You find it a bore most days. Fifteen years in an indelible ink rut. You keep your head down and get on with it: tramp-stamping nineteen year olds, piercing the folds of chubby bodies, asking drunken longshoremen if they want it spelled M-o-m or M-u-m. You grind your teeth every time one of the morbidly tattooed requests another skull.
You’re thinking of that and you’re thinking of nothing as you clean the machines in the back, when the bell clangs purposefully against the shop’s front door. You step through the strings of beads to check out who’s come in.
You see him waiting by the poster of Janis Joplin. A waifish sort. Pale with red flushed cheeks. Black hair that makes him look paler. You’re about to tell him you don’t tat minors, when he reads your mind and produces photo identification. He wants a tattoo before he enlists. Not only has he got i.d. but he’s also got cash.
You walk him to the client room and ask him if he knows what he wants. He pauses, then pulls a piece of notepaper from his pocket. It’s folded into precise eighths and he takes his time revealing the image he’s drawn. At first you think he’s kidding. It’s hardly an appropriate brand for an army recruit. But he’s not kidding and he won’t be deterred, even after you tell him it will be three hours and five hundred bucks.
By the time you’ve finished, you’re perspiring and feeling light-headed. You pretend it’s from the ink fumes. You take his money and say goodbye.
As he heads out the door, you thank him for lifting you up out of your rut today. Then a cry catches in your throat. And as you watch him disappear down the street, you silently plead to whoever is listening that if that boy gets stuck in a rut, in whatever land he’s bound for, those full-size angel wings now so delicately inscribed on his pale freckled back will lift him up and bring him home.
This piece was written about 5 years ago. The only time I’ve tried second person point of view. A shout out to my friend Edward Lorn for reminding me about the power of second person and how darn difficult it is to get right. Edward is doing a series on his Youtube channel called ‘From the Desk‘ that provides extremely valuable insights for fledgling writers like me, you, us.
Sinewed hands grab my shoulders, shove me sideways down unfamiliar streets.
Glowing in the distant dark there shimmers a landed mermaid, enchanting, enticing,
Melting in the tarnished silver spoon I wasn’t born with.
Burns my hands. Burns my veins.
Soundless, the world is ash.
44 words (quadrille) for d’Verse. Prompt word: burn
Two in the morning, I can’t sleep so I wander into the front room and take your favourite book from the shelf, a garish, broken-spine paperback, not to read but just to hold, because there must be some molecules of you still attached to its tattered pages. I smooth the front cover, perhaps hoping the book will act as a talisman and that my actions might affect time and ignore the laws of physics and recreate you, and perhaps hoping that God or whoever can hear my thoughts will bring you back to me.
I’m dizzy with loneliness and I understand now why we humans think the heart is where love resides for it there I feel empty and yet full of pain at the same time. I ache for the impossible. I need to see you.
When I was at the grocery store yesterday, I stood at the cash register lineup and I remembered you, three months ago, so tired and weak but still insistent on helping with household chores, leaning on me for strength and resting your chin on my shoulder. You only did that once. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to share that moment of peace forever. And, I wanted you to know you were safe.
It’s silly sometimes. I remember exactly how high I reached when I straightened your shirt collar and how you would lean down a little bit to make it easier for me to tie your tie, even though you made a much better job of it than I ever did. I remember the comfort of your arms wrapping around me. I remember the warmth as you slept beside me.
So tonight, I take your book, and my memories and strange notions back to bed. And I pull the blankets around me for warmth, and I cradle your pillow in my arms, and I close my eyes so I can see you and be with you, again.
From the archives – 2014
In the warm cocoon of a calm childhood, sleep descended, downy soft
Air inhaled-exhaled easily, soft skin on crisp cotton sheets
Bright, crayon-box dreams were standard production of cosy nights for years.
But frights found their way through unfamiliar movement, harsh words
Whisper hissed behind doors quickly-tightly shut
Secrets came-in-went-out through the kitchen door, heavy footsteps fading, leaving.
Cold shivers replaced blankets as your night cover
No rounded thoughts or multi-worded sentences were shared
The most important detail of your life story spoken casually, chosen carelessly, by another.
And no matter which way you turned your ear to the pillow, you couldn’t ever hear it.
**a poem I’ve written and re-written. I keep wanting to improve it because the subject matter is so personal. This is the April 2017 version. **
When the car turned off the smooth highway pavement, its tires met dry dirt and sun-heated gravel: a winding, country, almost-road with bumps, lumps and potholes. Necessarily, her uncle had to brake, gear down, and slow the station wagon’s speed. In the trunk, luggage and boxed groceries rattled in anticipation of tipping.
This was Jane’s favourite part of the annual journey to the lake. The smell of dusty red earth billowed up to her as she turned to face the view out the open side window. At this leisurely speed, Jane could see the surroundings crystal clearly. She saw every speckled rock, every brightly coloured flower tipping towards the sun, every tall, toasted grass in movement with the breeze caused by their wagon driving past.
What if they hadn’t ventured up to the cabin this late August, Jane wondered. What if those flowers and grasses had been given time and room to just be still? Would nature in all its forms have waited another summer for Jane and her family? Or would the dried and crumbly flora have wandered off, in search of water and adventure in the nearby mossy forest?
It takes all my strength to close the bedroom window with a dignified, deliberate movement. I want to make noise. I want to slam the window shut, shatter the glass, scream through the fractured pane, shove my arm into the opening and watch as jagged edges slice into my skin and draw bright red blood.
“I’ve got to go now, babe. He’s expecting me to be home at five-thirty so we can take the kids to the movies.”
“Call me on Friday, Susan? I miss you when we go too long without …” I can’t finish my sentence. And anyway, she knows what I want. She knows far too well that her presence in my paper bag life has replaced the bumps of coke that used to push me through these endless nights.
She leaves me again, her shadow disappears down the hall and out the door. I’m left alone in bed to wonder why I wait for her return. What part of me cannot exist without wanting someone this much? Is it my heart, my brain, my DNA?
I light a cigarette. The first heady drag of biting smoke burns deep into my lungs but I continue to puff until my throat feels as ragged and itchy as the thoughts in my head.
You run your index finger up along the smartphone’s screen, focused on finding tweets to which you should reply. Social media demands only short bursts of attention from you. Thirty seconds of passive interaction seem possible this Sunday.
Then a photo, the photo, rises on the news feed. You’re startled, yet it still takes you a moment to realize the pale skin and grim countenance form a familiar face.
His red-rimmed eyes stare deadened from the police camera’s harshly lit capture. Are his eyes red because he wept? Were his tears released by regret, or fear, or anger?
You turn the phone off – leave it turned upside down on the kitchen table.
Later, you won’t remember the words you now search for in the morning newspaper’s pages. The headline’s inky black, funereal print leaves gravity on your hands. You clutch the paper. Tangible. Proof.
As you read, your stomach hollows except for the push pull of twisting knots. Your chest tightens until suddenly your body forces a gasp, a reminder to take in oxygen.
It will be many days before you don’t need those reminders to breathe.