THE RED RIVER

For the past three weeks, traces of red liquid had been found in the clear blue waters of the rivers, growing more solid with each passing day. At first, it was just a whisk, like a droplet falling in a cup, before it disperses and becomes unnoticeable. Then eventually, the water began to darken, from blue, to purple, to a beautiful shade of red wine. When it hit that shade, the water became undrinkable, and we knew we had to find out what was going on.

We began our trek up the river, to see what we could find. A few days later, it morphed into a bright, angry red, like a vicious sunburn. Eventually, we came to a massive forest, and followed the red river in. It was dark, like night, spackled with the occasional beam of sunlight peaking from in between tree branches. It was enough to light they way, but hardly bright. The angry red of the river looked more like smoldering ash in the dark. We began to worry when the sunbeams grew thin and orange—it meant the sun was going down, and all sorts of things could inhabit the forest.

We made camp, set up a fire, and picked roles for the watch. Mine was the last, which I was thankful for. It was easier to sleep through most of the night, and simply stay awake, than it was to sleep for a short three hours, wake up to keep watch, then sleep again. My eyes had glazed over by the time the first beams of sunlight touched down through the trees. It was like a heavenly ascension piercing through the heart of the darkness.

We kept this routine for another two days, marching through treacherous pitfalls and shifting terrain. All the while, we kept along the river, following its unexpected. It was growing wider, which we took to mean we were getting close to its source. A few hours later, the river widened into a lakebed, with a massive red waterfall, which, as it smashed into the lake, created a thin, red mist. The waterfall itself seemed to stretch off into the distance, far above the trees above us.

The unexpected base of the cliff met us as we drew closer, and we began our ascent upward. The way up was full of dangers, but eventually we crossed the upper threshold of the trees. The break of sunlight on our faces was soothing, as a cool glass of water is to a man returned from a desert. We could see the top, not far above the trees, and took the last hundred meters quickly.

When we reached the top, we were awestruck by the sight before us. Lodged in the middle of a massive lake—ten times the size of the one below us—was an enormous heart. It looked almost like a titanic boulder, bigger in size than any we had ever seen, beating fiercely, as though whatever body it had inhabited had been running for miles before.

And it was split in two, held weakly together by tethers at the bottom. From the center of the split sides, it was gushing blood like a fountain, pouring tons into the water around it by the second. The air stank of rot and decay, but the heart showed no signs of weakness. It was incredible to see something so full of life yet so broken. All we could do was stand there still, looking on amazed and frightened.

——

 

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MAGIC LOST (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Magic Lost

Where’d the magic go?

Lost somewhere between the sheets

and the long walk home.

 

Vices

Take another sip

of that poison you cling to.

Tell me how it burns.

 

Intellect

For all our knowledge

we worry about days past

more than mindless rocks.

 

Seabound

If all of the seas

were to close their ports to me,

I’d still wave to you.

 

A Way Out

If they had forced me

to kill someone, I’d choose to

kill them with kindness.

——

 

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VISIONS IN THE DESERT

I felt like an ant, crossing that wasteland of a desert. There was nothing in site as far as the eye could see, and the sun was beating down on me, heavy, as though Apollo had set his chariot of fire on my shoulders. In my mind, the pulsing of my headache felt like the hooves of his mighty horses pounding me to death. My shirt had been soaked through with sweat hours before, and I could feel the sun burn taking shape on the uncovered parts of my body.

The desert air filled my lungs—drying my mouth and leaving my throat ragged and parched. Each breath felt like a cement block was being dragged across my insides. My legs had grown wobbly as I ascended the dune. As I neared the top, my vision began to grow blurry, and my legs buckled for a moment. I came down hard on the sand; my knees crashed, followed swiftly by my outstretched arms. I sucked a deep breath of air, attempting to gather the strength to get back up again, then coughed and spit as sand slid in between my teeth. My forehead rested on my arm, as I enjoyed the blackness behind my shut eyes. My arm was sticky when I finally pulled it away and, shaking, clambered to my feet again. I looked out across the mass of emptiness before me.

I was struck by the beauty of it. It was so empty, even time seemed to have melted away. Each moment seemed to take hours, and suddenly I felt like many decades of time had passed me by. And, as I looked down at myself, I realized they had. I watched as my deep black beard faded to peppered gray, and then finally to white. The skin in my hands wrinkled, and the whites of my knuckles pressed for freedom. I felt my body grown weaker; drier; sicker—as though I had been possessed. My legs began to shake, no longer in fatigue, but with the brittleness of an old man, too long for this world.

My mind flooded with visions of my youth: An awkward game of catch with my father, my first dance with a girl, the late night writings of a dedicated lover, the early morning rises of budding father; and then soon came the memories that I had never known. Seeing my son become a father, and holding my granddaughter for the first time, watching from the sun-chairs as they played in the waves, holding my wife’s hand as she passed away—that same shy smile she had given me when I had asked her to the dance. All these memories I had never known flooded through my mind, as though the floodgates of “could have been” had been thrust open by some unnatural force.

Then shut, once again, as I saw the last vision of myself, from outside my body. I was there, eyes shut lightly, with my mouth hung slightly open. My beard looked scraggly and short. My skin was pale—so pale I nearly missed it flaking away. Bit by bit, the wind pulled fragments of me away with it. It looked like I was peeling. Then, as the gusts grew stronger, I watched myself crumble away into dust and float away, with the desert, forever.

——

 

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NEWLYWEDS IN FLIGHT

A quick intro before this short poem today. I wrote it as a response to “The Bard in Flight” by Billy Collins. You should definitely read that, too. 🙂 Ok, anyways, here it is:

 

Newlyweds in Flight

On the plane,

across from Billy and the Bard

was a newlywed couple

voyaging on their honeymoon travels,

 

and when the shock of turbulence

caused an echo of whispered fear,

he was comforted that his hand

held more than just history.

——

 

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DEFEATED BEFORE BREAKFAST

When I woke up, I was already defeated. The thick, mass of blankets pinned me down, while waves of lethargy threatened to drown me beneath them. My eyes felt hazy, as though I had awoke intoxicated by some unknown drug, and every muscle in my body seemed to whisper stay just a little while longer. Gravity itself pulled me back toward the warm confines of the bed when I finally rocked myself up.

And as I stumbled about my room, the cozy grooves of the carpet felt like roots, begging me to drink their nutrients and become a tree. The shivers of cool air whisking through the window cut me deep in my nudity, as if to order me back to bed. The same was true for the bathroom tiles, the shock of frigid water, and the hasty toweling off. I looked at myself in the mirror—might I mention that looking in the mirror in the morning is never a good idea. My salt and pepper beard was scruffy; I looked older than I was. Though, in truth, I felt older than I looked. Which meant, that morning, I could only conclude that I had no idea how old I was, but that “old” was certainly the correct descriptive word.

Looking in that mirror was the last twist of the knife though. It was like watching the walls of Constantinople crumble, or the Russian winter cripple Napoleon’s armies. I saw myself—my sunken eyes, my wrinkled arms, and my weakened knees—and the miniscule warmth in my heart was snuffed out. I picked up the phone and dialed some numbers.

“Hello?” A familiar female voice called out to me.

“Hi, Allie, it’s Jim. I’m not feeling well today. I’ve got a 103 fever, and I’m not going to make it in today.” I could hear the pause as she typed out a few things

“Well hi Jim. I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well, but didn’t you get the email?” There was a note of sorrow in her voice.

“What email?”

“Oh. Well they rescheduled you. You don’t have to come in until tomorrow at five.”

“Oh. Well thanks for telling me. When did they send out the email?”

“This morning,” my heart stung with annoyance as she spoke, “don’t you check everyday?”

“No. Do you?”

“Hmm well you should.” She sounded bored.

“Well, thanks for telling me that,” I said, “talk to you later.”

“By Jim!” then the phone clicked off.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up. They had cooled since I had left them. At least my defeat didn’t actually cost me anything.

——

 

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WHERE LIFE MEETS DEATH

I often judge a tree branch

on whether it can support my weight

as I hang there suspended, swinging

in the breeze on a nice, thick rope

 

like back in Florida, above the water,

while my father roared with laughter

just before crashing beneath the surface.

That brief moment of suspense

 

at the peak of upward momentum,

where the whole world goes quiet, and

all you can feel is your life

stretching out into eternity.

 

That must be what Icarus felt

as his feathers melted away

and his fingers grasped to cross

the last few inches to the sun.

 

I wonder if in that moment

he felt the bridge between Zeus

and Hades. Where life meets death

with long forgotten fraternity.

——

 

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FEELING LOST ON THE BEACH

“When did I start walking? I don’t really remember…” my voice trailed off as I looked into the distance. The old man had pulled up along side me just as I noticed the sun was setting. He was a short fellow, but had a certain youthful spring to his step.

“Well, if you don’t remember when you started walking, do you remember why?” The smile hidden inside his beard broke into a laugh. He reminded me of my childhood house cat in that way. He was scruffy, in a well-worn Hawaiian shirt and loose cargo pants, with a deep tan.

“I don’t really remember that either,” I said. I turned my attention to where I was. We were along the beachside, at sunset, walking at the edge of the sand and the sidewalk. The last thing I remembered was tying my shoes in the morning—yet when I looked down to see them, I saw only my bare feet. And had it been this morning?

“Well, you don’t know why you’re here, or how long you’ve been going where you’re going, but you’re still going somewhere. Ain’t that something else? Next thing you’ll tell me, you don’t even remember your name.”

“My name is Adam,” I said.

“Adam is it?” the old man replied. He pulled his beard between his thumb and index finger thoughtfully. “Adam has always been a favorite name of mine. Good strong name.”

“I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a strong man,” the words fell out of my mouth before I had even thought of them.

“Oh,” the man looked at me curiously, “and why is that?” I stared off into the distance again, unsure how to proceed. The relatively flat surface of the beach had turned into an uphill climb as we approached the dunes.

“I’m not sure,” I said finally, “perhaps that’s why I’m walking?” I smiled at him. A look of hesitant concern crossed his face.

“Could be, Adam. It’s no old geezer like me’s business, but I think maybe you’re feeling lost.”

“What gave you that impress—” his tone turned stern, in the way a grandparent’s does when they need to teach a lesson, but without making their grandchildren cry.

“Now don’t go interrupting me, Adam,” he wagged a meaty finger in my face, “I’ve seen boys like you before. Look over their,” he gestured out to the many small silhouettes along the shoreline, watching the sun sinking beneath the ocean. “All those people? They’re going through something just like you. Might be they just got through it; might be that they’re about to run into it.

“But it’s too easy to just walk away from your problems like you’re doing here. Leaving the whole world behind, as if the world did something to you that you didn’t deserve. You’ll keep walking till your feet are blistered, your legs are cramped, your stomach is knotted, and your hair is in tatters. And you’ll still feel lost, because that’s not how we overcome our problems. It’s good to know when and why to walk away, like from some hothead in a bar, but it ain’t no good to just be walking empty headed—letting them bad thoughts cloud your mind and eat away at your soul. You need to stand up, and figure out where you’ve been and, more importantly, where you’re going.”

His hands closed into fists with these last remarks. Then, he put a hand on my shoulder and stopped. I paused and looked up. We were at the top of the sand dunes. The ocean could be seen for miles, and the sun was just a fleeting sliver, before it would wink out for the night entirely. His eyes were full of determination, yet also so full of sadness. Like he knew what I was feeling even better than I did.

“I—” the words wouldn’t come to me. I could feel a tear slipping down my cheek, though I wasn’t sure when it had gotten there.

“That’s alright Adam,” he took his hand off of me, “you’ll figure it out. Just stay here till you do.” And like that, he spun on his heels, and marched off down the hill, while I sat and watched the clouds turn from orange, to pink, to purple, and finally to a deep, empty gray.

——

 

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ACTIVE YOUTH

It struck me in the back of the cafeteria,

between the meat pie and the chicken,

that I am not an active youth. Sure

I hike, and I run, and occasionally

I will take a trip out to the sea,

 

But that isn’t the active youth anymore,

that’s the active old man. That’s my dad.

A wonderful, respected man, but

certainly one “of his time.” A time,

 

nowadays, that is long past. Overtaken

like the Wright brothers were

by the juggernaut of American Airlines.

Oh, we’ll always remember those boys

 

in our comfortable window seats,

viewing the clouds like Zeus on Olympus,

munching down complimentary pretzels

on our cheap, plastic, fold-out trays

 

not unlike how I remembered my father

from that lonely table on that Saturday night,

who was revolutionizing the world

long before I was ever born.

——

 

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LOVE POEM #47 – BLUE LOVE

I’ve spent all this time being midnight blue,

That I have lost my time to be with you.

You, the girl painted American red—

You’re the girl I can’t get out of my head.

 

You, the girl I sat next to for a year.

You, the girl whose smile could commandeer

Every man’s heart from here to Ireland.

Oh, the things I would give to hold your hand.

 

Do you remember that Slim Shady verse?

You’d rap it and be completely immersed,

And I’d almost forget that you showed me

The whole realm of music that is country.

 

You, the girl who wore those star-and-stripe boots

(Sorry if I ever checked your caboose).

You, the girl who loves the Anaheim Ducks,

You, the girl I know really love to…fish.

 

Oh, I know that you do it all the time

But that story is for another rhyme.

Tonight, I’ll lament ‘bout what I’m missing—

‘Bout how I wish ‘twas you I was kissing.

You, the girl with hair colored like a dove.

You, the one that cursed me with this blue love.

——

 

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A WEEK INDOORS

Water ran down the window, as the pouring rain pattered lightly against the side of the house. It was another indoor day for Tim. Monday had been the first, which was exciting for him. It was rare that he got to watch so many movies in one evening. Tuesday was the second, at which point the novelty of a day inside began to wear off. His mother grew more impatient with him, because as he ran out of things to do, he began talking to her more. They didn’t talk often.

On Wednesday, Tim tried to take a walk outside. The rainfall had died down a bit, and he was hoping that he would be able to enjoy the cool air a short while. But as all good plans go, the second he shut the door behind him, the wind picked up, blowing frosted air and icy bullets of water into his face. It felt like an animal was tearing at his skin. That was the last time he would be doing that.

Thursday the power went out. Tim begged to light some candles—he had always like the fire, but when his mother obliged, neither of them could find the matches. His sadness turned to frustration when two in the afternoon rolled around. It looked like midnight outside; the clouds were an impenetrable wall of darkness. It was like the sun itself had been dampened by the rain.

But today was Friday. Fridays were usually spent taking a walk from school to the park, then off for ice cream on the way back home. Tim’s stomach growled as he fantasized about it. He could feel the threads of grass between his toes, and the grit of the soil under that. He could taste the vanilla cone, the sticky sweet sugars finding their way into the cracks of his skin. They would torment him later, but he didn’t care.

It was a lovely thought, but alas it was entirely fabricated. The evening Friday was short, and Tim found his way to bed in the early hours of the night.

——

 

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