are you so easily broken?

“The scent of summer thins, / the air grows cold.” – Yvor Winters, “The Fragile Season

Were you really that fragile?

Did you melt away when they accused you with cruel lies?

Did you acquiesce when they blamed you unjustly?  Did you crumple when they tried to threaten you with the worst kind of harm?

Or did you stand tall, speak firmly in your defense, look them in their deceitful eyes, even as they cursed your name and spat on your reputation.  Did you own your own space and make them see that they could not take from you what was rightfully yours no matter how cruel the names they called you, or how loud their howled epithets.

Are you so easily broken?  No.

Are you so readily damaged?  No.

Are you so quickly destroyed?  Not at all.

You do not regret one moment of your actions.  In the name of what is just and right you will stand your ground.  Together with as many others as will stand with you.  For as long as it takes.


[Cassie found the twilight stairs]

Crépuscule d'escaliers by madebyWstudio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
Crépuscule d’escaliers by madebyWstudio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“and that electric tug, that thrill / pulling your mind into deep water / is how I feel about you every, / single day.” – John Straley, “every single day”

Cassie found the twilight stairs the night she was dressed in black with a white scarf and her black hat.  It was her lucky black hat, the one with the square crown and wide black ribbon just above the brim.  Her father had given it to her just before he died almost two years before.

At odd times she would think she heard her father’s voice, in the kitchen when she was making coffee, or out on the back porch when she was calling the dog inside.  She would think she heard him say her name, or tell her that he loved her, or sometimes, even, ask her a question.


They were just there, at the end of a blind alley behind the used bookstore just off main street in her small Georgia town, an alley she’d been in a dozen times before.  Shadowy stair steps that were never there before. Transparent like plexiglass in one of those upscale apartments, and they glimmered as if lit, even though the alley was almost pitch-black.  She blinked, blinked again, but there they were.

it was a humid evening in late September.  She felt a light breeze drifting down the stairs to where she stood, cooling her, even as she stood there.  She felt the flutter of the breeze against the brim of her hat.  Her lucky hat.


She was wearing that hat the day she took her SATs and got a nearly perfect score.  She wore the hat when she auditioned for the role of Laura in the junior college production of The Glass Menagerie and got the part.  She wore the hat every day she needed a little extra luck, and so far it was working out fine.   Except for the night her father died.

He never said anything about being ill.  It was true, he had gotten paler and more gaunt over the several months before he died, but he shrugged it off whenever she asked.  “Just no appetite,” he’d said.  Or, “A little tired tonight,” when he started shuffling around, not being able to walk properly.

She hated that he hadn’t told her.  She hated that he hadn’t let her know he was dying.  It was like this:  one day he went into the hospital and in a week he was dead.


And so now, when the twilight stairs appeared, when Cassie felt the breeze tugging at the brim of her lucky black hat, it was almost like her father’s voice calling to her.  It was almost like when she imagined she heard his voice at home, in the kitchen or on the back porch.

She hesitated.  This was crazy.  Stairs floating in the air at the end of a dark alley.  It made no sense.

But then, what did?

It wasn’t nearly as steep a climb as she expected.  Somehow she knew what was waiting at the top.

radical activity

radical:  [chemistry] a group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds.

The atoms were all aligned in a promising arrangement the day Marcel took his invention on the time travel racetrack near Death Valley.  The one-million dollar payout was part of his motivation, certainly, but more than claiming the money Marcel wanted to claim the record for longest time travel jump at 2.5 million years – back nearly to the dawn of homo sapiens, back to the days of the woolly mammoth and the saber-tooth tiger.

And then there is that moment of disintegrating atoms, the moment of suspension as you fly, no, you hang in suspension above the dusty earth, above the arid sands, when the heat buoys you like a life raft on the ocean’s surface.  You briefly glimpse the flattened outstretched wings of the desert condors that glide in ovate patterns above the ground, you see what they see, the world below you laid out like the long dry expanse of a child’s coverlet, like the long times between love affairs, like the length of sorrow over your mother’s death.  She believed in you, your mother, when no one else did.

All at once the atoms accelerate, time constricts, you hit the ground in a flash, and it’s all over.  You were there, you arrived at your destination, so long ago in the past, and you remember it all in your pounding heart and your memory-soaked brain. You remember it all.  Like H. G. Wells’s time traveler you have made a super-human discovery.  But in the forgotten era of time past, there are no witnesses to your feat.  You alone know the truth.

Years later Marcel’s invention of time travel would be shrunk to a portable time mini-shifter, so that when you’re running fifteen minutes later you can retrieve those minutes at a nominal cost and walk into your appointment on time.  You can revisit the kiss of a loved one at their moment of passing, you can replay your daughter’s first steps.  The dinosaurs still sleep.

in which there is more than just brooding going on

“Gardens are also good places / to sulk.  You pass beds of / spiky voodoo lilies / and trip over the roots / of a sweet gum tree” – Amy Gerstler, “In Perpetual Spring”

It was when she crossed me that I came up with the plan.  At first all I wanted to do is sulk.  I even went out into my sulking garden and sat on my favorite pouting chair, sinking deep into the feelings of resentment and frustration that seethed inside me.  It was, after all, so unfair.  She had made up lies, told vile untruths, turned others against me.  It was so unfair, so completely unfair.

But then the vengeance plants I had put in last fall wafted their bittersweet fragrance my way.  I got them from a voodoo place over on the bayfront in Medeira, a place that was all purple curtains and incense sticks.  They told me I should plant them in a warm place in the garden that got lots of rain.  That’s not a problem here in South Florida.

Vengeance plants.  I looked up at the clouds, all piled up dark and threatening, like my mood.  Yes.  I would have revenge.  It would be my victory over her this time.

The lightning storm struck just as I finished harvesting the fierce purple fuzzy leaves from the vengeance plants.  The sky was reading my thoughts, the sky was channeling my rage.  The air sizzled around me and the rain came down in heavy ribbons.

They will find her tomorrow in the canal behind her house, washed ashore under mysterious circumstances.  She will be alive, still alive.  But by then the madness will have taken hold.

A change of skin

“Oh skin!  What a cloth to live in.  We are not at the end of things.” – Deborah Landau, “The Wedding Party”

Nikki changed her skin yesterday and I almost missed her when she picked me up at the airport.  How was I to know she had taken a purple cast, and bright orange hair, to boot?  The hair was a bonus, she told me.  Something about that the hair came with the skin change Groupon.

I wanted to tell her I missed the old Nikki.  The cocoa-skinned girl with dark curly hair that I met in the dorms freshman year.  I wanted to tell her about how her skin changes seem to have changed her on the inside.  That she had seemed more impatient, more intolerant, more into herself, if you know what I mean.

But I didn’t say anything.

The last time I mentioned anything about her being in a mood after a skin change she nearly bit off my head with her crocodile jaws – figuratively, of course.  They haven’t started grafting body parts yet.  So far, only the skin can be changed.

So far.



nearly invisible stitches

“The back, the yoke, the yardage, lapped seams, / The nearly invisible stitches along the collar.” – Robert Pinsky, “Shirt”

The wrinkles of paper when water is spilled on it.  The raised splotches of rain on a newspaper.  The dark tan circle of a coffee mug stain on a manuscript, the curls of the circle lapping at words hungry for meaning, words spilling their letters across a page of cheap type. The voice can say its truth or its lies.  The words only make the sounds.

the light’s eyelashes

“In the meantime, / the light’s eyelashes open and close.” – Robert Fernandez, “And”

The art installation went better than Britt had expected.  She floated lasers above the horizon using SpaceX’s “Arts in the Skies” low-cost launch service and made ribbons of light on which her messages were displayed.  The complete works of Charles Dickens took up one wide ribbon next to the autobiography of Malcolm X on a slender strip next to collected Chinese dissident poetry on a third ribbon, and so on.

Kafka’s The Trial, Malala Yousafzai’s I am Malala, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Angela Davis’s Women, Race, and Class . . . they were all up there, stenciled on ribbons of light among the dark matter of the galaxy.

The words of her message could not be read from Earth.  But that was not a surprise, was it?