Warm Mudbath

Summer on the plains
with only the monotonous sunlight.
Thick heat seeped into our pores,
relieved by wind
and the occasional skinny dip
in the shaded river.
The only things to see our twinkling skin
were the turtles,
but they never said a word.
We laughed and played
as the mud-red
water washed away the
heat between us.

Vascular System

He looked up from his biology book and asked me with an earnest face why they had two different names for the circulatory system. I told him that the vascular system was more outdated, but that it was harder to scrub something from years of references in textbooks so they still reference it.

“But isn’t the vascular system in plants too? That’s crazy.”

I nodded and continued cutting the vegetables for dinner, sliding my knife easily through the carrot as we talked. “It may be, but you should never underestimate the level of crazy that one can experience when dealing with any aspect of the heart.”

For a little while he didn’t say anything else, and I was so concentrated on getting dinner ready that I didn’t notice until I felt the weight of his gaze. He wasn’t going to interrupt my concentration, but it was clear that he was waiting for my attention. I didn’t immediately look up but rather finished slicing the cucumber and slid it into the salad bowl alongside the tomatoes and carrots.

Then I looked up and met his gaze, “Yes?”

He was barely fourteen, that soft age between the harsh expectations of society and the soft touch of childhood. In that instant I could see the person he was going to become as clearly as I could see the child he’d been. My arms longed to gather him up, pull him tight in a hug and wrap myself in the memories.

Time was an evil mistress, and I blinked back at the sudden tears in my eyes.

“Do you mean that love is crazy?” he asked, his brows drawn together in serious contemplation. I almost chuckled at his concern, but then I remembered how moments ago I was ready to swaddle him like a babe for one more hit of that deep motherly love.

“Yes,” I started, holding up my finger when I could see the apprehension in his face, “all love is crazy, but that does not mean it is bad. Rather, it is exciting and  tense and sadness and happiness. And it is all of these things all at once. But life would be a flat wasteland without it.”

“Huh,” he commented, blushing a little as he looked over my shoulder. I wondered if he was thinking about a girl or if he was contemplating future loves. I almost asked, but instead reached for the head of lettuce and slid it onto the cutting board as he dipped his head back to his studies and I began chopping the salad.

Tenth & MacArthur

Crackling neon calls,
flashing its constant message
Live Nu e Girls
(The d is out).
Above this message are neon girls
dancing across the dark windows.
kicking their legs in perfect
rhythm. Except for one
constantly quivering light.
They remind me of the Fancy’s II
sign near my house at
10th & MacArthur.

It’s dark and unlit now, half
hidden by the telephone pole.
There is an outline of two girls
standing back to back,
nude and ready to dance.
But if you look closely,
you can see that it’s also
the outline of a vagina.
A carefully created illusion,
like the seemingly misplaced wooden
blocks that actually spell out Jesus:
a hidden hologram,
beckoning men in through
its dimly lit doors.

Storm Shelters

“You never really notice them until you need them.”

That’s what my mother used to say to me about storm shelters. Although, growing up in Western Oklahoma, it was almost mandatory that every house had one on the property.  I know we never lived in a house without one. Sometimes they would be shelters, more often than not they would be labeled as storage or playrooms during all of the times we didn’t need them.

Then, when the storms would come, we would find ourselves huddled down in the dank confines of the underground rescue with overflowing boxes of old paperwork, panting dogs, and hissing cats. All of us bound together waiting for the tornado to pass by as we listened to the sound of the air moving by so fast that it was temporarily a pressurized being.

Sometimes we would play cards, and once Uncle Jim even brought down a set of dominos. But most of the time we sat in the darkness, our eyes all turned upward at the cement ceiling. If someone had peeked into the shelter they would have thought us some weird faction of an underground cult. Our eyes all pointed upwards at the terrifying deity that could form a hand out of the air and crush us at any moment.

Red Truck, Warm Beer

It was a bright red Dodge pickup,
only one year old,
and I was driving you home from a
roadside party you were too drunk
to fully remember.

At least that’s what you told me later
as we sat on the tailgate and looked
up at the stars.

Then you bought something new, something bigger;
a tan Ford with a mud-stained
cattle guard for extra protection.
You were the king of the road,
the safest thing traveling.

It was another night and another party
when you found that it wasn’t so safe.

In my daydreams
I knew I had driven you home
from that party, too,
and on sticky hot nights we still sat on the tailgate
of your red truck,
looking up at stars we would never reach,
drinking warm beer.

Quietly

She pushed her fingers against her lips and stared at her sister. They could only play quietly after dark. It was an important rule. They could play, but it had to be done without noise. Their father was not one to be disturbed. Most of the time, Lana liked to pretend that she were living inside of a giant vacuum, and that no sound would push its way out of her lips.

Her sister, however, was a different story.

Margot didn’t like to be still or quiet when she played. She was a giant ball of energy that could barely be contained by her own skin. It was hard to believe that the two of them had been born sisters, let alone twins. Pushing their way out of the womb at such an early age, both fragile little beings who were inexorably intertwined. Their mother told them that she hadn’t known there were two. Being too poor to afford to go to the doctor had caused her to miss out on this knowledge until it was too late, until both of them were pushing their way out into the world.

Lana supposed that was why there was a distance between the two of them and her; a gulf none of them could not bridge. The man they called dad was just a substitute, and a poor one at that. When Lana was sure they were safe, she turned her attention back to the game, moving her doll to a corner of the collective, turning their vacant stares to the wall. When she swung her arm back, one of the dolls fell off the bed, landing on the floor with a thud that echoed across the silent house.

Margot grabbed her arm and held her tight when they heard the floorboards creak. Her breath burned in her lungs and she remembered her mother leaning over them whispering, “Quietly” in her whiskey burnt voice before tucking them into bed and holding onto the doorframe. It was the one word that echoed through her head over and over again as she stared into her sister’s eyes in the darkness.

Quietly.

Paranoia-The American Way

Homemakers pushing carts through
the local Sav-A-Lot
with baskets full of plastic and
silver duct tape to
wrap the babies in.
They will be safe that way,
shielded from the sun, the moon,
or even a barrage of chemicals,
if they should chose to let them go.
The children will be
safely bound in their middle-class
suburban homes. Wrapped in the
inorganic death shrouds that were
their cocoons.

Ninja Turtle

She twirls through the air, staff ready
body tense, she sees all of the things
that might go wrong, both real and imagined.
Her tiny form swoops with a perfected balance
of grace and chaos. In her mind she is fighting
villians and eating pizzas in the sewers of
New York City, living a great life as a Ninja
Turtle. She is not interested in princesses or
tea parties, but instead wants to fight the bad guys,
team up with mutants, and ride dragons.

Right now she is only in love with
the idea of being more than herself, of
being a hero that can do anything, and I
do not plan on telling her otherwise. Instead,
I watch as her body slices through the air.
One turn, then another.

Minutes

Time slips by in minutes, sometimes in waves. There are times when I can almost feel it carrying me through the day, as if it were a substantial force and not just a construct, an idea, a way for our brains to perceive our reality. I remember when those minutes felt like a burden that was carried across my shoulders and draped over my body. Each soft tick of the clock another moment until freedom.

I was a child, I didn’t understand.

Now, now it is different. Time does not move the same as it did before, it does not follow the same path once we cross an invisible barrier. I think it must be like some giant cosmic equation similar to what we used to study all those years ago in school. At the point on the graph when the greater of X is less than than Y, then each minute will consist of 400 seconds. When X is equal to Y, then each minute will equal an appropriate sixty seconds. However, when X is more than Y, then each minute will consist of 20 seconds.

And so on, and so on, until eventually one day our minutes run so fast that they fade out. Until I fade out, wondering what happened to all of my minutes.

Laughable Moments

Fluffy orange Cheetohs dipped,
or sometimes covered,
in bright red Louisiana Hot Sauce.
It was the first of many oddities
he taught me to enjoy.
I still remember holding the
orange and red mess gingerly,
as if the chip itself had been recently slaughtered.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes,
and placed the Cheetoh on my reluctant tongue.
The sharp and immediate tingle of the hot sauce
overwhelmed a little mouth
unused to such bold treats.
My teeth reacted quickly,
baring down on the cheesy chip,
and as its taste mingled with the tart sauce
the two distinct flavors became one,
became real.

My dad smiled as I held out
my orange and red stained fingertips
to ask for another.