Honky-Tonk Heartbreak

She croons over the Karaoke boom,
voice as smoky as fresh-charred barrels of oak,
white lightning across the busy barroom,
both hot and sugary—whiskey cut with coke.

She is a rough woman weathered with age
and the seasons of dragging a heart on sleeves—
hollow-eyed, denim-thighed, veiled on the stage
with her auburn hair the shade of Autumn leaves.

She sings her Loretta Lynn like a dirge
for the Man in Black, lost deep in his cup,
her soul rising, fermented, in a surge,
dividing the hot whiskey from the syrup.

Overpass

Away from the County Fair and its bright lights in the center of the dark field—where children laughed as they rode the rollercoaster and the teacups and the Ferris wheel— farther across the field parallel with the interstate, and beneath the dim orange lampposts along the highway, the overpass was a soft clash of subdued orange light and a Summer’s night washed out with shadows and starlight. Two figures stood beside the railing of the overpass, beneath a lamppost, talking.
“That’s dangerous, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, people are always dying over there. They talk about it on the News all of the time.”
“That’s why I get hazard pay,” he said. “And it’s not that bad where I’m going. You’d be more likely to die from E Coli or dysentery than an IED.”
“But that’s still pretty bad,” she said. “It’s just so…so dangerous.”
The golden butterfly necklace splayed across the flat of her chest, between her shallow breasts. She wore a pink sleeveless dress and had her black hair cocooned-up into a retro-beehive which she thought complemented her 50’s soda pop shop pink skirt. Her eyes were hazel and green, like the woods before dark.
“I’ve been over there before,” he said. “Three tours. But this is private contracting. That’s why the pay’s so good. I will be able to make a whole week’s worth of wages in one day over there. Three months on, a month off. If I stay after the three months are up then I get time-and-a-half. It’s good money. Great money. I can’t pass it up.”
He wore a green camouflage T-shirt, ready at a blink to disappear into the dark foliage of the distant woods rearing upward into the hills overlooking the interstate and Fairgrounds. His tan khakis were stained here and there with motor oil and dirt. No matter how much he washed his face, it always seemed a little dirty, but his smile— and his blue eyes—always shined through the grime.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” she said. She let her gaze fall to the railing, and put her hands on the steel bands, leaning. The pink frills of her dress revealed goose-bumped brown legs.
“I will,” he said. He grinned, and his dimples deepened.
She glanced up at his face, then looked away. She sighed.
“I don’t like it.”
He shrugged. “What else can I do? Go to college? I went for a year. Wasn’t for me.”
“You could stay here,” she said. “Become a car mechanic or something.”
His grin disappeared. “You’re going to Minneapolis. You’re not staying, either. It’s good that they accepted me because we can both leave this dead-end County behind. It’s a Win-Win for both of us.”
“Yeah,” she muttered. She kept her eyes on his nose because it hurt to look at his eyes. He looked at the slender arc of her neck as she inclined her head, trying not to look at her pouty lips.
“We both knew this was going to happen,” she said, more to herself than to him. “But today was really nice. All Summer’s been nice. I haven’t been to the Fair in years.”
“I just wish I could have won that pink elephant for you,” he said. He shook his head and his fist. “That air rifle was rigged. Two targets went down easy, but the third shot made less noise, which meant the guy had decreased the air pressure.”
She giggled and light came into her green-and-brown eyes; sparkling brighter than the headlights passing under the overpass.
“Sure thing, Rambo,” she teased. “Blame the gun. Still,” she said, considering, “two out of three ain’t bad.”
“Are you quoting Meat Loaf?” he laughed. “Miss Grad School over here, quoting Meat Loaf. I always thought you were a Bananarama girl.”
She frowned. “Meat Loaf? I don’t get it.”
He frowned also, scratching his blonde hair demurely. “Never mind. I thought you were making a joke.”
Crestfallen now— though she was not entirely sure why—her pale brow hung heavy and she leaned against the railing more heavily with her slight frame, looking like a marble statue swooning over a tomb.
“You could go to Minneapolis,” she said. “There are plenty of jobs there you could work. It’s a lot colder than Afghanistan, but it would be a lot safer, too.”
“I don’t know if it would be safer,” he said, “not with all of those college girls up there.” He leaned against the highway’s lamppost. “Actually, Afghanistan can get pretty damn cold,” he said. “At night it sucks. Especially in the mountains.” He watched the evening traffic pass to and fro, humming beneath the overpass. “I couldn’t do anything in Minneapolis except grind in place. I couldn’t make the money I would in Afghanistan. And I’m going to need money to settle down somewhere. Eventually. If I don’t go crazy from staying in place.”
“That’s the problem with being a Military brat,” she said. “Wanderlust. You’ll never be happy anywhere for long.”
“Look who’s talking,” he said, playfully. “Isn’t your dad a US Corps Engineer? My dad was just a grunt. And a drunk.”
The night sky was vaulted with cobalt, pierced with white-hot stars. To the North the vault was stained with the glow of the city. Down below, the headlights and taillights of the traffic cycled through the darkness. The Fair was an outpost of twirling radiance and swirling cadence in a field otherwise plunged in darkness. Here and there the moonlight gleamed on the windshields of the hundreds of cars parked around each other in the field, packed together like an immovable labyrinth of chock-a-block gridlock.
“Just be careful over there,” she said.
“You be careful, too,” he said. “Don’t party too hard.”
“I’m too old for that,” she said. “It’s all work from here on out. I’ll be too busy to party.” She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “What about you? You’re the party animal, aren’t you?”
“Not anymore,” he said. “I’ll probably just spend my downtime playing videogames and watching Youtube.”
“Yeah,” she said, tucking a strand of black hair back behind her ear. “That sounds like you.”
Their shadows were nailed down to the overpass by the lamppost overhead. She came away from the railing, and stepped toward him, but stopped. He glanced toward the bright lights of the Fair to keep himself from looking at her wet cheeks. His lips twitched restlessly.
“I love…I love that you’ll be doing what you love,” he said. “It must take a lot of brains to become a Pharmacist.”
“Pharmaceutical Scientist, actually,” she said, laughing through tears. “Yeah, it’s all about Chemistry.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s all about Chemistry.”
Her laugh died, but he did not miss a beat.
“Chemical reactions, right? Or am I being dumb again?”
“You’re right,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Medications and how the body reacts to them. Kidneys, lungs, heart…”
“And penis medication,” he said with a laugh. “Boner pills.”
“Yeah,” she said, grinning painfully. “It’s a growing branch of medicine.”
They both laughed, their tremulous voices swallowed by the empty night overhead and echoing in the underpass down below. When the last echo faded, only a sad silence remained. The silence swelled— no traffic passing for a long, anxious stretch. It split open and bled with the chiming alert of her cell-phone.
Fumbling her fingers in her purse, she pulled out her phone. Little strips of paper fell out as she withdrew her phone, scattering everywhere. They were cinema stubs and fortune cookie slips and the wrappers from the bubblegum she chewed after they ate out, all obsessive-compulsively folded and refolded again and again, spilling out across the highway and opening slowly as they tumbled, like chrysalises hesitant for inevitable change.
She read the text, her brow crinkled with emotions, and then shoved the phone back into her purse. She could not gather up all of the paper slips. They had fluttered away in a rising breeze.
“Shit,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“She hung her head to one side, staring up at the night sky at an angle, letting the glare of the lamppost blind her. She then looked at him; him and his blue eyes.
“Some friends want me to go with them to a bar,” she said. “Last night out before I head to Minneapolis.”
The Ferris wheel slowed to a jerking halt in the distance, its light-strewn buckets swaying. Slowly, it let its riders out, one bucket at a time.
“I can take you there,” he said.
“You can go in with me if you want,” she said.
“I’d like to,” he said, “but I can’t. I have to pack my things. I’ll be leaving for training camp early Monday morning. Two weeks in Fort Myers and then I’m off to the quagmire.”
“Oh,” she said. “At least Fort Myers is nice. My family lived near there for a while.”
“So did my family,” he said, “before the divorce. We bounced around everywhere after that. Then again, we were always bouncing around.”
“So were we,” she said.
He glanced over at the field where many of the cars were starting, headlights flashing on and engines rocking to life.
“It’s a good thing we parked at the gas station,” he said. “It’s going to be a mess down there. It’ll make leaving so much easier.”
“Yeah,” she said. “And I didn’t mind the walk. It’s nice outside tonight. Everything was perfect.”
“Yeah,” he said, “and a perfect Summer, too. Hard to top it.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Yeah.”
The Fair was closing, its small city of lights blinking to blue-blackness; bulb by bulb, bit by bit. They looked at the Fairgrounds and watched the maze of parked cars line up to leave. It was a disordered nightmare with no sense of reason or patience. Slowly they walked toward the gas station with a sense of relief and sweet sadness. The crush of traffic fell far behind them.

Fire Ritual (For Falon)

Fragrant as fresh cut cedar
in early morning cold
and as waking
with the welcoming spread of your
love,
you baffled yourself with the scents of your
wilderness,
dryad concealed behind civilized
shyness.
You cling to embarrassment like roots
in snowpack-buried soil.
Willfully deceived against your own feral
womanliness,
you flush as flame
when passion flares;
you are a
virgin to the knowledge
that love and shame were never opposed,
but complement in devout trust
like a flame-hearted hearth
redolent of cedar
and made of cold stones
hewn from the icy river.
Fret not for the purple heartwood
as the sacred fire burns between us.
My love, let us
commune in the ashen aftermath,
hot embers alighting upon Winter’s winds.

Five, Five, Five…

A translucent cloud,
only barely there,
neither thick nor proud
floating in night air,
as a frayed grayed dove
in want of sun’s rays
while drifting above,
born of misty haze.
Thin, ghostly stratus,
do you think desire
something your status
might survive, that fire
which burns with a stare
that blinds and dissolves,
an unrivaled glare
round which earth revolves?
Stay true to the moon,
phantom of the night,
or fade all too soon
like ghosts at dawn’s light.

Haikus

Like lions roaring
they shouted all through the day,
cuddling close at night.

He loved his woman
like he loved his hot coffee;
bitter—no sugar.

Their relationship
jackknifed on the icy bridge,
cold river beneath.

She was the woman
raving within the attic,
setting beds aflame.

She wore him like a
tramp-stamp: proudly among friends,
hidden while at work.

Ice Cold Crime Of Passion

Detective Drake gazed on the murder scene,
watching the crimson pool melt with the ice
and the snow-angel imprint left by Dean
when he collapsed after being stabbed twice.

“No murder weapon yet,” the deputy said,
“but his wife said he had plenty o’ enemies.”
Drake remarked, “Scarlet letters can be read,
but I’m not sure I want to read any of these.

“Dean was a man with a lot of free time,”
the Detective said, “especially for married women.”
Sighing, he added, “Too many suspects for this crime.”
He smiled as if he was sucking on a lemon.

On the porch sat Dean’s distraught wife,
crying as she was consoled by a local officer—
nearby, icicles were as sharp as a knife
and tears slid off of them as much as off of her.

Drake saw the ice gleam with the squad-car’s flash
and saw the same gleam in the eye of the widow,
both a furious red in time to a rhythmic slash
as the clouds overhead thickened with snow.

“Winter sure has a sharp ol’ set of fangs,”
the deputy said, staring at the ice-toothed house.
Drake ignored the icicles on the overhangs,
muttering to himself, “So does a jilted spouse.”

Horologe

The crickets all gather around
an oak tree to play their lonely songs
while crouching on the dewy ground—
they vibrate their wings in their throngs.
A single cricket left behind,
all alone while the others form pairs,
but continues his song to find
a heart to warm in nightly airs.

Little cricket longing for love,
sawing a song among the gnarled roots
of the oak tree looming above,
and fearless of the marching boots.
What faith you must have in this world
to play so boldly for all to hear
when the cold Fall winds are unfurled
and hungry predators draw near.

The soldiers all gather around
a campfire to sit so they may rest
while a soldier saws a sweet sound
from the violin at his chest.
He sings a sad song for his wife
left at home with his fair-haired daughter
and although there will soon be strife
he plays and plays without falter.

Little soldier mourning his love,
sawing a song among the camplight
with brothers alike, hawk and dove,
and fearless of the marksman’s sight.
What faith you must have in god
to play so boldly for all to hear
your heart’s music like that of Nod
as your enemies draw so near.

Sickly mother tosses around
in her bed, her brow ablaze with fire
and listens to the howling hound
as the crescent moon climbs higher.
Her daughter sits by the window,
the grandfather clock just behind her,
counting the seconds as they go—
each hour’s chime a sad reminder.

Little daughter at the cold glass,
what faith you have in a clock’s numbers
to wait for the slow time to pass
while your sickly mother slumbers.
You count each moment of each day
with a cadenced voice ringing clear
to answer the pendulum’s sway
as the descending Scythe draws near.