To Augustus, Love Pappy

 

watch

 

“To Augustus, Love Pappy.”

He blinked and read the inscription again.

“To Augustus, Love Pappy.”

His heart thudded painfully in his chest. His girlfriend Wanda was holding a rhinestone bracelet up to the light, looking for any missing stones. The small antique shop was dimly lit, maybe for atmosphere, maybe so minor flaws might be missed…he suspected the later. He didn’t much trust most antique dealers. He’d read it somewhere that they liked to rip off gullible customers.

He held the pocket watch in his hand.  The last time he had seen this watch was in a pawn shop twenty years ago, when he was a teenager. He’d snatched it out of the top left drawer of the roll-top desk in the little office by the kitchen in his parent’s house when he was 19 and wanted to buy weed for a party his friend was throwing. It was his great-uncle’s watch and a family heirloom.  He was a little shit when he was a teenager, he knew that. His mother never said anything about the pocket watch. But he knew she knew. And every once in a while he’d see a certain kind of clock or watch and feel shame, but it was easy to shove it back down, where it belonged.

He was finding it hard to breathe. It was so stuffy and the shop was so small.

“I’m going outside for a sec to smoke,” he said to Wanda. She nodded, still intently staring at the bracelet.

He put the watch on the counter, stepped outside and didn’t light up a cigarette. Instead, he pressed his back against the brick front of the building and took a few deep breaths.

We have so few opportunities in life to truly right a wrong. Especially a wrong of any magnitude. The thought of righting this was thrumming in his head.

Back inside, he asked the dealer for the price on the watch. It was always a bad sign when items didn’t have a posted price and when the dealer said a number that was the size of one of his paychecks, he groaned.  It was exactly 20 times the amount he had originally gotten for it at the pawn shop and there was some justice in that, he supposed.

He slapped a credit card down on the counter.

“What the hell, Dean?” his girlfriend said.

“I just need to do this,” he said. “Don’t give me crap over this. Please.”

He’d put it back in the roll-top desk that was still in his parent’s house. His dad was gone now but his mom was still there in the same house. He wouldn’t tell her.  He’d just do it. It took him 20 years to return it.  But he knew now, what a gift it was to be ABLE to put it back where it belonged.

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SlimJim

Namib desert at night from our porch

I could hear my dad’s voice but I couldn’t see him since I was lying on my side facing the desert.

“Don’t hurt my boy.  I will give you anything you want.”
I was duct-taped, naked, freezing, and had a gun to my head. I knew what they wanted.  He spoke slowly, maybe to keep his voice from shaking.
“We can work this out.  Whatever you need. We can pull $400 from an ATM.  I got a diamond ring worth at least 2 grand in a safe deposit box in Tucson. Just tell me what needs to happen here.”
There was a thud and my dad groaned.
“Next time it’s the kid. Just give it to us man.”  I thought it was the taller of the two men speaking but I wasn’t sure.  He was the one who had jumped into the cab of the truck at the last truck stop, when my dad went inside to take a leak and grab some junk food for us.  I stayed behind in the cab with SlimJim who was asleep in my lap.  It had been two weeks since we had started my summer adventure driving long haul across the country with him and the novelty of living in such a small space was still fun for me.  I loved the little gas burner for cooking, sleeping on the bunk and all the tiny compartments to store things. I had insisted on bringing SlimJim, who was a quiet little dog but he did get nervous at truck stops, maybe from all the noise of the big truck brakes.  My dad was driving his buddy Bill’s truck for the summer to help him out.
My dad had come walking out from the building with a guy following about a foot behind, one hand in a pocket. The bigger guy rode in the passenger seat as he directed my dad to drive out on a quiet desert road. When we all got out I could see the shorter guy in a pickup truck right behind and a woman too.
SlimJim lay about 5 feet from me. He hadn’t moved since he’d been kicked in the head with a steel-toed cowboy boot. I wouldn’t look at him. These fuckers were never going to see me cry.  I turned my head into the dirt and said “motherfucker, motherfucker” over and over. I said it quiet but I said it out loud.
“You want I should hurt your kid?  Come on man.”
“Dad.  DAD.”
“Everything going to be okay Ethan,” he said.
” I think I know what they are looking for,” I said.
 I had spotted a package duct-taped midway under the long part of the truck, when SlimJim went under it this morning and wouldn’t come out. I crawled under to get him and saw it. I wanted to get it down but my dad was saying let’s get going and I figured I had time to do it later.
I told the guys where it was.  I heard scrabbling noises and then one of them said “Score. That bastard Bill wasn’t all talk after all.”
“You want I should?” the other voice said.
My dad let out a sound. It almost sounded like he was crying.
Female feet in sandals stood about two feet from my head. They were surprisingly
delicate. The toenails were painted purple.
“This is only a kid,” she said. “What is he, like ten years old?”
“I’m TWELVE.” I said.
“You got what you wanted, Jeremy,” she said.  “Let’s leave this to chance. Either the coyotes will get them or they’ll figure it out. Let’s get out of here.”
There was some muttering back and forth and then I heard them leave and the sound of the pickup truck fading into the distance. It was so cold, and dark now that the pickup lights weren’t shining on us.
 
I heard a sound and then something wet touched my face.
 
SlimJim was licking my nose.
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Something Outside the Tent

alley

When he gripped me by the wrist and whispered to be quiet, I knew that it hadn’t been my imagination, that there really was something outside the tent.  It had been two days since he had taken me hostage, near  the front gates of  my  Forentui family compound.  He’d planned well, using an untraceable vegetable cart and crafting a cloaked tent, that blended with the walls of the dead end alley where we were hidden. 

 
 I had felt him watching me for months, during my carefully orchestrated trips to various markets.  He’d make a point of saying something to me each time, before blending back into the crowd. I’d see him smiling from across the street, or a quick wave from a park bench. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when he decided to claim his bride the old fashioned way. He was from a different clan, with bad blood between his and ours, so he knew that asking for my hand from my brothers was futile at best, and possibly dangerous too.
 
We said little to each other.  I thought his chances were low and didn’t want to get too attached. I was attracted to him, despite my best attempts to be unflappable, and didn’t want to fill my head with girlish fancy notions about a life with him.  My brothers would find him soon enough.
 
“You’ve made it farther than the others,” I said, after the first day was over.
 
He grinned. “I expected to. I know what I am doing.”
 
“Do you?” I murmured. “The others lost a thumb for their trouble.  You’d better hope my brothers are in a good mood…or you might lose something even more valuable…..” 
 
I stared pointedly at his lap and then raised my eyes to him.  He laughed. 
 
“Ah, but you’d be sad if I lost that, wouldn’t ye? “
 
My answer was to move to the other side of the tent and pull my hood down so my eyes were hidden.  I couldn’t hide the fact that I wanted him to win.  If he was able to keep me hidden and with him for three days, then the bans would be posted on the front gate for all to see and we would be wed. It was part of the laws of my clan. But if my brothers were able to find us before then, we were lost to each other forever. 
 
There was another noise outside the tent. Had they found us?  There was only 12 hours to go. They were running out of time.  I could only imagine the favors they had called in, on their search.
 
He slowly pulled down the small flap at eye level he used to scan the outside.  He looked and then drew back, startled.  Then looked again.
 
“It’s my blasted dog! My buddy was keeping him for me…..he must have gotten loose and come hunting for me.  He’s a great hunter, that one. ” He grinned, despite himself and opened the large flap to let his dog inside.  A large dog in high spirits bounded in, tail wagging fiercely.
 
“You’d best check him.”  
 
He looked at me and then ran his hands over the dog’s body quickly and within a minute found a small persnu tracking wire. He cursed, and jumped up.
 
“We’re moving NOW.  They’ve found us.”
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Encounters

mountain 2

a person can be a meadow you slowly walk through
wild-flower spangled in the early morning light,
another a stony courtyard
horse hoofs sparking as they clop clop clop.
one, two, three stepping stones, across a fast moving brook,
or a crunchy gravel path, with many pebbles in your shoes.

a person can be a gentle hillside, that stretches to the sky,
or a treachorous murky bog, that waits to snatch your shoes.
a craggy bluff you climb, where you dare not look down,
a half built house, with rooms in disarray,
where you wouldn’t want to linger and you head right for the door.

And oh, the person who is a garden, all loamy filled with smells,
or the person who is a mountain, covered with sturdy firs.

Each person is your journey
how ever long they stick around.

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Quick on Her Feet

pantyhose

When I was twelve my body shot up until I am the height I am now… 5 ft 9. I was the tallest kid in the whole elementary school, boy or girl. I was all knees and wobbly ankles while trying to navigate this new reality…and part of this new world was learning how to dress as a preteen and wear things like pantyhose. Oh, how I hated pantyhose at first! It felt stifling and one had to be so prim and proper, otherwise inevitably the pantyhose would get snagged and get runs and that was a fate worse than death.

One evening I was at an event at our church with my parents. For some reason I don’t remember now, my three brothers weren’t there, so it was just my parents and I. For the occasion I was wearing a skirt and blouse and the inevitable pantyhose. And, of course, panties. I was a good girl and good girls ALWAYS wear panties. Or at least I did THEN.

Now, here’s the important detail. I had decided, that I should wear the panties OVER the pantyhose. The pantyhose weren’t a good fit, with my long legs, and I believe I decided that the panties could do double duty…..keeping the pantyhose from slipping down too far also.

We were standing in the middle of a long line winding it’s way towards a potluck table. As I stood there, I felt a whooooooosh of something slipping down my legs. My panties had fallen down and were now pooled around my ankles.

MY PANTIES HAD FALLEN DOWN IN A HUGE ROOM OF PEOPLE.

As quick as a wink, I stepped out of the panties and nonchalantly reached down, grabbed them and stuffed them in my purse.

I WAS MORTIFIED.

I looked around to see who had noticed. My mom was smiling at me and my dad was looking the other way. She leaned over and whispered….you did that so fast…nobody noticed! Sure enough, I looked around the room and nobody was staring. I was still mortified, of course. I didn’t tell anyone. But here’s the thing…..the best thing about it.

From that point forward… I knew I could think fast on my feet. (literally AND figuratively.)

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Life Can Go On Undimmed

 

glam

“He liked to see a woman still flaunting her powers of attraction.  His taste, these days, ran not to the young, not even to the middle-aged, but to those about to enter their late fifties or even early sixties.  He liked to see what a woman could make of herself then, as if he might catch her out on her whole amorous history by virtue of the signals she still displayed.  A disappointed woman, he thought, would not bother, whereas a woman whose faith in herself had been preserved would go to town, embrace every remaining year, enjoy the afterglow of her past, and thus earn his indulgent and always amused approval.  He knew, of course, that the signs could be misleading, that not all decorative, or indeed decorated women had had a gallant past…..what he admired now, he thought, was a sort of pluck, the quality that made a woman want to dress herself boldly and sally forth in spite of the damage that the years were doing to her…..Life could go on and that it could go on undimmed.”

 

-Anita Brookner, Latecomers

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Poets Live On Their Senses

campfire

“I suppose what most people associate with poetry is soul-searching and fiercely held emotions.  We expect the poet to be a monger of intensity, to pain for us, to reach into the campfire so that we can linger in the woods and watch without burning ourselves or grubbying up our clothes.  Then, even if we don’t feel the fire, we can see the poet’s face illuminated by light, hear her flushed chatter, the blazing wood crackle, and imagine well enough what the fire feels like from our safe remove.  Though we can’t live at red alert from day to day, we expect the poet to, on our behalf, and to share that intensity with us when we’re in the right mood.  And if we become frightened or bored, we can simply put the poem back on the shelf.  Really, we are asking the poet to live an extravagantly emotional life for us, so we can add her experiences to our own.

 

Because poets feel what we’re afraid to feel, venture where we’re reluctant to go, we learn from their journeys without taking the same dramatic risks.  We cherish the insights that poets discover: we’d love to relish the moment and feel rampant amazement as the seasons unfold.  We yearn to explore the subtleties, paradoxes, and edges of emotion.  We long to see the human condition reveal itself with spellbinding clarity. Think of all the lessons to be learned from deep rapture, danger, tumult, romance, intuition.  But it’s far too exhausting to live like this on a daily basis, so we ask artists to feel and explore on our behalf.  Daring to take intellectual and emotional chances, poets live on their senses.  In promoting a fight of his, a boxer once said: “I’m in the hurt business.”  In a different way, poets are too.

 

And yet, through their eyes—perhaps because they risk so much—we discover breathtaking views of the human pageant.  Borrowing the lens of a poet’s sensibility, we see the world in a richer way—more familiar than we thought, and stranger than we knew, a world laced with wonder.  Sometimes we need to be taught how and where to seek wonder, but it’s always there, waiting, full of mystery and magic.  Much of my own duty as a poet is the open those doors of vision, shine light into those dark corners of existence, and search for fountains of innocence.

 

The poet Heinrich Heine once said:  “Life is the best teacher, but the tuition is high.”  So true.  That’s why it’s important to find time for poetry.  Poetry is an education in life.  It’s also an act of deep play.”

 

Diane Ackerman, Deep Play

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