PICKING PLUMS

Five women were picking plums from the ground. Four were doing the actual work. They were carrying swollen bags of fruit, bent over to pile more on top. One, presumably the hardest worker, had already abandoned her bag and was continuing to catch the remaining morsels in her apron. Two others had wandered off in the distance as the plums became harder and harder to find. The fourth was grabbing the last few in the foreground, when she happened upon a sullen, black rock.

The fifth woman was standing with a platter in the center of it all. She was dressed differently than the rest. Her apron was white, and where the others wore a red over-coat, she bore no such garment. Her eyes darted between the women, but returned to the girl standing in the foreground. Her face was a mix of contempt and anguish, as if the girl had done something to wrong her that she couldn’t speak of in front of the rest of the women.

The platter she carried was a small, black platter, perhaps of well-polished, painted wood, or porcelain. It contained plums that looked similar to what the other women were picking, yet they appeared to be the deep color of overripe fruit and, perhaps, were for reference only.

I liked to think, as I passed by, that she was the headmaster’s wife. She was angry at this girl for having slept with the master, and had taken her anger out on her group of maids as a whole. In the heat of day, she had forced them to pick bags and bags of fruit—so many that they had run out of the massive bags, and yet still she made them relentlessly continue. It looked as though they had picked the orchard nearly clean, too. I think they would have kept picking too, had things not changed as I walked out of view.

A sharp cry echoed from behind me, followed by the soft thumps of a dozen or so fruit. I heard footsteps rushing through the woods, then a heavy thud of a rock against something. The footsteps stopped. Two, three, four more times the rock came down, and with each thud emerged a sickening crunch.

When I finally decided to turn back, the grove had been emptied. No bags were anywhere to be seen, nor any women, though there were two patches of plums. The first was far in the distance, where the two women had gone off in search of more. It appeared they had dropped a small handful from their bags as they left, which had rolled harmlessly for a few feet before stopping. The second patch was less fortunate. A dozen plums, much deeper purple, had smashed onto the ground; splattering across the floor. The pulp and juice seeped from beneath the little heads, creating a pool of matter that mixed in with the dirt as they rotted.

——

 

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STRIKEOUT

Like an umpire shooting bullet holes

through a neighborly batter’s defenses,

you should strike through the draft of your paper

with the black ink of objectivity.

 

Or else you’ll be an executioner.

The ink will become your vicious black hood

and the pen will be your dripping red axe

swinging at the necks of innocent words.

 

Or worse yet, you will be back in high school,

stuttering sentences in a mirror

as you prepare to ask Suzy to prom,

just to doubt you had a shot to start with.

——

 

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PEN TO PAPER – 50 WORD STORY

I touched my pen to paper, and it exploded with brilliant hues of reds and greens. The canvas of my mind spattered with the colors of reason; as vibrant as the open window at the end of the table. Then, just as quickly, it faded back to black and white.

——

 

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THE UNIVERSE

It all started with the Big Bang

careening beyond the blackness,

weaving blue electricity

through the barren void of cosmos.

 

Then came the endless pulse of light

like a cardiac monitor

calling to the cradle of life

for it to be reborn again

 

and from the womb of the stars sprung

the stories of sacred spirits

that stoked our imaginations

like stacks of wood on the fire.

 

Until, at last, the burnt day comes;

where billowing flames unravel

the broken strands of creation

back to the heart of its great beast

 

and out of the blackened ashes

will crawl the Small Song of silence

who will retie the strings of shame

with the ropes of humility.

——

 

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BAT SONGS

The shade of bats fluttering in the distance engulfed the lights of the stars, like lines of black paint against the night. The chill metal of the bench was sharpened as they passed overhead; their shrill chatter echoing in my ears. Their beckoning song seemed to call out, “Sleep, Ulysses.”

——

 

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A RICH LIFE

I have always had a strong imagination. When I was a child, there were nights where I would lie in bed, waiting for sleep to claim me, with more vivid fantasies about knights and magicians than the dreams that would follow. On the walk to school every morning, I would picture the world coming to an end in a new way, just to pass the time (and, perhaps, in hopes that I could somehow make the school explode).

Until one day I realized that I had to move on. The perfectly detailed gun battles, the stealth missions against giant aliens, the jumps from thousand foot buildings with a parachute—they all were too little for me. I started spending my time on schoolwork. Instead playing clips of unwritten movies in my head at night, I passed out with a pen in hand and a notebook under my head.

I got a degree in finance, and was set up with a steady job. The office walls had that dirty, faded white color that looks simultaneously unfinished and ancient. Things were pretty good. During my breaks, I got a brief moment to myself to breathe. I usually spent this time picturing what it would be like if I were outside, but company policy was that all breaks not spent on the can were to be spent in the break room. Then it was back to the tip-tap­ of the keyboard.

And that was twenty-five years gone. Nothing changed. The occasional pay raise kept me feeling humble about myself, while the company’s profits quintupled under a budget plan I had proposed. They even offered me full health insurance coverage—and I mean FULL. They even scheduled check ups for me, I was considered that important to the company. Plus, the big guys said they could write off any costs anyway.

Then the day came where the check up didn’t go so well. It was an overcast day, with the sun just barely peeking out from behind the clouds. The doctors’ office was colder than it was outdoors. I came in for a routine check up, which I had once a year, and the doctor found a strange clump in my chest. The tests came back a week later, and they told me it was breast cancer. It had progressed fast, too, and was likely to begin impacting my health seriously within the next two months.

The company gave me leave—something that came marking both my twenty-fifth anniversary with the company, and the tenth year since they monopolized the market (of course, in America they can’t call it that, but the results were the same). I went to Spain, to Germany, and a load of other countries to try to clear my head. The head of the Euro branch of affairs found me a top-notch place to stay at, and I began to burn through my hefty savings.

One night, I took a break from the parties and the escapes, and went to bed early. I was nostalgic about my life. I had called family, friends, and even past co-workers about my conditions. My childhood memories of imagining things before bed came back to me, and I closed my eyes to picture myself in a meadow. It started well, but soon I had lost myself in a story about beautiful queens and valorous knights.

And it struck me that I had never been valorous. There was no adventure to my life. Sure, I was frequenting the top of the top in society, but the blow was hardly fulfilling anymore. There were no roadside breakdowns. No struggles. No victories. Just fun. So much fun, that it didn’t feel special anymore.

The next day I took a walk through the street market. An old couple was deciding between two vegetables, while a child ran from his parents in ragged clothes. They all had such smiles on their faces. They had made it. No, they weren’t spraying champagne into crowds of cheering faces, or sleeping with gorgeous models, but they had the heart-wrenching expressions just the same.

I walked my way up through a cobblestone tower with a name I couldn’t pronounce and looked out over the world. It was a misty day, with just enough fog to coat the horizon, but not so much to cover the city. They didn’t have ledge guards here—if you fell, you fell. And as I stood there, I pictured the life I could have had. I could have ditched that class, went on that hike, or went to that dinner. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be standing where I was now—rich, famous, and utterly alone.

And I jumped.

——

 

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GALE (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Privacy

I sat on a bench

confessing love, while a bird

watched me from a branch.

 

Regrowth

The patch of green grass

growing from dead dirt reminds

that life will go on.

 

Narcissus

They were so busy

staring at their reflections

they missed the white fish.

 

Disown

A doll made of sticks

lies in shambles in the dirt

as the girl stomps off.

 

Gale

A wind this restless

engulfs the valley in fear.

Even the stones shake.

——

 

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LOVE POEM #69 – WHISTLIN’ IN THE DARK

I laughed at Don Lockwood for dancing

out on the damp, dimly lit sidewalk

when I first saw him singing in the rain

just ‘cause he got kissed by some brown-haired babe,

 

but when I was walking home last night

after all the lights on eleventh had gone out,

I could hardly contain the skip in my step,

much less the whistle wrenched between my teeth

 

and as I came across a lone, flickering lamppost,

I embraced it wholeheartedly, as he had,

as though it were the one that had shot me full of electricity

and upgraded my black-and-white life to full Technicolor.

——

 

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SUMMER READINGS

If I piled up the pyramid of books

that I promised I would peruse this summer

I would have a tombstone so great

that even Giza would be impressed.

 

But when scattered about in my room,

along the seats of my car, or still nestled

cozily on the shelves of the dusty library

they could hardly dwarf the statue of a gnome.

 

Which is why when I go to water the yard now

I see Eliot and Wilder standing guard,

reminding me how my time here is too short

to spend wasting away on this silly computer.

——

 

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OUR LAST CAT (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

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Under the blue sky

an image blocks the sunlight:

“Eat like you mean it.”

 

Leisure

I sit cross-legged

drinking the inspiration

of fresh morning dew.

 

Crescendo

The drum of fingers

tap against the countertop

waiting for their cue.

 

Seeing Faces

A face in the grass

smiling in the windy air

blinks out of my sight.

 

Our Last Cat

He left deep gashes

in the memories of home

carved into the chairs.

——

 

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