Five six sixteen

Guy on the street corner wearing an army helmet. He nods at traffic. When I arrived 3 hours ago, he was there. He’s still there as I am leaving. He has long grey hair and a grey beard and he reminds me of my father, had he lived long enough to grey completely. He doesn’t rave, he isn’t angry. He simply nods at every car that passes him. It’s a 3 lane street at rush hour. He makes eye contact if he can. He doesn’t with me because I look away. Everyone looks away. And I’m struck with the thought that he’s broken, just not in a way that conforms to the way everyone else is.

Before I know it, I’m crying. I don’t know if it’s the familiarity that does it or the fact that “the world breaks everyone” and if you feel too deeply, it leaves deeper wounds. I carry them and you carry them. We swallow our dreams. We postpone and we ache. We are told we can be anything and so we open our hearts wide. Our eyes brimming with possibility. Our minds whirling with the how and the when. And we wait. Not idly. We save and create, we work and we learn. We drag our bodies through time bent toward that absolution. Clarity. The moment when it’ll all have meaning. Make sense.

Slowly, we are told we aren’t the right shape, that our minds are warped, that we love differently, that we are crazy or damned or both. But we wake and we ignore the ache in our spine, we sleep little or not at all, we survive on stimulants. We scatter our hopes at the bottom of lakes, at the feet of the unworthy.

We mold ourselves into what we think will be good enough, we lock ourselves in kilns. 1,900 degrees and we start to melt and we blame ourselves. The daily take. Love and the little losses of breaking our bones to find homes in the hearts of those who’d discard us. The subtle thief of years. The little lines at the corners of our eyes beckon. Days and weeks and months and years. Decades blending together in an array of blue and black. Bruised, limping toward oblivion, smiling warily at strangers. Speaking softly so as not to disturb. Demure and full of apologies. Lies weave their own language and meaning.

Sometimes we recognize the atoms in other beings knowing the same star forged us. We have been a millennia together, screaming silently. We kill our kindness or it is murdered by treachery. Lost in a sea of could have been. Never was. always will be.

No one said one word to him.
Not one meaningful glance.
No one to say it’s alright
Life in its terrible beauty can save you.

No one made him feel the laughter within each shadow, the way the light plays with the corners of buildings, the million year old particle/waves that illuminate everything

No one to pour out like water the fine art that lives in each shattered remnant of who we are.

The rain menaces him rather than bless.

All of the pain all in one moment, all of it a finely honed blade at my neck.

Kill me now for looking away. It is one of my greater sins. I just couldn’t bear it. We are all just one crack away from nodding at apathetic traffic in the dark.

An Epitaph

Will the earth

With my bones

Swallowed

Find the marrow

Lacks?

Will the grey

Veined clay

Gather in the

Defects?

Will the stones

Laugh?

Carried in the water

In rivulets

With the weight of

Evaporated eons.

In red, roaring wastes,

Will the water wait?

Carving earth in

Mountain and canyon,

What will it make

Of the hollow things that

Once held this shape?

When scattered

Will I finally

Be lovely?

Will I finally be

Comely when

Rearranged?

A promise

Like feathers,

Like lead

Cradled in

The trembling

Of existence.

The ache

Burrowed

And silenced

In silt.

MJGS 3/2/22

Aggregate

Moss covered stone

Sun beckoned

The snow runs off,

Stays in shadow.

Petrichor and

Woodsmoke.

Its said to

Follow beauty,

But forgets.

Swift water flows,

Slows at the bend

In the middle frozen

Hand outstretched

Hard pack and

Hardpan

Veins of quartz

Veins of clay

Dust and ash

Pockmarked with

Grinding rock

Laden and vacant

A thousand years.

Shot rock

In granite

In agate

In aggregate.

Pine needles

In a panic.

Wind summoned.

The sun sets

And fills pockets

Valleys

Inlets

Seethes against

Mountainside.

Long strides

And echo

Against cliff face.

Falling and fallen

Pebbles and ember.

Oxygen fed and

Carbon starved

Stars burn and

Scatter

Then

Burrow

Nestle

Soften the

Darkness.

Café Macabre II

I received my copies of Café Macabre II today and they’re gorgeous! This is an anthology of short horror stories and art by women, curated by author and editor Leah McNaughton Lederman. It includes my short story “The River” which is about the terror of death and the horror we face in life. Beautifully illustrated by Keyla Valerio.


If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit the following links:

https://www.nihtgengapress.com/product/cafe-macabre-ii

https://leahmcnaughtonlederman.com

Arbor

Tree removal is a violent act, even when done by a skilled arborist. There’s something hardwired into me that knows we shouldn’t destroy something that provides for life on so many levels. When I was a child, I would cry and obsess over the sight. Imagining the tree in pain, and the animals being hewn down along with it.

I especially worried about the birds that’d made nests in the tree, imagining them cowering as the machines whirred, watching the blades get closer and closer. I couldn’t conceive of the fact that the noise and the movement and the vibrations triggered an innate avoidance of danger in them, and they flew away.

I listened to chainsaws every day and tried to survive them by being very quiet and sitting very still.

Relic

The stars are a fragile constant. Their permanence only an illusion. A trick performed by size and scale and time. Ghosts in the sky.

Our sun is in main sequence. Main sequence means our star is of average size and luminosity. A flickering candle, glimmering in a cathedral at midnight. It’ll take billions of years for it to decay to the point that, when swollen, it absorbs us.

Our minds aren’t made to contemplate time on that scale. Our lifespan, laughably short, stunts our comprehension of it. It becomes an abstract. Knowable but unknowable. Unreachable epochs looming in the deep. Shadows and cinder forever on the periphery.

Light takes one hundred thousand years to reach the surface of the sun from the core. The density inside of our “average” star slows the progress. From the surface it only takes eight minutes to reach us. Standing outside on a sunny day, you are the recipient of something ancient, your skin bathed in relics.

You are also created with them. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, carbon, hydrogen, billions of years in the making. The ruins of a long dead star with breath and pulse and synapse and neuron. A cataclysm that laughs.

The iron from blood

Artist depiction of a Magnetar – ESO

Neutron star - “a celestial object of very small radius (typically 18 miles/30 km) and very high density, composed predominantly of closely packed neutrons. Neutron stars are thought to form by the gravitational collapse of the remnant of a massive star after a supernova explosion, provided that the star is insufficiently massive to produce a black hole.”
Magnetar - “A magnetar is a type of neutron star believed to have an extremely powerful magnetic field. The magnetic-field decay powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays. The theory regarding these objects was proposed in 1992 by Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson”

I read once that a magnetar’s magnetic field is so strong it could pull the iron out of your blood from a thousand miles away. It frightened and thrilled me to consider that sort of power. The Cosmos is an unimaginably vast sea full of silent and efficient machines churning and devouring.

I’ve seen people address the universe as if it is some benevolent being with their best interests in mind. “I asked the universe…” they say.

If asked, the universe would answer by atomizing, then ionizing the matter that comprises you.

Existence is the exception, not the rule.

Though the universe may not be vengeful, it is apathetic. That is somehow more frightening as we hurl blindly through space.

We cannot command the universe, bend it to our will, or expect it to be considerate of our desires. What we can do is acknowledge the source of that iron in our blood, the way it was formed.

Over billions of years, as a star burns through its gaseous fuel, it fuses it into heavier elements until finally it produces iron. Iron is the death knell. Iron causes a collapse. This collapse causes a supernova.

The star killing elements are then ejected into space, carried over light years, and deposited in places it can be used to produce complex matter like the blood in your veins.

It is not the universe’s will that you get the job you’ve been hoping for, the love you’ve given reciprocated or that you even exist. But you are part of a stellar life cycle. A sentient artifact of the universe itself. The bloom in the ruin.