I hear it from afar—
across the street
or down the mountain—
that carries with it
of long-ago encounters.
with a place and a love
on a mountain
thousands of miles distant
from any previous experience.
by anonymous merriment
linked to memory
by some truth
of quantum physics.
Two beings, once connected,
maintain that connection
over time and space.
A cow is screaming across the arroyo. Fireworks explode in honor of whatever saint’s day is being celebrated this week, drowning out her loud shrieking bellows. It is twelve hours later that someone finds the cow, her horns caught in the wire fence. Too late to save her, they do the kind thing and a single shot rings out. When her owner leaves her for the buzzards, a stench settles over the neighborhood, and we pay a man to cover her in quicklime. It is months later that someone ventures up to find a perfect effigy of the cow—jaws open in her last cries of agony. In mistaking concrete for quicklime, the man we paid to do away with her has instead constructed her monument. Immortalized on that mountain where few others will ever see her, I often see her in my dreams.
For dVerse Poets, we were to write a story of 144 words or less that made use of the line about the screaming cow above. You can read the stories others wrote on the topic by hitting the dVerse link above. This one is exactly 144 words. True story, by the way.
If there were a chemical to freeze your age forever,
where you would stay the way you are, as mobile, fit and clever.
Birthday after birthday with no end in front of you.
Always a new chance to take, always something new.
If you were not already feeble, halt and ill,
would you drink the potion? Would you take the pill?
No altering minds afterwards. No climbing from the pit.
Once you made the decision, there would be no changing it.
Would you want to live forever to survive ’til mankind’s end?
Do you really want to see what is waiting ’round the bend?
I think given the choice that I would choose what nature dishes.
I’ve given up on following along with mankind’s wishes.
The word prompts today are birthday, chemical, freeze and quit. Here are their links:
As certain as its final outcome may be, death is maddeningly vague. How will it happen and when? I do not like this uncertainty. I ponder its unfairness, fear its possibilities. Would it be better to know for sure and therefore to have a choice in whether we accept life’s choice for us or take our ending as firmly in our own hands as we have taken the other decisions in our life?
Death is the only thing in our lives that is simply an absence of something else. A meal is more than an absence of hunger. It is sensation, texture, a combination of temperatures and tastes. Warmth is more than a cessation of cold. It has security and depth, succor and support. Warmth cuddles us. It is round and deep and soft. Would that we knew that death, too, was more than a deprivation.
Certainly, religion has promises of streets of gold, a reunion with departed loved ones, a coming back to the whole, but what guarantees of the truth of religion have we? I’ve seen friends and relatives return to the faith of their younger years as they grow older, needing some comfort to cushion their inevitable slippery slide progress toward death, perhaps. But I cannot talk myself into a fairytale ending. The poet in me looks for truth over the comfort and distraction of fantasy, and it prods me to create my end as proactively as I’ve arranged those aspects of my life that have led me up to it.
In this case, creativity, however, seems to fail me. I feel helpless in this inescapable forced march toward my end. Possibilities for the first time in my life seem limited. Is it the fatigue of a failing body that keeps me from finding interesting possibilities from which to choose? Or is it the knowledge that whatever my choices, the ending will, inevitably, be the same? Rude death, to be at once so inevitable and yet so vague.
I’ve always hated vague endings in literature or films. Torture for me is a book with the final pages missing. Ironic, then, that I cannot know my own ending. Cannot flip ahead to the last page to know what I am heading toward. Perhaps this is the secret of those who choose to end their own lives. Perhaps it is just their successful attempt to not only know their own ending but to write it as well.
The prompt today is vague.
Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leaving our mutual friend (my lover and his friend since childhood) in Africa. He had worked diligently to get his friend to leave Africa and I had urged him to as well, but he had repeatedly refused to do so.
Half a country apart, we met only once after coming to the States and talked twice on the phone—the last time when he informed me of the assassination of our mutual friend about a year after I’d returned to the States. Since then, I’ve gone on to new loves and new lives, but I’ve written many times about those years in Africa, idealized my lover and imagined him to be the hero in death he’d always been to me in life.
Then, miraculously, two days ago (one day after I’d thought of trying to locate him myself and over forty years since I’d last talked to him on the phone) I received a message from my old friend asking me to friend him on Facebook and yesterday, we shared a two-hour phone call. Much of that phone call was taken up by his telling me the whole truth about my lover’s death in Africa forty-three years ago.
“He loved you, Judy. He really loved you, and he was a different man with you. Perhaps if we had both stayed in Africa, his story would have turned out differently, but when we both left at once, he was lonely and looking for friends. They saw his charisma and charm and they drew him in. They gave him power.” This was when he told me the part of the story he had not told me so many years ago. This is when the truth of what happened after I left Africa came out. It has been a hard truth to swallow. My sister, who visited me in Africa and who knows more of that story than most, told me I should perhaps not talk to anyone else about what I had just revealed to her—to remain quiet for awhile and think this out for myself. Perhaps to write about it.
It is hard to write about such things without trivializing them, and I have tried for the past 24 hours to avoid doing so just as I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it. Neither plan seems to have worked. It was what I thought about all day, the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep, the first thing I thought about upon awakening when I saw today’s prompt, and it is what I’m thinking about now as I write the introduction to this poem. What do we do with old shattered memories that we’ve held in esteem for more than half our lives? What do we do with the favorite photographs? How do we write about a love story turned into a horror story? I guess we do the best we can. This is my first attempt to deal with that whole truth.
My life for now grown raw and hollow,
this bitter pill I cannot swallow.
Which path of memory to follow?
That handsome man, arms filled with flowers,
love-filled nights and fun-filled hours
held fast in each others’ powers.
A small-town girl who lived through books,
twisting on romance’s hooks,
could not resist your charm and looks.
I could not guess the other side—
the violence your looks belied—
that truth that I must now abide.
New truths cast old beliefs asunder
as they gut and rip and plunder
those short years of joy and wonder.
Your truths are painful—sharply tined.
Miscast as hero in my mind,
you chose the other side, I find.
This is what your old friend said.
He said your power went to your head—
so many slaughtered the streets ran red.
How could the one who turned my heart
liquid from the very start
have torn so many lives apart?
These stories spun far in the past
have come together here, at last,
can’t be forgotten, the die is cast.
Beware the truths that you might seek.
Truth has a non-discerning beak
that rips asunder the frail and weak.
Be careful what you ask and do
in opening the past anew.
The truth you swallow may swallow you.
The prompt word today is swallow.
She loses her balance, starts to fall.
Once in the kitchen, three times in the hall.
Finds it harder to remember, spends more time alone.
Speaks her mind more freely, less likely to atone.
She starts attracting cats that come inside and do not leave.
Wears frays in her clothing–hemline, neckline, sleeve.
Starts forgetting passwords–sometimes the names of friends.
Her search for keys and glasses never really ends.
Starts waking in the nighttime to contemplate her death.
At midnight, has to go outside to try to catch her breath.
Counts the years before her instead of those behind.
She could live to one hundred if fate is being kind.
Will she live her last years with sister, lover, friend;
or will animal companions help her meet her end?
Will anybody mourn her? Does she want them to?
Will she be remembered by a poem or two?
Will anybody read her after she is dead?
Will all her future poetry die here in her head?
Will her blog named “lifelessons” finally cease to be?
Will they give the name away for a modest fee?
Will they erase her blog spot, burn her files of poems?
Cause a glut on EBay of her leftover tomes?
If she sells a book or two every other year
where will Amazon send the money when she isn’t here?
One day in the future in three thousand two
will Zee, (some bored teenager, with nothing else to do)
go onto the internet connected to her head,
close her eyes and throw herself backwards on her bed
and stumble on an errant line that floats through cyberspace,
and Google it to try to find its author, time and place?
“What happens to someone . . . ?” are the words that Zee has found.
Her fingers start to twitch as she is driven to expound.
The printer prints the words she says without her further action.
Tied into her speech and thought–spontaneous reaction.
” . . . like her as she gets older?” is printed on the wall.
For there’s no paper in the world. No paper left at all!
Her face is flushed, her eyes dilate, her eyes first squint, then blink.
This random line floating in space has provoked her to think.
First she’ll finish cyber school, then link her living pod
with a blowout sort of guy with a gorgeous bod.
They’ll make links with other blogs and party with their friends
for a couple hundred years before they meet their ends.
She thinks back on the interbrain to look for thoughts and links.
Lets her mind go soft as into cybermind she sinks.
Looking for her future job. She knows it’s there to see.
Time being just a concept to wander through for free.
She plops onto a webpage from two thousand fifteen,
all the information still there and easily seen.
The line Zee thought jumps out at her. She sees it’s not her own.
It’s been used two times before and now it seems it’s flown
into her thoughts to sort her out and give her a direction.
As she reads on, she catches on to this writer’s inflection
in every word she writes and when she gets to the post’s end,
she goes on reading through her life and starts to make a friend.
After two days of reading, she winds up at the start
knowing every detail in this blogger’s heart.
Then she goes back to where she started and sees her doubts and fears.
It’s then that she fast-forwards to the blogger’s final years
and sees the truth of everything that’s going to transpire.
The failing health, the hopeful mood, the ad, “Wanted to Hire
an interesting friend to talk to while I fall asleep.
One capable of caring and thoughts that wander deep.
Someone to be there some nights when it seems that I might leave
for one last time this life that’s loosening its warp and weave.
No heavy lifting needed—a weighted thought or two
is all that I find necessary. Weighing thoughts will do.”
Zee zoomed back to the entry that had drawn her thoughts at first.
The very sentence that had caused her gloomy thoughts to burst.
January was the month and 14 was the day
The year 2015, when she’d been the first to say
those fateful words and now Zee, too, was thinking just the same–
moving to the comments to add her words and name.
“Dear Lifelessons,” she’d say to her, and then add her assurance
that everafter she would be her safety and insurance
that she would never die alone or be bereft of friend
for Zee was vowing here and now she’d be there at the end.
She’d looked ahead and so she knew that she would keep this pledge.
She’d known the center of this life and now she knew its edge.
She knew the dates that she’d be needed in the years ahead.
She made a list and filed it in a clear spot in her head.
And then she went on thinking what those words meant in her life.
Would she be a scholar, an actress and a wife?
Would she produce children and would they be there for her?
That sentence found in cyberspace created quite a stir.
But all her dreams it prompted came true enough, what’s more
she kept her date with Lifelessons in 2044.
–Judy Dykstra-Brown, Lifelessons, 2015
A question posed by one writer can often serve to provoke an answer by another. So it is in this poem, which is an answer to a question asked by Joan Barfoot in her book Luck. This piece was first written three years ago. It is a long piece I had forgotten but enjoyed reading again so I thought perhaps you would, too. I would appreciate knowing if you follow the plot line and realize what is going on. Also, did it hold your interest? And yes, the prompt word of the day is in the poem. The word of the day is provoke.
What fewer love stories there would be if we could see their endings—so many middles of romances left unread by those who read their last pages first. When I remember each past first kiss, it is in a mirror half obscured by the future reflected in it. One love is forever caught underwater where it gasps for air. Another is ashes floating out in rings to touch the edges of a lake which is shrinking inward from its banks, as though in complicity to aid their settling along its edges. Another lies in small droplets of blood on a road where it was ambushed, too late to be a message of anything but regret for love that died before the lover and a lover who died too soon. There are all these deaths of loves—like a class for the unfortunates who, kept in after school, are made to trace their lines again and again in the belief that love is taught by repetition and that wisdom comes from practice.
What a great idea: (Use the link below the photo.)
(Click on first photo to enlarge all) There is a poem after the photos. Someone just suggested I note that here because he didn’t notice it the first time he looked at this post.
Circle of sunlight, orb of the moon.
Each of their passages over too soon.
What we may find as the day or the night
gives over to nature in its swift flight
is only the present. It isn’t forever.
No matter how talented, selfless or clever
we’ve fashioned ourselves, we’ll all come around
to serve our real purpose, to nurture the ground.
Time chisels away with its constant cruel rasp.
The hold of a lover loses its grasp.
Circles of friends are too quickly diminished.
Everything started soon seems to be finished.
Each rolling stone must encounter a wall.
The dough of the universe rolled in a ball
still lives by the edict that rules us all.
Whatever has risen is certain to fall.
The very stuff of the bodies we live in
are atomic circlings that we’ve been given
to use for awhile before giving them back
to continue their course on whatever the track
is the larger extension of what we’ve been given—
the next destination to which we’ll be driven.
This circle we live from year’s start to December
is simply the circle that we can remember,
most of us hoping we’ll be up to par
for inclusion in nature’s recycling bazaar.
The prompt today was circle.