Watching for Embers

 

Watching for Embers

Starting again.
Over.
Old to new.
Broken to patched.
Curled around
to upright.
Blowing out a candle
and transitioning from
wicks and fire
to electric light.

Letting eyes blink in awe
of a power
before unknown
but here
now
blinding and stark and
driving out shadows.

No going back.
Don’t want to go back.
That way is darkness.
That way is dripped wax
and blistered fingers
and the risk that
any strong gust
can turn illumination
to devastation
flicker
to uncontrolled flames.

Going back is
peeling skin
back on the corpse,
sliding and slickness,
evading re-animation.

Too alive to go back.

But looking back,
can’t be stopped,
headstone keep the body buried,
the body unable to rise
but the head can still turn.

Left alone, that ember,
that red memory
can spring to life.
A careful bellow
and guided hollow
and the ash and orange
return to dance.
What the pyre didn’t consume before
it now takes to sate
midnight hunger.

Done on purpose.
With purpose?
Having the courage
to plunge down the snifter
but not the will to seal it,
not able to strangle it
letting the smallest whisper
of air in
to encircle and
keep alive
what could be killed.

But can’t be killed.

The wisp of smoke
kisses life into the lungs.
A center of magic
if the new world
and its promises fail.

Undisturbed, it waits,
wills,
wants
the chance to
consume.

The ember watches.

What’s The Difference?

 

What’s the Difference?

A mile?

A minute?

A Saturday out?

A look?

An imbalance?

A whiskey, then a stout?

What are the chances
across that table
among that smoke
and sound
that we found
what the other wanted.

Two
of a kind
of a pair
both at the table,
cards to the chest.

We finally showed them.
And they were…

Different.

Un-matched.

From different houses.

Of course they were.

Hearts
and spades.

Strings
and blades.

Shouldn’t you
fold
when the cards
don’t match?

Isn’t that how
you save your skin,                                save yourself

if you have any hope
of playing another day?

When you go in,
and in, and all in
again,
and there’s nothing left
if you leave it behind.

If you lose,
you can’t always start again
because everything
is everything
and you don’t even get
to keep the cards.

You want…

You want…

What?

Why did you toss your coins
and pull up a chair
in the first place?

What were you hoping to win?

Or were you just playing,
to see where they fell?

Smile and shucks
and flick the ash,
pick another gamble,
round up your cash.

I think it’s more than chance.

Because we don’t match.

Or maybe we do. 

It might be we’re the same

faces worn off

from the heat of the 

game. 

Under the varnish,

under the belt,

suites, signs and numbers

embraced as they’re dealt. 
But I don’t think so
We are the difference
that seems to make
all the difference.

What is the difference,
if we aren’t?

Is it rigged?

Up our sleeves and

behind our backs?

Can we still play?

Can we win?

Can we lose?

What’s the difference?

Stand

 

Stand

Good evening.

Please.

Come sit down.

No. Thank you.
I’ll stand.

Well…
here we are.

Did you want to-

Okay. That’s fine.

I’ll start.

Are you-

Okay.

Are you okay?

I don’t know.
Doesn’t seem…

I’m okay.

Fine.

How are you?

No. Thanks.
I’m fine standing.

I’m still
and I’m happy
standing.
It’s a lovely stand.
And I don’t want
need
to go anywhere now.
But I know
you’re not one
to sit.
Unless you’re
working,
writing,
making,
creating,
perfecting,
entranced
and I’m afraid

I’m not entrancing.

Here,
you’re
standing.
And I’ll stand with you.
But I’m not good
at standing.
Better at standing
than sitting.
Not a sitter.
But not good
at standing.

I need to move.
I like a path
sprinkled before me
to find me
back.
And I see too much
Pollock
to find the straight line.

You’re a sprinkle,
a splatter,
a far and wide,
see what you can
reach
where can you spread
your colors.

I want to spread
and I can’t
keep up
with your chaos.

A gift to watch
a joy to inspire
to muse
to see
as the first spectator
past the ropes.
But there’s a rope
and that means
I stand on this side.

My colors aren’t
ready yet.
Where we stand.

Where do we stand?

If I can’t get beyond the rope
I’m standing alone
agape
glassy-eyed
at your beauty,
careful of
the taped-off edges.
Laughing,
nodding,
pretending,
at descriptions,
words,
intentions
I don’t understand.

Stand.

I stand.

Staring across the rope.

Patron.
Genius.
Applauding on my feet.
Begging to be seen.

From where
I stand.

 

 

My novel Drowning Above Water is now available through Amazon. 

Malina and Grizella

For the two incredible women who walked with me through this year.

This is the introduction to Malina and Grizella, the warriors of my imagination.

 

Photography by the author.

Malina was still curled into herself and asleep when smelled the smoke. Her legs started moving before her mind did. There had been fires here before: cigarettes, an iron, and once a disturbed Iranian girl who simply loved the red glow of a client’s gold zippo and what it could do. That damaged girl and her tender scars had also briefly slept on Malina’s couch. She remembered all this before her head left the pillow and her legs started to process the motor action needed to run away. When she smelled the clove beneath the smoke, her body stopped and her eyes opened. The woman and her dark cigarette stood in Malina’s doorway.

“Out in the hallway. Don’t wake her,” Grizella said.

The smoking taskmaster finished her order and then she shut the door. Malina closed her eyes and let her body return to its automatic muscle responses that would get her out of bed and then out the door; let her body face what her brain would ignore. Her arms functioned on instinct to pull on a robe. They weren’t supposed to be in the halls in their underwear.

Grizella had placed herself, all six feet of her pipe-thin frame, only inches outside the door. Malina had to flatten herself, back against the door, to pass through. Grizella wasn’t about to move or make anyone else’s life easier.

“How much?” Grizzled asked, staring down at her. Grizella’s eyes were red and there was a scratch on her forehead. The make-up didn’t mask everything. “How much?” Grizella demanded.

Malina’s mind flipped through the meaning or possibly the translation of this. It wasn’t money. As a legal maneuver, years ago they started sending someone to meet the men outside the rooms. The girls never actually touched the cash or even witnessed the exchanges. So, it wasn’t money.

“How much what?” Malina asked.

“All you girls here, you think I don’t know things?”

The drugs. Malina crossed her arms over her chest, trying to fold herself deeper into her robe. She tried to forge a map in her mind – where her pills were in her purse, how to get to them and then get rid of them in the fastest, most direct route. She’d never make it.

Grizella did not like drugs. Selling them was fine. That was an acceptable income diversification. She usually kept a stash for clients who paid well and wanted an enhanced experience. Clients, of course, sometimes enjoyed them free of charge as her hospitable gift. Her girls doing drugs was different. She didn’t give a shit about the lives than could be wrecked. It was a matter of commerce. Drugs ruined faces, they ruined bodies, they ruined things that would need to be replaced. These men were really only kids, after all, and no kid wants to play with a broken toy. Buying new toys cost money. The other women didn’t know this. Grizella didn’t want them to know anything she thought or felt. But Malina knew. As she knew Grizella didn’t like it, but would tolerate it among most of the girls, but not Malina. Never Malina. She had promised.

“How much what, Grizella?”

And with that, the woman’s needle of an index finger jabbed through the flaps of Malina’s robe and into her stomach. Malina was more shocked at the motion itself than the unexpected pain it caused. She flinched and backed away from the stick of a finger.

“Baby. What do you think? How much baby?”

She knew, Malina thought. Of course she knew. She knew everything.
“I’m not sure,” Malina said.

“Not much yet,” Grizella said. “I already have an appointment. The Jew doctor. Day after tomorrow. To fix this.”

Malina nodded.

“I’ve never had a girl get pregnant as easy as you. All the time. I’ve lost count.”

Malina opened her mouth to apologize. Like she always did. But she stopped. She said nothing, and only curled deeper into her robe, cinching the belt at her waist.

“Just like your mother. All the time. Another baby. Your cipki taking one thing in or pushing another thing out every day,” Grizella said.
Malina stared at the tall Polish skeleton in front of her. The nose on that face, long and equine, was the same one Malina tried to hide on her own face. He mother had hated that same nose as well. Malina turned to escape back into her bed and the tin in the bottom of her purse.

“Nie.”

Malina stopped.

“I’ll give you two days after. Two days to stop bleeding. Two days to stop the drugs. After three days, if you are not fixed, all fixed, Abraham will take you away in the van.” Grizella blinked when she said his name. No one else would have seen. Malina did.

Malina didn’t remember the cigarette being held out to her. But her eyes were stinging from the strong smoke, as Grizella held it to Malina’s mouth, the moist tip soft and wet against her lips. Malina knew this woman and she wanted to forget her. She didn’t think or feel, but inhaled, held the smoke in her lungs, and let it seep out her nose. She just wanted to taste the smoke.

“But maybe, almost time for you to leave here anyway. Not so good to be the oldest apple left in the store, Teckla. You rot. Then, you’re only good for the rats in the alley.”

Teckla. She hadn’t heard that name spoken in a long time. Her old name. From her old life. Her dead life. Like the one she was walking through today.

The above is an excerpt from my debut novel Drowning Above Water. It is available now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and at independent bookstores throughout Pittsburgh. 

Thirteen Steps to Christmas

 

 

Steps to Christmas

 

To be a child alone at Christmas

Waiting on a step

For a parent,

For a present,

For this day to sparkle like

The songs and the lights

 

On two trees

One real and substantial

The other

Oh-so-artificial

In its attempts to

Mimic real

Function and beauty.

 

Must be so frustrating,

Waiting on those steps.

 

My thirteen crooked,

Dusty, thread-bare ones

To their twelve evenly

Planed pine planks,

 

And later

Alone in the back seat of cars

Mine, his

 

Looking at the decorated doors

Down the road

Back the same again.

 

A different Santa

A different holiday waiting at each end.

 

Sitting on opposite steps

Staring out opposing windows

 

Dreading goodbye

Eager for hello

 

So when the last is opened

And no one is playing

Around your tree

And your steps are empty,

Except for you,

 

And you just might stay there

Until December 27th

Because that when you get your Christmas,

You want to burn

That fake plastic tree

To a melted mound

Dense enough to choke a reindeer. .

 

This happens every holiday

Every season

Every day.

 

Lovers

Fighters

Families

Chosens

 

Separated by steps

And steps

Climbed up

And fallen down.

 

Every one

A mile

And a ragged breath

Until the next one.

 

Where I don’t have a leg to stand on

Because he’s a year older

And there is no Santa

And he’s ascending beyond

 

So, I sit on the steps

Waiting.

 

I’ll bring g a pillow next time.

 

My carpet is old and thin.

Maybe bring coffee.

Or better, wine.

Some yarn to tangle the time

Until my Christmas.

 

And this year,

Maybe a gift.

Maybe someone to wait with.

 

So I’m not waiting.

 

Living.

Step

By step.

 

Letting the

weight

wait

be taken on one leg

before pushing off on the next.

 

If he’s willing.

 

If we’re willing.

 

To take steps.

 

Steps toward.

 

My steps.

 

My new novel Drowning Above Water is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. 

I See Me

I See Me

 

I don’t like to see me.

 

I remember nights of towels

to catch,

blankets

to cover

over mirrors

so I couldn’t.

Catch.

A glimpse was too much.

 

Not the body.

Not the deeper.

I couldn’t see.

 

Loving someone makes

us see.

Us.

Not them.

Me.

The beauty of

the ugly.

What we look past

In our own selves.

To them, visible, a

downy, perfected smooth

under a touch,

when all we see,

feel,

know,

are the raised ridges of the scars

 

If I was looking,

they were looking,

each other in the eyes,

of the same height.

 

I could stand

the emotional

discrepancy.

 

But when the physical difference

is a matter of inches

and the year displacement

is thirty,

 

and it’s your own child,

 

at once

you don’t see your faults

Flaws

Mis-steps

Fuck ups,

 

because they’re not

exclusively yours now.

 

They’re shared in miniature,

not as boulder-ous,

overwhelming,

monstrous,

as yours.

 

But they’re still yours.

And now.

They’re his.

 

He has your eyes.

Your dance.

Your heart

 

And you see

what the

ones who looked in your eyes,

at your height,

saw..

 

Your insecurity.

Your give up at a glance.

Your blame and accuse.

Your drive to be

without

because trying

again

Is too hard.

 

Yours.

Now his.

And you can’t take them back.

 

He yells and stomps like you.

He hurts.

With the pain you know.

Both.

 

I see me,

in him.

I did that.

That’s what I’m meant,

forced,  to see.

 

He sees me,

And knows.

 

I don’t want him to know that.

 

I don’t want him to see.

 

But he sees me.

 

I see me.

 

I want him

to see.

Better.