death remaining, by and large,
despite the jolts to the soul.
True change comes when least wanted,
like the full moon to a man
whose lupine life is haunted
by every monthly span.
It visits us, like a ghost,
a poltergeist in revolt,
possession unto a host—
a demon we cannot molt
as it rearranges chairs,
smashes dishes, shatters glass,
bringing to us the nightmares
which, at sunrise, should then pass,
yet they do not, subsuming
the day-to-day life we knew
until the shadows looming
become a stale cocoon, too.
And then great Cthulhu wakes,
disrupting the status quo,
and amidst the floods and quakes
we lose all we used to know,
finding ourselves lost, afloat,
like flotsam in tides so strange
that we regret this brash boat
moored on the island of Change.

Decommissioned

Like a carousel, the old man’s mind—
creaking,
rusted,
the gears only grind.

Like a Ferris wheel, the old man’s heart—
collapsed,
broken,
unable to start.

Like a mirror maze, the old man’s youth—
shattered,
dusty,
distorting the truth.

Like a circus tent, the old man’s tale—
hollow,
empty,
no tickets to sell.

Like a cheap freakshow, the old man’s words—
maddened,
grotesque,
biting heads off birds.

Near-Death Experience

How many people have the sense
to know that all of one’s long life
is a near-death experience—
a stroll on the edge of a knife?
Death walks alongside us, always,
an escort with a cheerless grin;
he may wander, too, but he stays
within arm’s length—closer than kin.
Like your shadow, he lingers by,
unshakably close, day to day:
how fast you run, or far you fly,
means nothing, for he does not stray.
So tip your hat to the Reaper,
for he is a true lifelong friend,
though your wife may be a keeper,
Death stays with you, from start to end.

Washed Away

The tall preacher lays his palm upon the man’s forehead. With his other hand the preacher cradles the man’s nape. All around them the Snake River flows easily, aglitter in the dawn. The preacher speaks loudly, clearly, so that the rest of his followers may hear as they watch from the bank of the river.
“May yesterday’s sins be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The man takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. The preacher lowers the man backwards into the gilded water, pausing a moment as the man disappears into the sky on the water, and then raises him, holding him steadily as the man breathes out and blinks rapidly into the bright light of a new day. His white long-johns are soaked through. Droplets of water stud him like diamonds.
“Thank you, preacher,” the man says.
“Thank the Lord, Billy,” the preacher says. His black robe is like a raven perched amidst the river. “Forgiveness is His alone.”
Billy nods and then crosses himself, trudging now to the bank of the river to join with the others, drying in the sun. He sits down, his mousy hair wet and lank. He smiles through his wet beard as if a boy again, and the rest of the followers return his smile with childlike joy.
The preacher looks upon them with the look of a shepherd for his sheep. Then, with a gesture, he invites the next member of his flock forward into the waters to be baptized for the new day of pious devotion.

The sun rises higher and the day grows hotter, dustier. The flock harvests the crops they grow near their settlement of tents and wagons and palisades. Some men go fishing for trout in the river to add to the evening’s meal. The preacher stands solemnly nearby, a bible in his hand and his cool gray eyes watchful of his flock. The sun bakes skin and earth unto a clay. The preacher vows that he will mold the clay as God molded Adam.
Billy approaches the preacher, his breeches and hat dusty with the work of the day. The young man’s eyes squint perpetually, the sun having cracked wrinkles prematurely beneath them. The young man’s bare torso is as gaunt as Christ on a Catholic crucifix.
“Preacher,” Billy says, “I wanted to apologize.”
“Oh?” the preacher says. “There is no need. That is why I baptize you every morning. Your sins are washed away.”
Billy lets his eyes drop to the sagebrush and other shrubs scattered across the expanse between himself and the mountain-hemmed horizon. The preacher seems taller than the mountains themselves, and looms over all things.
“It’s not my sins I’m worried about, preacher. It’s those of…of my wife.”
The preacher gazes toward the womenfolk as they busily pick green beans. Sarah stoops among them, her red hair ablaze in the afternoon sun.
“And how has Sarah trespassed against God?”
“Sarah avoids you, preacher,” Billy says. “She doesn’t take baptism every morning. And for that, I am sorry.”
“She will see the light,” the preacher says. “With time. She will make a goodly wife.”
Billy sighs and looks away. His voice is despondent. “I like to believe so, preacher. But…”
He falls to silence.
“But?” the preacher says.
“But I fear she is going astray,” Billy says, his voice trembling. “She…disappears sometimes. Goes missing. At night…”
“And you believe she is meeting with someone else among my flock?” the preacher says, his gray eyes grim.
“No, no!” Billy says, hastily. “I would never doubt my neighbor. I know we are all Faithful here.”
The preacher turns his gray eyes upon the young man, his gaze burnishing and unblinking; steadfast as the sun itself. “Then what do you suspect?”
Billy looks to his wife kneeling among the green beans, then lets his eyes drift away in defeated silence.
The preacher’s voice is softer.
“Billy? If you suspect something, you must speak it, if not to unburden yourself, then at least to unburden the air. Unspoken suspicions are phantoms that grow in power and darken all that they touch with their shadows.”
“I don’t know, preacher,” Billy says, heavily. “Maybe it is just a phantom in my head.”
The preacher nods. “Do you know what dispels phantoms?”
“What?” Billy says, looking up with expectant hope at the preacher.
“The sun,” the preacher says. “And honest labor beneath the sun.”
“You’re right, preacher,” Billy says. “I need to work off this restlessness.”
Billy returns to the crops, taking up a hoe and weeding alongside the other members of the flock. The preacher watches him for a long moment, then turns his eyes elsewhere. Like bloated deerflies his black pupils wander about slowly, restlessly, from person to person, coming, at length, to Billy’s wife, Sarah. Her hair is as blood among the beans. She glances up, notices the preacher’s gaze, and turns quickly away.

After dinner—when the long day has settled its ashes on the horizon—the preacher reads to his flock passages from his bible. He stands tall while they sit low before him, wet with the sweat of their labors as if they have only recently emerged from their baptism in the river.
“You will know them by their fruits,” the preacher reads. “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruits…”
Billy listens attentively, but is clearly distressed. His wife is not beside him, nor among the congregation. The preacher notices this, too, but says nothing. He reads until the fire dies out in the West, then wishes his flock a good evening and the sleep of the righteous. His flock scatters to their various concerns; some to chores, others to conversation and innocent pastimes.
As the preacher walks toward his tent he is intercepted by the wife of one of his followers.
“Preacher, that was a fine sermon,” she says.
“The Lord saw fit to make it so,” the preacher says.
She follows him for some time, quietly.
“I was curious,” she says as he reaches his tent. “Why not baptize your flock at dusk, too, preacher? Why let their sins follow them into their dreams?”
The preacher does not face her. His tent is as tall as he is, and is arranged on tall wooden posts. He does not look at the young woman, even as she peers boldly up at him. He parts the flap of his tent, holding it with one hand while he stands erect, tall, like a dark sentinel whose dark hair reaches the darkening sky and its nebulous stars. His eyes do not meet her, even still.
“So you may see the fruits of your sins bloom in the night,” the preacher says. “So you may dream the guilt that you harvest from sins and learn from them the lessons upon waking, otherwise you will waken in the next life not to Heaven, but to the flaming orchard that is Hell.”
She snorts, then leaves. The preacher retires inside his tent.

The moon is pale as a salmon’s belly. The wolves howl in the distant mountains to welcome the moon. The fires die around the settlement and the flock retires to bed.
A voice calls faintly to the preacher from beyond his tent.
“Preacher? Preacher, can I have a word? Please?”
The preacher rises from bed, then goes quickly to the flap.
“Billy?” he says.
“Yes, preacher,” Billy says, glumly. “I am sorry, preacher.”
“Give me a moment, Billy, and I will be out.”
The preacher pulls on his long-johns and then his black robe. He regards his bed for a moment, in regret, then opens the flap and exits his tent. Billy’s face is distraught in the moonlight.
“Sarah has gone missing,” he says. “Preacher, you have to help me convince her to take to the Lord’s path again.”
“She is likely making night-soil,” the preacher says.
“I’d like to believe that, preacher,” Billy says. “But she has been gone for so long now.” His eyes are as wide as a salmon’s with distress. “I’m afraid she is lost to me.”
“You must believe in the Lord’s guidance,” the preacher says, sternly. “In all things His hand works His will.”
Billy hangs his head. “I know, preacher…I know…but…”
“Do not persist in this mistaken belief,” the preacher warns him. “Or it will unmake you and all of the hard work you have done for this refuge of souls.”
“I know…preacher…but Sarah…she’s been acting strange for so long now…”
The preacher’s tone is curt. “Do you not think the Lord capable of changing hearts?”
Tears glisten on Billy’s cheeks. He trembles with indecision and doubt. His voice cracks as he speaks. “I know, preacher, but what if she has turned her back on the Lord?”
“Your doubt in the Lord’s influence is a sin,” the preacher says. He shakes his head angrily, looking from Billy back to his tent. At length, he sighs in resignation. “Come. I will baptize you again. This time, perhaps, you will feel the power of Jesus Christ and, then, the truth of these petty frets will be laid bare before you.”
“Yes, preacher.”
The preacher leads Billy to the river, his shadowy figure seemingly as tall as an onyx steeple in the moonlight. The preacher steps into the shoals, gesturing for Billy to follow. Billy hesitates but a moment, but then, too, steps into the shoals, feeling the steady flow pull at his sorrow-stricken knees. He stumbles as if burdened beneath a great weight, but the preacher steadies him.
“Billy,” the preacher says. “Doubt in your wife is doubt in the love of the Lord. Do you ask forgiveness for this human failing?”
Billy, sobbing, nods. “Yes. Please, God, I ask for forgiveness!”
The preacher puts his large palm upon Billy’s forehead, and cradles his nape gently with his other hand. The preacher pauses, hearing two wolves howl together in the distance. He then continues.
“May yesterday’s sins be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The preacher dips Billy backwards into the river. He waits a moment, says a short prayer, and twists his hands in opposite directions. This done, he trudges back to the bank and—robe weighed down with water—emerges from the river. Returning to his tent, he enters and takes off his wet robe, long-johns, and lays down next to the figure awaiting his return.
A new day dawns and Billy’s limp body is washed away by the river, his arms outspread as he floats along an easy flow mirroring the sky.

Memories

They are only phantoms in the brain,
data within a computer drive,
a song with an echoing refrain,
the buzzing bees of a mental hive,
a book inscribed with pleasure and pain,
the retro slang from yesterday’s jive,
apparitions which we clutch in vain,
both the ripples and the deep-sea dive,
graffiti sprayed on a passing train,
the postcards from the place we arrive,
a shroud moth-eaten around its stain,
the remainders of those once alive.

Vacation

Scott saw the lake from the highway,

sprawling at a lower elevation beyond the

guard rails and the trees that rose between.

Its green surface was still, untroubled,

silent,

undisturbed by the windless afternoon

while Scott drove by, going home from the

buzzing, banging, screeching noises of the

Amazon warehouse; the rush as he dashed

from one row to another, scrambling to pick

and pluck and rummage another profligate

item, Made In China, that was as needful

to the average consumer

as a scarf in summertime,

trying to meet the quota demanded of him,

minute by minute,

hour by hour,

day by day

unto endless days.

Going home to an empty apartment

after a twelve-hour shift

was like

dumping himself into a box

in accordance to his bin number

and mailing himself out the next morning

once again

to the same Amazon warehouse

to pick and pluck and drop all over again.

He wanted a vacation.

A real vacation.

He wanted to go to that lake —

not to fish

or to camp

or to swim,

but to plunge his car

headlong into the depths of it and let

that placid stillness envelop him

as he sank to the bottom,

apart from the hectic human world,

uncaring,

detached,

lungs filling up

while his life emptied out,

and the tranquil bosom of the lake

sealing up, like a wound —

reconciling him within its serene silence.

The real horror of his

life

was that it went on and on and on.

Disenchanted (Expanded)

The fairies prance within my kilt

for she’s a lass bonnie built,

but when she kicked to dance a lay

she broke the wind—my fairies fled away.

But why fault such a lovely lass

her eagerness and a bit of gas?

Taking hold, then, I kiss her mute

and my fairies flee away at her toot.

To the chapel we go anon

with her bridal gown flowing on,

and at the altar love is vowed,

but my fairies flee when she farts aloud.

Across the threshold of my home

which is a cottage made of loam,

I carry the love of my life,

but the fairies sniff, groan, and flee my wife.

Upon my bed I lay her down

and from her breasts I doff her gown;

we make love sweet, gentle, and kind,

yet the pressure escapes out her behind.

A long life we live together,

in fair, fairer, fairest weather,

but the fairies remain outdoors

by day or night, for she farts as she snores.

Growing old, my lass never stops,

resounding through the mountaintops

of the highlands, lowlands, and all,

scaring the fairies with her war horn’s call.

But I never will mind her smell,

though oft like the sulphurs of Hell,

so why fret if my bonnie lass

wards fairies with her will o’ the wisp gas?

For in winter when cold winds blow

and the hearth is warm with fire’s glow

she lights it brighter with her fart

and warms me up body and soul, and heart.