New World Slavery [poetry]

A woman from a fishing village
slaves in a sweatshop,
making shirts for retail stores,
selling them at low prices
to help save shoppers money to spend at McDonald’s
after the Little League game tonight.

She makes barely enough money
to pay the rent of her shared one-bedroom apartment in the city
where hucksters scramble
day and night
to sell away her corner of the world
to anyone wanting a piece of the New World Dream.

She doesn’t dream asleep tonight,
but works to make enough money
to buy one of her nine daughters
a new dress this month,
to wear at the new school
Christian missionaries built last year
down the road from her home.
They convinced her government
to make school education mandatory
for everyone’s future welfare.

Now she sews and goes without eating
so her daughters are not left behind
when the corporate and political tsunami
crushes her world,
her life,
her heart.

Halloween Contribution [fiction]

Hello and Happy Halloween. My younger grandkids are excited about trick-or-treat tonight: Candy, candy, candy. While I break from working on my writing project, I am posting an old story for Halloween.

Benefactor deals with crazy people and arson. Happy reading, heh-heh. And have a Happy Halloween, of course. Whether you are in it for the tricks or the treats or the scares, have a safe and fun one.

I hope to post again before Thanksgiving. Until then, peace and love be with you always.


“He’s out there,” Sarah’s mother said. She rushed from the front window and snatched her cell phone from the dining room table. Her hand trembled while she dialed. She almost dropped the phone twice before she put it to her left ear. “Hello? Police?” Jessica’s face contorted into a mask of disappointment. “Yes, I need the police,” she said. “Hurry. Send someone right away. He may be crazy … my ex-husband. He’s been angry ever since the divorce.” Her bottom lip trembled as she forced herself not to cry.

Something heavy pounded against the front door. Thump thump thump. This time she did drop the phone.

“Don’t answer it,” Jessica said to Sarah. She scooted behind Sarah’s chair.

Sarah sat with her laptop on her lap. The screen showed her Facebook wall where five new updates waited for her to click on them. “Is the door locked?” she asked.

“Yes.”

The pounding started again, louder.

“Is the back door locked?” Sarah asked.

“Yes … NO.” Jessica hurried away to lock it.

The pounding continued. Sarah’s stepfather shouted for someone to let him in.

“Are all the windows locked?” she asked when Jessica returned.

“It’s January. Of course they are.”

The pounding stopped. Jessica grabbed her phone from the living room carpet and dialed 911 again. She gave her address this time. “You tell them to get here right away. They don’t want me calling the mayor.” She hung up, paced the floor, and watched the front door.

“Where are the sirens?” she asked a minute later. She went to the front door and peeked through one of the three diamond shaped windows. “I don’t see him. His car’s still there but he’s not inside.”

“He should be behind bars for terrorizing us,” Sarah said. She glanced at the back door past the kitchen. He stood there, large and dark, peering through the glass. She ran and closed the yellow blinds. The hulking shadow of her stepfather silhouetted the thin plastic.

“Let me in,” he growled, “or I’m going to break the glass and unlock the door.”

“The police are coming,” Sarah yelled. She hurried back to her mother.

“Where are they? Why aren’t they here yet?” Jessica asked. She stopped pacing and sat on the sofa next to Sarah’s chair. “This is a small town.” She lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the coffee table and sucked menthol-flavored smoke into her lungs. She held her breath for several seconds, then forced it out. Smoke rushed to the ceiling.

Sarah closed her computer, breathed in the pleasant smoke, and waited for the police.

Three minutes later, her mom’s cigarette was in the ashtray and Sarah was at the front door. Her stepdad’s blue Impala from the 1990s was still there. Rust had eaten into the doors and fenders. Howard loved that car more than he loved her mother. It was shocking to see it like that. But Sarah knew times had been hard on him since the divorce. The plastics factory where he once earned premium wages had closed. Someone said he now worked as a maintenance person at one of the Walmart stores near Buffalo.

She felt sorry for him. Divorce had been brutal on the guy. Her mom had made out, getting everything in the settlement, including the small, gingerbread-style Victorian house that had belonged to Howard’s parents. The only thing he loved more than that car was this house.

A floorboard above her head squeaked.

Howard was in the house.

Jessica rushed past Sarah, heading to the stairs. Sarah caught up to her at the bottom step and stepped in front of her.

“Don’t go up there, Mom.”

“I have to. Let me pass this instant.”

Howard’s voice bellowed from upstairs. “Don’t come up here, Jessica. I have a gun.”

“Get out of my house, you son of a bitch.”

“Not your house,” Howard yelled.

Sarah pulled her to the front door and unlocked it.

“This is so my house. I hope the police lock you up for a long time for breaking and entering, you lousy—”

“Come on,” Sarah said, opening the door. She pulled Jessica outside into a winter chill. It clawed instantly through the back of Sarah’s sweatshirt. She shivered. Her mom complained that she was not inside, taking care of Howard with her fists.

“It’ll be okay,” Sarah said. “The police will take care of it. Meanwhile, everyone’s safer out here.”

An upstairs window broke and smoke rushed to get outside. Flames leaped from the curtains at the window.

Jessica screamed. “NO.”

When the first police car drove up, foul smelling smoke billowed from the front door Sarah had left open. That’s when she heard a gunshot. By the time the fire department arrived, the house was ablaze and burning the branches of two maple trees in front of it.

Blistering heat sent Sarah and Jessica into the street, which was a sea of emergency people and their vehicles with pulsating blue and red lights. A police officer led them across the street to the sidewalk, away from the firehoses and their house. Some of the neighbors who had peered from their homes joined them to watch the house burn. It was a giant, gloomy bonfire. No one spoke.

When part of the roof collapsed, Sarah ran to Howard’s car and kicked the front passenger’s door, denting it. “We’re homeless,” she yelled. She wept and Jessica pulled her into an embrace.

“We have nothing,” Sarah said.

Jessica released her and went to the driver’s door. “I thought I had lost them at the restaurant. We had been drinking.” She got into the back seat, took off her diamond engagement ring and handed it to Sarah. “The night Howard proposed to me at the restaurant, he gave me a matching set of earrings.” She dug around inside the seat. “I remember now that I took them off back here because I didn’t want to lose them while we … you know. So I wrapped them in a Kleenex. A-ha.” She backed up and staggered from the car. In her hand was wadded tissue. She unfolded the Kleenex and showed Sarah the diamond earrings. “These and our homeowners insurance will get us back on our feet.”

A well-dressed man in a fur coat and hat hurried to where they stood. “I’m so sorry, Jessica.” He looked at Sarah sadly. “You too, Sarah, you poor child.”

“Howard was inside, Ronny,” Jessica said. She took him by the arm and he steadied her. “He did this. A twisted act of revenge.”

Mayor Ronald Peters shook his head. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.

Jessica pushed herself closer to him. “I don’t know what Sarah and I are going to do.”

The mayor put an arm around her. She rested her head against his shoulder. Sarah stood behind them and eyed the ring finger of his left hand. It no longer held the gold wedding band. Lucy Peters had died of cervical cancer more than ten years ago. It had taken him this long to let go. She looked away and watched plumes of water from several hoses douse the burning house.

It will be okay, she thought. Mother will provide.

Night Falls Swiftly [poetry]

Night falls swiftly on us—
It is the secret bits of life to do yourself the way you do—
A flash in the sinking sun,
Ten thousand years rebounded,
Vibrations—
It is hell.

Wild you are but ripe for life
In the gray and raging glee—
Nobody likes to die, but it is evening here all the same,
And there is silence.

No more color,
No Hawaiian girls dancing—
All the knots and softness are gone.

A girl retreats her gaze—
What lover keeps her song?

Eventide [fiction]

It was eventide over their heads, like old bourbon in a brandy glass, straight up. They came shyly as mosquitoes near still water, their flashlights adrift over dark girls in secret boxes. Their nights belonged to the wind.

The lake loved Sarah in secret. In her canoe, she was an enigma from the shore, carved twenty-odd years ago from the memory of a young girl sleeping beneath the inward sky. Her left hand covered her forehead. The fingernails were black and white. Her right hand rested shadowless in the lake. Her eyes were wide open but closed to the lurkers behind dawn’s door.

The south wind scampered ghosts across a lonely spider’s web. Delicate creatures fell wild on Sarah’s forehead and asked to see her brain; there was no tomb to rise dead from … no apples to bleed from … no dragon to claim as her own.

Her old man limped away. He stumbled to a blind horse amidst last year’s horses. He had been drinking again. Drunk horses left green droppings in blue patches of crab grass, but her old man paid no mind. He staggered home as quiet as the evening … as quiet as the dark girls at rest in the black earth of silence.

Passing [poetry]

Sunday mirrored light of a hot sun reflecting off of brick buildings and parkways
where a hospital sits deep brown and yellow in its last degree,
fading like the old woman inside dying with a smile on her face,
happy to be leaving.

But I with a burlesque smile am sad to watch her go.

She should be dying without the day outdoors calling me,
pulling at me to be carefree.

I close the curtains and watch her leave
with no one else in the room to bear witness to her final breath,
one last windstream passing over silent lips
while mine tremble out a shackled goodbye.

Her hand falls softly away from mine
for she has the stars to touch now.

War and Rain [poetry]

War and rain are long;
our patience is gone and burns much faster in the zone.

War and rain are long;
our broken bones and lullabies char the path to your home
where your war torn love bears a daily weight for years alone.

War and rain are mean;
their dirty green and red are always messing with your head

War and rain are mean;
a life unclean and too much pot put a hole in your head—
now your pothole brain is the next best thing to being dead.

You say it’s just a state of mind
and the weather there is fine.
But you can’t hear me call your name
above the drone of bomber planes.

War and rain are his:
an awful dizzy man with piles of money in his plans.

War and rain are his;
your life with him and too much weight put a hitch in your stance—
now your lovesick soul waltzes by in a broken dance.

You say it’s just a state of mind
and the weather there is fine.
But you can’t hear me call your name
above the drone of bomber planes.

No one hears me above the war and rain that fall…
on us all.

Rightful Heirs [poetry]

Man’s abstraction is his mad reality—
His crazy reality is our despair

His ruin-prone proud national heritage
befalls us for a wretched dream

Ancient fires fuel his greed made savage by marketeers

A proprietor evicts a family struggling to make ends meet
No compassion
He says he needs his money to pay his bills—
but his bloated bank account kisses his fat rolls
The biggest dollar is his queen—
see how fast he drops to lick her toes

He robs the land from the true inheritors—
rapes human lives for cash
He would sell the fleas and clothes off their backs
to profit from his attack
His abstractions are his mad reality—
His methods are our despair

The homeless seek shelter in the streets
until the lawman locks them up
in care of tax dollars hard at work

Ancient fires fuel the greed made savage by marketeers

Death [poetry]

When you are dead,
no one invites you over for a drink

Birthday parties are no longer valid,
and holidays are past pictures,
cards,
and fading memories

When you are dead,
no one sees what you’re wearing

No one speaks to you as someone alive anymore

No one notices the dirt beneath your nails,
or the dust that fills your nose,
or the ghost that you’ve become

When you are dead,
even the stones shut their eyes

Dream Voyeur [poetry]

When I sleep
you hide paralyzed in the shadows of my bed
where your courage to live vanished long ago.

In your world of mocking corpses
you charge against me
in wingless dreams and knitted walls
and empty stares
that run from the drum of my heart.

You bleed broken knuckles
against your hidden door to empty stairs
that led you once to freedom.

You bring me fists of your dead flowers
and promise me a future of your past faded worlds.

You wear a million memories around your neck—
nooses of every man hanged by rejection
to bleed broken
among all the eggs of the future
dead.

But you live your death
in these halls of feeble footsteps
outside my room
where your twitching fingers bleed to open empty cameras
and nail me to the windows of your eyes.

Bones in the Sand, 2 of 2 [fiction]

Sarah held her youngest son to her bosom and calmed him. Kenny sat nearby, watching. He leaned toward them with excitement building on his face and refrained from speaking. His mom still hushed his little brother.

“There, there,” Sarah said, “a skeleton in the sand, that’s all it was and nothing more. Nothing is going to harm you, baby. It’s alright.”

“Mom’s right,” Kenny said. “The rain and the tide must have collapsed one of the old caves. Probably where the native people who used to live here buried their dead. You can find artifacts in those caves. Did you see any, Mickey? Any dishes or knives or arrowheads?”

“I didn’t stick around to see anything else. I thought the creepy skeleton was going to chase me. I was really scared. But now I know it was my imagination.”

Sarah lowered Mickey to the floor. Then she sat down in a straight oak-bottomed chair that stood against the wall and held him by the shoulders. She looked him eye-to-eye and sharply spoke with accustomed firmness. “You’re not to go to the beach again. If those caves are falling in, then you have no business down there. Promise me, Mickey.”

“But,” Mickey lowered an anguished face from his mother, “I’m not scared anymore.” He pulled the shells from his pockets. “See? I got you these, your favorites. And I could look for native people stuff for Kenny, next time.”

“No, Mickey, there will be no next time for a while. You need to mind me; it’s not safe. You could fall into a cave, be knocked unconscious, and have the tide wash you out to sea.”

“What if Kenny went with me?”

“No. You’re not strong enough to push Kenny’s wheelchair over sand.”

“Well, you know,” Kenny began gently, “I can charge up the battery and use the motor to drive my chair—”

He stopped at the sight of his mother’s face. She was deeply troubled with the situation. And added to that, her task as a single mom was not easy, with himself to care for and only Mickey to help with housework and the vegetable garden out back.

“Mom’s right,” he said to his brother, “it’s too dangerous. You’ll have to wait until the county engineers fix the damage.”

“How long will that be?” Mickey asked.

“It could take weeks. Just like when they repave the roads or fix any damage to the ferry dock, they have to haul their heavy equipment across water.”

Mickey put the shells next to aquarium, then went to the front window and peered out. “I wish Dad lived here. He would let me go to the beach. He would—”

“No.” Sarah went to him and softened her voice. “Promise me.”

Mickey sighed. “All right, I promise.”

He stayed indoors and helped his mother with chores until bedtime. He forgot about skeletons until deep in the night when the bones called him awake. Slipping into his clothes and from the house, he followed the cry of the bones and the white beam of his tiny flashlight.

The tide had swallowed the lower beach. The sand beneath his tennis shoes gasped for air before water filled his footprints. He stopped a few yards from the sea’s edge. The white stick lay at his feet. He picked it up, looked around, and said to the voices calling him, “I’m here. What do you want?”

The calling stopped. He thought he heard the sound of faraway laughter moments before the ground beneath him fell. He plunged beneath sand, into deep, frigid water.

When he came to his senses, he swam toward the water’s inky surface but something like strong, bony hands wrapped around both ankles and pulled him back down. He thrashed and kicked to break free. The hands held fast.

He directed his light at a grinning skeleton pulling him closer to a graveyard of scattered bones on the sandy floor.

He kicked at the hands. He would drown if he could not escape soon. Fire burned in his chest as his lungs begged for oxygen. He held onto his last breath and wished he could communicate with his mother somehow, to tell her how sorry he was for breaking his promise to her. He did not want her mad at him.

Some skeletons were magic and could become invisible.

The stick in his left hand grew brighter than the light of his flashlight.

They were magic because they were magic people once.

The hands tugged and Mickey kicked.

Magic people carried wands.

The light from the stick filled the water.

Wands grant wishes to the pure of heart.

The skeleton released Mickey and exploded. Even underwater, it sounded like the sharp snapping of brittle bones.

The explosion carried Mickey to the water’s surface. The light carried him into the air, across the sand, and to his front porch where it set him down and vanished with the white stick.

Mickey shivered, not because he was wet and cold—he was neither of those—but because magic was real.

He hurried inside, calling for his mother as he went.

Bones in the Sand, 1 of 2 [fiction]

It rained on the island for five days. On that fifth day, water stood in the furrows between the rows of vegetables in the garden behind the house. Although it was July, Sarah added a log to the fire in the fireplace and pushed Kenny closer to it, for the dampness inside had made the boy’s breathing worse. She wrapped a quilt around his shoulders and sighed gloomily at the rain that made her house cold and cheerless.

But Mickey, the youngest, ran and chattered and blocked the TV when he wanted Kenny’s attention. Never annoyed, Kenny always smiled or laughed at Mickey’s antics. In fact, Mickey and Kenny behaved as though they liked rainy days best. Perhaps because it was the only time the two boys spent time together. Today, they seemed to share a cheerful bond that almost annoyed Sarah. She never had a sibling while growing up. She sighed again, more deeply.

“A lot of rain,” she said, listening to it drum upon the rooftop.

“How much rain would it take to sink our island?” Kenny asked.

“Don’t make jokes,” Sarah replied a little sharply. “We may have to run the sump pump if the basement walls get any worse.”

“Yippee!” Mickey cried out as he gazed out the window next to Sarah. “We can go swimming in our yard.”

Sarah did not have to look to know the side yard was submerged. It had been that way for two days.

“Come on,” she said to Mickey. “Help me do the breakfast dishes. Then we can figure out what to have for lunch.”

“I want eggs.”

“We had eggs for breakfast. I was thinking a hot, homemade vegetable soup would be nice. Some carrots, peas, corn—”

“No broccoli,” Mickey cried out. He made a face.

“No broccoli. No. Just your favorites.”

“Potatoes, diced,” Kenny said. “Those are my favorites.”

“Yes, of course. Now come on,” Sarah said to Mickey, “let’s get going on the dishes.”

The boy followed his mother and the two spent the next hour in the kitchen while Kenny watched TV. During that time, Kenny was the only one to notice when the rain stopped. Sarah noticed when a warm, glowing sunbeam came through the kitchen window above the sink. She whistled while she prepared lunch, and smiled when she and her boys ate their soup in the living room.

Mickey shoveled away his soup and asked to go outside.

“Stay on the porch,” Sarah said.

“But I want to go to the beach. A lot of neat things get washed ashore during a storm. Maybe I’ll find a pirate’s sword.”

“Stay where I can see you. And be careful. And, by the way, I get half of any gold or silver or doubloons you may find.” Sarah winked at him. “Now take your bowl to the sink and be back in an hour. No longer. Don’t make me have to whistle for you.”

Mickey hurried his bowl to the sink and ran outdoors. Parts of the island was under several inches of water, but the water along the upper beach was receding already, and Mickey made his way on wet, sandy ground, making sure his house behind him remained in view. Along the way, the deeper sand was sopping wet and oozed between his toes.

He skipped around lots of seaweed and driftwood, examined several stones that looked like flattened marbles, and found some unbroken shells during his hunt for pirate treasure. He put the prettier shells into his pockets to give to his mother. She would likely add them to her aquarium of tropical fish that sat next to the TV.

A white stick with no bark on it caught his attention when he picked up a conch shell next to it. The stick was shy of being a foot long, and it had tiny carvings of animals on it, which were mostly birds. He carried it with him while he collected more shells, and he peered at the world through a large piece of beach glass until his watch told him that his hour was nearly up. As he headed toward home, he realized he had left the stick behind. He would have to come back some other day and find it.

Along the way home, he passed two large boulders that jutted out of the base of the upper beach. There, half-visible in the shifted sand, was a human skeleton.

He stood for a minute frozen with uncertainty. The skeleton’s jaw gaped, as though the person—man, woman, kid?—had died while laughing.

Mickey ran from the bones, his breath coming in great pants as he shouted for his mother. He even yelled help a few times when he was certain that the skeleton had risen from its grave and now chased him, determined to keep him from reaching his house.

Sunlight had dried and softened the sand already and it slowed his escape. A shaking Mickey ran out of breath when he reached the front porch steps and dropped in an exhausted heap there, terrified of the strong bony arms that would snatch him up and hurry him away, never to be seen alive again.

He sobbed and pushed his way up the wooden steps. Any second, those skeleton hands would grab him by the ankles and pull him away.

He looked behind him and saw no skeleton there. But that didn’t matter. Some skeletons were magic and could become invisible. Gasping, he crawled to the outer door and beat against its solid frame until his mother came and found him sobbing.

“There’s a skeleton,” he said when she took him into his arms and carried him inside. “A real life skeleton’s in the sand!”

 

To be continued!

In Memory of My Brother

My brother and best friend died on July 8, 2016. He was 57.

Russ died on a Friday night while I was at work and feeling that something wasn’t right. I knew he was sick—he’d been battling cancer for several years and was growing weaker by the day. His cancer had reached stage 4. I received the phone call the next day and wept. I was glad to know he no longer suffered, but I wept because I felt alone. We’d done so much together. Now he was gone.

Russ was born in a small town called Union City in Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1958. He was 21 months younger than his big brother Steve who, according to their mother, gave Russ all his toys the day Mom brought him home from the hospital. It didn’t take long for the two of them to become best friends. The rest is family legend.

Russ married when he was 17 and remained married to his wife for 40 years. During that time, he served in the United States Navy alongside his big brother for a while, raised an awesome daughter and awesome son, was an avid hunter, collected coins and knives, and loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, which began in 1971 after he and I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series and wondered “Now what?”

a1
1969. My mother and I shared birthdays in February. Here, Russ stands behind me with a cousin, getting into the picture.
c1
1976. I had begun a career in radio when Russ convinced me to join the Navy with him. Here we are in Chicago the day we graduated boot camp.
e1
1980. Russ was Best Man at my wedding. Here we are posing for one of those humorous shots where I show up late for my wedding. Ha! Funny is how we look like waiters in our hip tuxedos.
g1
2001. Russ and I gave each other birthday gifts right up to his death. He had just brought me a gift in 2001 when he read an article about me and my artwork in the local paper. He was my biggest fan.
h1
2005. Here Russ poses on the day he had a local pilot fly our 66-year-old mom on her first plane ride. This was a week before her death from complications after stomach surgery. Russ was always glad he did this for her. So was I.

This has been a small glimpse of my brother’s life. Of course, telling it all would fill volumes of books. Perhaps I will, someday, tell more about him, one chapter at a time.

Rest in peace, dear brother. November 29, 1958—July 8, 2016.