From Other Rooms by Frederick Pollack
The voices in the next room hush
as if someone were listening
though no one is. What’s being discussed
must have a presence of its own,
outlined perhaps in retroactive tears;
dead but not gone, it
exerts some claim or sanction.
Opinions others had of you
but shrugged away dissolve; likewise
secrets that no longer matter,
defenses no one now will utter.
It is the holes and voids that make
a statue; the ancients used
two plugs of different marble for the eyes.
The case is otherwise with pity.
Unlike the past, modernity
admits therein a burden that
defines one. And if yours was never
effectively expressed, the subjects who
inspired it will quietly
discuss you in another room forever.
The 2019 campaign against birds by Casey
I never was in a war, don’t know anything
about war, not even as much as a soldier
peeling potatoes in ally territory, not even
as much as a general in some corner office
somewhere overlooking a peaceful river.
I know about hitting a bird with a windshield.
I know about how the feathers explode like
a grenade, about the soft dead sound of the air
that’s left when the bird sinks into the
pavement. I know about that.
I know about soldiers who will travel this
highway after me, how they will run over
the carcass until it is only a chalk outline
in a war zone, how each tire will push it
farther away from my regret, how the
next war against birds will have to wait
until I forget about this one.
The Weight of Light by Daniel A. Rabuzzi
Elves draw down light from ten thousand sunsets, light that descends into blue so dark you cannot tell
a wolf from a dog, but only see its eyes blazing with the last of the lambent folds, a light they infuse
into gems for the studding of blazons, the shadowing of horns, and workings of collars for hounds of
the hunt. What is it that pierces the flesh of your heart, but light cooled, sharpened, contained, as heavy
as halters and gauntlets, and reins? Run, h(e)art, run.
Rapunzel at 45 by Sarah Orman
My mother, a woman of appetite, hungered for a feast too bestial to eat at table.
Squatting, furtive, in the witch’s garden, she shoved grit-speckled leaf and stem,
still earth-warm, into her mouth. Her jaw churned like a steam engine, tears rolled
down her cheek. And me, a fava bean nestled in her belly, she traded for bitter greens.
This was the bargain: my youth for the ravaged plot.
I am an heiress in bittersweet.
This downturned mouth, more crone-like with each passing day, my inheritance.
Only now do I realize that others smile easily at strangers. It feels good to know this—
like gray clouds, parting, reveal a flawless blue.
Oh, my prince! I see the love in your once-blind eyes. I want to return it.
But the cat has clawed out my voice, and a piece of my heart remains in airless tower.
All those years, I was the witch’s only comfort.
My supple cheeks (ripe peaches) against her lips (brittle leaves).
A Haunting Memory by Joyce Gregor
Through the peach glow of morning mist
from afar I see him—the old Coyote,
and our spirits kiss.
Cold and weary, slowly over crusty snow-pack he persisted
eyes centered on a pencil sketch of far off trees and brush
through the peach glow of morning mist.
A laborious journey just to subsist
tail dragging frost up his spine—I shiver
and our spirits kiss.
I sense defeat in his skeletal frame— today ’s prey missed
as his hunger drifts on the heavy breath of winter
through the peach glow of morning mist.
Fleetingly our eyes meet—a laser connection, how strange a twist
to see into another. I, a mortal, sense his pain as he does mine
and our spirits kiss.
Two tricksters once, each left exposed—a momentary risk
now naked like the snow. We drift, each in a different direction
through the peach glow of morning mist
and our spirits kiss.
WE MUST BE COLLIDING WITH A BETTER UNIVERSE by Lawrence Bridges
We must be colliding with a better Universe. Time
bends with scale so all the galaxies seem slow, while
spiraling suds in the club’s bathtub skitter like
nervous hurricanes. Back up here in the median of
everything, we can’t get a lawyer to admit he backed
into our car. It’s the same everywhere in the Universe:
truth bends with error and expands with acceptance.
Of Love and Rust by Todd Williams
Brother, teach me how to love
the rust of frayed cartilage
and bones broken long-ago.
Let me embrace their stiffness
the way that older men do
and not eschew the tides
of change or discordance.
Show me how to slow the world
from its maddening twirl
with warmth and joy and charity,
and at last, lead me to make peace
with each and everything that fades,
every person who forsakes me,
every dream that is dashed.
Because from dust we are born
and through rust we will return,
the nature of nature forever
testing my mettle.
Harbingers of Death List by Amy Haddad
1. The Grim Reaper – In the number one slot since the 14th century; the embodiment
of the Black Death; they/them/their harvest souls like ripe wheat; to avoid brand
confusion, the term “harvest” is discouraged when speaking of procuring organs
such as hearts or kidneys for transplant; is the Grim Reaper an executioner, farmer,
or merely a trash collector? In a contemporary commercial, the Reaper appears at
the door to take away a refrigerator that has outlived its warranty.
2. Ravens – Always a close second, their raspy AWW AWW AWW can be heard
for miles signaling that something delicious has died; these black beaked birds eat
carrion (from the Latin for flesh); some see them as black angels that carry souls to
heaven; so smart they steal chicks from nests while other ravens distract the
hysterical parents; oh, and Edgar Allan Poe.
3. Banshees – From the Celtic; women of the fairy mounds; the bringers of bane or
gentle welcome; she/her/hers rarely seen yet heard; a sound so horrible those who
hear drop dead or wish they could; this keening wail fills hospital halls; pours out
of phone and tablet speakers held by nurses in ghostly white protection garb for
absent families who grieve from afar.
4. Bird of Paradise Flower – Stelitzia reginae – named after a queen; an orange,
purple and blue tropical flower; stranger to a snowy winter in the Midwest but
found its way into a bouquet in a hospital room where my Mom, a young nurse,
cared for a dying patient; Oh, that cancer flower, Mom would say for the rest of
her life whenever she saw it; An ugly flower like a hand or mouth opening to eat
you. Takes its sweet time to open too; each petal makes its slow debut, the final
shape – a bird flying into everlasting night.
THE PERSISTENT WOOER by David P. Miller
My love was like the stumbling bumblebee
Cursing the glass he cannot batter through,
A love’s-true-knot entwining only me
As summer’s smiling sunrise boiled the dew.
My love was an electric drill
Abandoned in a poppy field,
The rainbow sigh of petrol spill,
A sidewalk of bananas, peeled.
My love was – like, who cares?
A fogbound honeymoon?
A spate of pears
Snag by T. Clear
She drapes him in silk,
swaths his torso with light
spun by the larvae of mulberry worms.
He retreats, flees to his cocoon
where no sparks flare and mold settles
on his eyelids, in the crease of his groin.
She lures him back, binds his wrists
in chamois, wraps his skull
with charmeuse, cinches chiffon
in a nervous knot about his neck.
Still, his desire for exile,
not organza —
Still, she shimmers her bolts,
her gauzy yardage —
dangles him from velvet fingertips,
grazes his lips with shantung torn
from the skirts of fallen angels.
He hems and haws: his equivocal heart,
its errant thrums and throbs immune
to her tussah teases, the touch of her toile.
What she seeks is the right needle,
the perfect filament to ease into his aorta,
his reluctant ventricle, so she may sew him
into the satin of her sleepless nights.
My Daughter Cuts by Alan Hill
She wears the evidence of the divorce across her arms
in bright red trenches of intent
cut with broken scissors, yesterdays razor blades
She has made her body into a map
I have read textbooks, manuals, that insist
each slice is a measurement of her discontent
contours have been molded by anger
blood smear formed by angry shouts
welts by accusations,
stabs made into bunkers in which to hide.
For now we have a map that cannot be read
we are too close to it to focus
the landscape is volatile, changeable, unknowable
One day when the hate, destruction have stopped.
the war is over
I will ask her to roll up her sleeves
As old adversaries, comrades in a battle
that you had to be in to understand
we will study old defences, places of attack
figure out who died where
who has brave, cowardly,
which one of us kept our heads down
quietly stepped over the dead in a hope of survival.
What is a River? by Rohan Buettel
Nobody knows its source, a mystery
of multifarious subterranean springs.
Banks arrayed with emeralds, a diamond stream
bejewels the city’s bodice.
A vascular network of elastic arteries,
each water pulse expands across the flood plains.
Lymphatic channels drain the watershed, collect debris,
return interstitial fluid to the reservoir of the sea.
A nervous system, sensitive to its surrounds,
bundled fibre cables hauling impulses along its length.
An intestinal tract, home for flora and fauna,
eliminating effluent in waves of flow.
A spinal cord, its tributaries radiating nerves,
floating signals from the periphery to the core.
It slows, and a senescence of silt lands in the estuary,
a cancer prematurely ageing the mouth.
The biography of a life, its quickening younger reaches,
the steady broadening of middle age, a slow meandering towards the end.
Nobody can know what a river is,
despite its many modes — a self always its own.
The Witch Comes to Ask for a Cup of Sugar by Robin Gow
And I do not give it to her. She screams
and cries and begs. I tell her I know what she is doing.
She wants to keep the curse alive. She needs
my fingers brushing hers and I almost give in.
For a moment she looks like my mother
and then my grandmother. Her bones shifting.
And then I am looking at her and I want the tether back too.
Outside, the trees have been losing their arms.
The sow sleeps like a stone and sleet falls wet
on the fields. I imagine welcoming the witch,
bringing her inside and saying. Take my sugar.
Take my teeth. Take my children. Take my life.
The way wind must blow through her shack at night.
Is she cold? We could be witches together.
My skin and her skin. A fire. A black dog.
Running. Running into the mountain where
the old stories still have legs. Then she is gone.
My door open. A wind harsh through the hallways.
I go into the kitchen and swallow a spoonful of sugar.
Feel its crystals like sweet sand on my tongue.
I could have fed her. I could have pretended I was tricked
but now she is gone. I miss her curse. Tell no one she came.
Adornment by Patrick Sylvain
Are we a miserable people? A cursed
people from breaking enslavers’ chains?
Or, are we heroic for disrupting hell?
Do you see their adorning hats? Feathers
from dead tropical birds, and obscene jewelries.
Hell with civilization when royals are not loyal
even to hummingbirds. Shall we count the dead?
Èske nou se yon pèp mizerab? Yon pèp
madichonnen difèt nou kase chenn esklavajis yo?
Oswa, èske nou ewoyik pou libere tèt nou nan lanfè?
Lavoum pou sivilizasyon lè fanmi wayal yo
pa rete fidèl menm ak wanga nègès. Gade
chapo dekore yo? Plim zwazo twopikal ki mouri,
epi bijou dyandyan fè mikalaw. Èske nou konte mò yo?
Vertigo by Ann Russell
We are climbing up the highest dune on the Lake Michigan shore, my brother Josh, who’s eight; me, two years older, my hair in pigtails; and our dad. The dune is so tall it hurts my neck to look up at it. Mom didn’t come.
Yesterday, Dad drove all four of us into Michigan City to see Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the film all my friends want to see this summer. The cars on the main street had huge tail fins and blasted loud music: “Jail House Rock,” “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Mom disapproved.
The blonde woman on the billboard was Kim Novak, who plays the girlfriend of this sleazy businessman who wants to kill his wife. She’s also the girlfriend of Jimmy Stewart, a retired cop, who sees her fall off a tower. Twice. It’s complicated. Mom said it was too grown up for us. She was mad at Dad for bringing us along. Late last night, I could hear them arguing. Maybe a little scuffling.
This morning she refused to come with us. She said she was having one of her headaches. Josh and I gave each other a “first-time-I-heard-about-that” look.
As we scramble up the foot hills, Dad says Kim Novak isn’t really all that beautiful. It’s all the Hollywood make up.
“Why did the killer throw the same woman off the bell tower twice?” I ask. The dune is getting steeper. My feet slide in the sand. I start breathing faster.
“Let’s see it again.” Josh wipes his nose with his palm.
“How come she wasn’t dead the first time she fell?” I squint up at Dad.
“It was a different woman.” Dad’s voice sounds like a TV newscaster, reliable.
“I wouldn’t go up in that tower.” I picture the winding stairway and shiver. Overhead, gulls are sliding sideways through the bright air.
“Why did Jimmy Stewart fall off the ladder?” Josh is breathing hard now too. His short little legs slip in the soft sand.
“He had vertigo. Heights made him dizzy.”
“I think I have vertigo.”
As we near the top of the dune, we look back down at the road where we left our car. There are no trees on the slope, just a few scrawny ones at the top. The gray-green beach grass whips around in the wind, clicking like knives. We can see the waves breaking into white foam along the shore. On the road that separates the beach from the dunes, sand mounds up along the curbs.
“I’m afraid to go higher.” Josh sits cross-legged in the sand. He’s not moving.
“Try walking in a diagonal line, and you won’t slip,” says Dad.
I tug at Dad’s wrist. “Why wouldn’t Mom come with us?”
“She says the sun gives her a rash.”
“Does it really give her a rash, or does she just say it gives her a rash?”
“How should I know? I only know what she says, not what she thinks.”
I recall the argument I overheard last night, unable to make out the words. Mom seemed to have plenty to say.
As we reach the top of the dune, Josh starts to cry. “I’m afraid to go down. I want my mom.”
Dad rolls his eyes in a way I’m probably not supposed to see. “It’s easier going down than coming up,” he says. “You kids can slide down on your behinds if you want.” If Mom was here, she’d calm Josh down.
“Let’s rest for a while,” Josh says. His T shirt doesn’t quite cover his tummy.
“If you don’t come down for lunch, your mother will miss you.” I’ve never heard Dad call her “your mother” before.
“The sand hurts my feet. I’m not moving another step.” Josh pounds his fists on the sand.
I point to a cloud of bees hovering around a patch of thistles nearby. “If you sit here, those bees will sting you.”
“Let’s go,” Dad says. Josh gets up with a groan.
“Can we see Vertigo again tonight?” I ask Dad. Maybe if I understood what was happening in the film, I’d know what was happening with my dad.
“I wanna see it again,” Josh joins in. “Where’s the tower they went to in the movie?”
“It’s at a monastery near San Francisco.”
“Can we go there?” Josh jumps up and down.
“Why would you want to go there, Josh?” Dad asks.
“To see Kim Novak.”
Dad laughs. “She’s not there now. She’s an actress. The film shoot was over seven or eight months ago.”
“Ow!” Josh howls, flapping his elbows. “A bee just stung me. My arm feels like it’s on fire.” He presses his hands to his teary eyes.
Dad and I hover around him, looking at the swelling on his chubby elbow. Dad ruffles Josh’s hair. I tell him how brave he is. Josh likes the attention.
“Your mother will put something on it when we get back. She never travels with less than fifty pounds of first-aid supplies.” Dad gives Josh a reassuring pat on his shoulder.
When we’re nearly back to the level of the road, Josh says, “Let’s climb up the dune again tomorrow. We’ll tell Mom what a great time we had. Maybe she’ll come with us.”
He starts to run. Our green Buick sits there, the windshield streaked with sand. My eyes ask Dad a question.
# # #
Josh and I had no clue Dad would leave us that winter. He came to visit us now and then in our hometown in the Chicago suburbs. Josh and I were happy until it was time for him to leave. Josh was convinced he saw him once, driving along Main Street in a green car with a new girlfriend. Josh claimed it was Kim Novak.
I didn’t ask Mom if Dad was coming back. I dreamed of a black cloud hovering over a steep cliff, me at the edge, growing dizzy.
On Being and Becoming by Jane Galllagher
Monarch Butterflies danced in a continuous stream across our yard between June and September 2021. We saw nearly a monarch a day and sometimes several, more than I'd ever seen in one summer. Long hours of gardening in this time of COVID brought the amazing migratory
journey of these delicate creatures into sharp focus.
A chronic sinus infection had bloomed in my husband's nose in late 2020, intensifying an already challenging isolation. The cortisone treatments needed to fight that infection put him squarely in the group most likely to die of COVID, especially at age seventy six. The monarchs
became a magical, silent, fluttering reminder of the beauty and joy still present in times of sorrow when you can allow yourself to notice.
Intense isolation to prevent my husband's death had crashed suddenly upon us. Just a few months earlier we had both been unusually healthy and active. Long-held living patterns had to be released, and new ones formed to relieve grief over their loss, compounded by grief over several deaths of dear friends that rolled in on the emotional tide of the same year. Long, solitary walks in wild mountain foothills became a daily habit to soothe my heart, even as they often bumped hard against the limits of one post-menopausal body striving to sustain a lifestyle designed for two.
Thankfully, vaccinations entered the scene right along with the monarchs. My husband's health also improved. After months lying prone and inert he now was able and willing to do a few chores, engage in brief conversations, read a little and walk a short way up the hill, lifting his spirits out of the shadows by renewing a sense of agency. These gifts of hope allowed us both to more peacefully accept our predicament and the solitary joys of new living patterns.
One early September afternoon a monarch cocoon appeared hanging from a lilac leaf in the back yard. I had never seen a naturally occurring cocoon, even after searching for one each fall since 2017 when we spotted fifteen tiger-striped caterpillars crawling over the garden's milkweed. Three years later and a year and a half into isolation, here was the beautiful cocoon I'd expected from those plump yellow and black beings hungrily stuffing their bodies with leaves, instinctively preparing to transform.
That tiny cocoon inspired a daily stroll to monitor its progress as my isolation further intensified, while awaiting the result of a COVID test following the first trip of the pandemic; a solo road trip to visit my daughter, her husband and two small, rambunctious grandsons. Each time I sought that tiny green time capsule it remained as it had first appeared, with golden jewels encircling the top of its graceful green pod like a minute space ship or the focal point of a pendant. Despite occasional nighttime buffeting by driving rain and heavy wind, the following morning always revealed only a single droplet of water sparkling on its tip in the sunlight, barely hinting at the earlier presence of a mighty storm.
The drive back from visiting my daughter's family had been a beautiful tour along winding back roads through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont. Arriving home, I had briefly greeted my husband at a waving, calling distance, honoring the possibility that I might have contracted the dreaded virus. Instead of chatting, however, I stopped only briefly before circling the house with my suitcase to place my hand on the brass doorknob leading to the half basement.
That moment is seared in memory. As my hand touched the cool, shiny, golden orb an unexpected flood of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion saturated awareness, coupled with massive relief. I was home again and in a spot where there was no need to interact with another living being for several days. Not only was there unexpected happiness at this prospect of solitude, there was also no sense of anticipated frustration about isolating as a healthy person.
Crossing the threshold I discovered a sanctuary. There was my favorite rocking chair, a small table in front of the futon couch, a folding table with an electric tea pot, herb teas and a solo place setting. There was also a comfortable bedroom with doors that shut and novels from
the library on a shelf. Deep gratitude rose for all my husband had added to the necessities I had left there before traveling, creating a restorative nest with a bee-line view of the late summer flower garden.
As is so often the case, our well-conceived plan to protect my husband morphed into an experience very different from the one we'd anticipated. Instead of six days, my stay in the basement lasted well into six weeks, falling ill as I did on the third day from exposure to my two-
year-old grandson, who had transformed overnight from a whirlwind of movement into a mucus spewing zombie near the end of my visit. I hadn't worried about his sickness because I hadn't fallen ill after previous visits with the boys when they had colds. A call from his daycare
provider identified RSV as the probable cause of his disease, a virus most adults have repeatedly encountered throughout life. Knowing I'd avoided ANY illness for ten years, using various preventive health measures, I was confident I'd remain healthy this time also, despite the dangers
this virus posed for older adults and munchkins like him.
RSV had another agenda however, which quickly laid me low. Thankfully, the COVID test came back negative as similar symptoms bloomed. Nonetheless, I couldn't rise to do anything but rest for nearly two weeks. Gradually, the worst of the aches, sore throat and fever abated, along with fear that age and this disease might collaborate to kill me. I could finally raise enough energy to read, which I did for many hours in between drinking gallons of water, herb tea and homemade chicken soup, spending even more hours in a liminal zone between conscious and unconscious daydreaming, napping, drifting, and meditating. Propped during the day on the couch, I also slept there at night because lying in bed gave no respite from a productive bronchial cough that had settled into my chest.
Near the middle of my third week of confinement, I imagined I was on the road to recovery because several consecutive days had included brief strolls outside without much of a cough. Even a walk of respectable length up the steep dirt road beyond the driveway brought only a minor cough or two. The next day I ventured out confidently to drive forty-five minutes to my favorite library in search of books. A brief walk around the yard after returning reinforced a sense of freedom and hope. Stopping to examine the cocoon, I was amazed to find it still intact.
A rude awakening followed sunrise the next morning; my energy had cratered. The previous day's exertions, small as they'd seemed, returned me to complete rest for another week, after which I repeated the same small adventure with exactly the same result. Clearly, any kind of reasonable recovery time was not in the cards. There was nothing for it but to let go of any thought of when this confinement might end, and to simply be grateful I was not hospitalized with COVID or in need of medication. Antibiotics couldn't touch this chronic viral bronchitis.
Releasing feelings and thoughts about the future into just being with each moment as it surfaced, quickly releasing any ideas about yesterday or tomorrow which held only yearning and anxiety, I learned to continuously redirect attention to what nourished body and mind just then. Otherwise, no possible relaxation could be had to support any healing to progress. A consistent habit took shape as I continued to shift attention toward full awareness of my body and its various needs; sometimes for rest or meditation and others for new thought patterns sparked by books and movies. I also began to pay more attention to physical sensations, emotions and ideas triggered by the stories I encountered, mine and others'. The whole healing experience morphed into a fascinating kind of silent conversation between the authors, screenwriters and my own experience, providing a depth of reflection only possible while slowing life to a crawl for an extended period of time.
This new habit brought wonder and joy, staving off despondency over my circumstances and deepening contentment over time, reinforcing ever more gratitude for the privilege of safely and comfortably slowing life's pace, rather than resisting the isolated stillness healing required. Gratitude also grew for this nourishing space and my husband's love, willingness and relative health that enabled him to cook, fetch and carry for me between naps. He was able to provide whatever I wanted or needed by leaving it on the top step of the basement stairway on my side of a closed door. An accompanying sense of solidarity and compassion rose for all those everywhere who were ill along with me, so many without the comforting resources that supported my recovery.
The concept of serendipity presented itself several times in stories encountered during this seclusion, raising memories of such incidents in my own life that sparked awe and wonder when they occurred. I began to imagine these reminders as mysterious prompts to pay more attention to subtle messages in life's flow. Opening further to that continuous river of thought and feeling brought awareness of how common such moments actually are when the pace of life slows enough to notice. A sense of the mystery of existence gradually insinuated itself into everything as I drifted through seemingly endless days and nights. As it did, multiple edges of personal identity began to soften and fall away.
Long periods of meditative rest, coupled with short periodic phone conversations with my husband and friends helped disperse the gnawing fear of aging and death, which had ignited in the first intense throws of illness, even as awareness of their ultimate certainty grew. Aging, sickness and death came to seem far less personal and more like an essential part of the moving, shifting, endless dance of creation, from the cellular to the personal to the ecological, planetary and universal, where destruction and creation are unstoppable partners of beauty and wonder. That much wider vision of life began to replace instinct's central self-referential focus on individual experience.
October and its full pallet of color entered the scene five weeks into confinement, not long after a full moon on the autumnal equinox. The beauty of red and gold outside the window became irresistible, drawing me out once again to gingerly wander the yard. In that brief meandering I found the little cocoon still hanging from its lilac leaf, though changed. The tiny tip that earlier held the sparkling raindrop had split, its sides folded back. The cocoon's body was a paler shade of green, nearly translucent, no longer the earlier, apparently solid enclosure containing an undefined form.
Rounding the house, I found my husband on the front porch. Delighted to have a chance to chat in-person at a distance, I described the change I'd discovered in the beautiful little cocoon. Smiling, he told me he had just seen a monarch resting on the sunny driveway. At first it had seemed dead. Several minutes later however it started lightly fluttering its wings as if wounded, or perhaps using them for the first time. The fluttering continued for several moments until suddenly it lifted skyward and flew away.
Several days later my body temperature returned to normal from the vaguely elevated state it had held for weeks. I could also sleep comfortably prone in bed and my cough disappeared, except for an occasional dry outburst easily relieved with a gulp of water. Through the cell phone to house phone communication system my husband and I used during my illness, we decided I was well enough to return upstairs. After venturing joyfully into the house I noticed my office calendar still showing August, the month I'd left to visit my daughter's family. Turning
the pages to October, I smiled to discover a lovely photo of a flock of monarchs resting in the sun.
Now I awaken daily to a life beyond the confines of the cozy basement space that still holds a nurturing aura. A subtle, though important shift has occurred in my relationship with this body, its aging and eventual death. Wonder and gratitude for every moment of living remain, no
matter what they bring, sustaining me even as inevitable grief rises again. It's now easier to feel sadness for all who suffer, while also noticing gratitude for the gift of another day right alongside, motivating sustained commitment to identifying kind, generous actions to contribute
to healing in every available sphere I can notice.
In memory, 2021 will remain the year of the monarch. Like a hungry caterpillar my mental habits had long focused attention on gobbling life experiences with enthusiastic urgency, clinging subconsciously to joyful living patterns even as the pandemic descended, causing much of my own suffering in the process. Then suddenly the mystery that breathes these lungs planted a common virus in their tiny bronchial tubes, putting me hacking and coughing into a transformational cocoon over which I had no control. Accepting the catastrophes of old age, sickness and death more fully, while coming to respect and honor the physical, mental and emotional limits they harbor, opened an unexpected door into the mysteriously creative awareness humming within every particle of this massive universe. A place where we have the amazing opportunity to live in these bodies for even one precious moment, and where the significance of each body's experience is at once comparable to a tiny sun sparkle on a wave crest and the infinite mystery of the whole ocean of being and becoming.
These are the New Rhythms of My Days by Megan Connolly
On Sunday, my former city-cat skillfully climbs the wooden trellis at the mouth of my garden and sees a magnificent four-legged beast shaking its long mane to rid its back of flies. Horse, I tell him. Before this, the largest animal he knows is: Dog. He crouches down on his perch above my head. His eyes widen in amazement, he is transfixed. Curious. Terrified. Overwhelmed.
Later, my big-boned, overweight grey cat spots a fat little finch outside the window. Back in the city, he spent the better part of a year stalking pigeons he would never touch. I crack the back door open for him, certain the little finch will fly away unharmed. Instead, with knowledge
lurking deep inside his bones, my grey cat leaps in the air and in one fluid motion makes his first kill. Here, on the back patio of my new country home, he bats the small, dead creature with his proud paws, tosses the finch in the air. He is ecstatic! And for a moment, my guilt is assuaged
and I am swept up in the joy of an animal fulfilling his true nature.
These are the new rhythms of my days: release the hounds, feed the cats, grind coffee. Cross the yard under towering aspens, open up the coop, slip my hand underneath my warm, broody hen— she is trying to hatch her eggs and not pleased by my theft. I coo to her softly.
At times, I become frozen by everything I do not know about farming, soil, slaughter. Each day I commit myself to learning. I learn the difference between hay and straw, the true meaning of “to cull”, how to smother invasive thistles down to their root tip. I learn to turn waste into the most
nutritious soil, the temperature required to keep a hatchling alive. I learn that I am pained by the senseless destruction imbedded in the thinning of my purple-flecked beet seedlings, but that I am capable of killing the chicken I raised by hand. Of memorizing each step. I learn the haunting
pain in an animal’s eye as it dies, slower than I expected, and later the swelling pride in my accomplishment. One day, I will know how to breed new chicks, milk a cow with my bare hands, fix my lawnmower when it fails me.
Sometimes, I feel guilty for boxing up my earlier ambitions, wasting the money set aside for my high education. I worry which friendships will dry up when they realize I lost the drive we once shared. Back then, I was going to travel the world with Doctors Without Borders, become an
expat, a diplomat, work for the UN. I was going to make changes to the field, become a trauma specialist, start a business. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s wrong to want such a simple life. I wonder about the privilege. "My dad always said, cos' more to feed ‘em than to buy eggs at the store, but thanks for these," remarks my neighbor as he accepts my chicken’s eggs.
Now, I till soil, place seeds, wait quietly. Watch the tomatoes grow, pick raspberries, make friends with the bees. Feed the ones I love, fill myself with a peace I can share. All the while, the cats stomp around the garden, a snake slithers away, and I bury a sweet grey-blue songbird in the
In afternoons, the dogs and I walk lazily to the pond, where one chases geese and the other swims graceful circles, as if for pleasure. I am in awe that this place is my home: the towering cottonwoods, the rolling, deep green foothills, the forest smells wafting down from the ridge, which separates my homestead from the wilderness beyond. Where the bear and mountain lion live.
In evenings, I slip outside at sunset. The cool air energizes the cats and they leap through the tall grass, race circles around the barn. They run faster and farther than they have in their whole lives, while I water the garden, swat a mosquito, pick an apple from the ancient tree. Laugh.
We are free.
Not the Safe Thing by Alan Brickman
I stood at the edge of the cliff, trying to tune out all the shouting behind me.
It was summer, and it was an unusually hot summer day. It hadn't rained in a week at least, and the ground was hot and dry and dusty. With each step, you could raise a cloud of brown mist, hungry for water. My friends and I had hiked through the woods. It had been a three-hour exhausting slog, we're not as young as we used to be, which may have accounted for the senselessness that followed. We were now at the notorious cliff, with Lake Bragg below. Two of our group had already leapt from the edge and hit the water – what was it, eighty, a hundred feet below? More? So far down you could barely hear the impact. The two fools that had already jumped disappeared into the dark blue of the water. From up here, we could only see small white dots where they had entered the lake, followed by an endless wait for them to resurface, all of us wondering if they would, if they made it, if they survived. Then their heads bobbed up, small round shapes emerging from the dark. When they looked up and waved, there were cheers – rousing, lusty cheers to be sure because they were alive and it was summer and summer is a time to be exhilarated. But also with an undeniable hint of panic and then relief that we hadn't just watched someone kill themselves, on a dare which is the worst and stupidest way to die.
And now they were egging me on, chanting for me to jump, to be part of this joyless fun, to risk everything for their entertainment and for the supposed thrill of being a daredevil, of daring the devil to spare you, to avoid the hell to which you are relegated because you died on a dare. Why did I allow myself to be part of this madness, why did I say yes and why have I found myself here at the edge, with my so-called friends chanting and laughing, hoping I'll risk death in a pointless stunt for their morbid amusement?
Seconds passed as if hours, my heart pounded and my mind raced. But I wondered - hadn't I always done the safe thing, and hadn't that never worked out as I expected or planned. The ski trip when I opted for the lesser hill and broke my leg anyway on a tight turn and an exposed rock. The time I was too scared or intimidated to audition a part for which I was perfect, only to watch the other actor win a Tony for it. Dozens of times more. Always the safe way, the cowardly way, the dying-while-still-living way. Worst of all, I let my nerves talk me out of asking out the gorgeous, intellectual, and altogether intriguing Patti, and instead, settling for my sullen sexless relationship-then-marriage-then-divorce with Doris. All I'm left with is a persistent melancholy, a life without dignity or delight, only the thousand nagging torments of what-if and if-only.
But was this cliff my crucible? Do my friends standing behind me, chanting and yelling and laughing, do they know all this, do they understand, do they care? Do they want to mock me? Save me? Kill me? Are they my guardian angels, come to rescue me from myself and my past, or are they the devil in disguise, tempting me, daring me to destroy myself? I turn back to look, hoping to see either white feathery wings or fiery red horns so I will know what to do. But I only see their hungry faces, yelling and chanting – although I can hear nothing, it has become eerily quiet – pointing to the edge, motioning for me to jump, to tempt fate, to join the others in the water, either as a survivor or a corpse, however the nameless vapors and vibrations of the universe would have it.
I can trust no but myself, but can I even trust myself? I try to feel the wind, but there is no wind. I listen to the air and the rocks and the trees, but nothing. I hold my breath so I can hear my thoughts, and hear only a soft distant droning like the air in a shell on the beach. I stand outside myself and watch my spastic motions, beyond any intention or control, as I rear back, take two quick steps, and launch into the void. Time stands still, and I descend.
Drowning in Space by Nolan Dannels
You are Safe by Samson Leo Actias
Why I Stay by Brandy Witthoft
A Beautiful Day by Benne van der Velde
Dreaming Again by April Alsup
Piece 27 by Xavier Pimentel
Empty Arms of Rain by Rex Brooke