Month: April 2014

The Bees

The Bees

When the bees came, he knew that winter was ending and sunlight was coming, because that’s just how these things worked. They’d flit about the playground, buzzing between the swings’ arcs, following him down the slide as he curved away from the melting snow and drip-drop icicles. They brought baby’s breath to his mother’s flowerbed and his cousin’s gurgling coo. Harbingers of warm summer nights, they were the stars sparkling on a stick he’d drag through the sand, creating the glass castle in which he’d come to reside. A kingdom fit for ruling, and all he had to do was wish hard upon the bees.

Back before his parents moved him halfway around the world he knew to the dangerous elephant graveyard just beyond where the sunlight touches, there hadn’t been any bees. Or, if there were, he didn’t know them; they weren’t so brave. Back then, he told time based on the color of the leaves dancing in the wind. When spring came, he’d see scattered pink drops on the gray skyline. He’d never considered how he could paint with their colors, how to make the leaves dance with a blow of stick-hot breath. But here, in this grand unknown, he could hear the low hum of bees, mechanical like his parents’ new washing machine, and familiar like his old flashlight. In the old house, he’d read in the dark, stare at the pages of a new chapter book beyond twilight’s firefly smile, and it was as if the bees knew that, knew he missed the toothy grin of the moon when a green bug danced a little jig to hear him laugh.

Back home in the spring, the sun danced with him in the slushy winter remains as he left a trail of tracks leading to his favorite playground. There was no gym class there, just traces of skinned knees and leaking ice cream appendages. That didn’t protect his kingdom from invasion, though. It didn’t stop someone form firing a gun. The jungle gym blossomed bright red, like the color of his favorite nighttime book, and there would never be enough bleach to burn away the traces of this scar. The ground smelled of metal, and his parents wouldn’t let him go there anymore. There was no more dancing in the leafy winds or swinging until he’d realize he could fly. Because the air stung of copper, and he wasn’t quite sure, but no one knew what happened to Rachel. But he thought that maybe someone came and saved her from the dragon that kidnapped her. If anyone he knew could slay a dragon, it would be her.

The grounds smelled of metal until his family moved, and he’d like to hope the playground smelled like something else now.

In this new place, there were no pretty pink trees, just hills of dandelions, muddy in the groundhog’s shadow, desperate for spring’s arrival. So marched the bees.

And with the bees came the honeysuckle.

He flourished under the twisty spell of that wonderful flower. It had magic in its veins, curled tight around its carpel. The honeysuckle sparked the life everyone grows up to crave, that everyone wants to drink in with their surroundings. It tasted like the roses they told him to stop and smell, like the once-in-a-blue-moon chance that presented itself in the beginning swells of a wave a hundred miles from shore. He could ride the wave into something beautiful, something unmistakably his.

He formed a kingdom with the trailing scent of honeysuckle. The bees, ever faithful, showed him how to breathe fire and make glass out of sandcastles on the shore. He found the shore in his backyard, drenched in flashlight shines. There were rays in the waves, and he learned to ride them like a stallion. The bees were his chariot. They created a home in the burnt remains of a funeral pyre for a girl once eaten by her dragon. There would be no dragons allowed in this new nation, not without proper identification and licensing. Before you could tame a dragon, you had to prove you could fly on your own. Circle the top of the swings and sing. There was no war there, no battered soldiers to be reborn, and it was everlasting summer. All were safe there, in the grasp of the bees’ soft lullaby, and every night the boy would ask them to sing him to sleep as he counted the stars, making sure all of his disciples survived the day.

When they moved, he wasn’t the one to find the bees. He’d always been afraid of bees, and iif he thought about it a little too hard, he might have easily said that the coming of the bees brought nothing but heartache for him. For, they too left. Spring’s light meant that the world melted away, freeing the boy from his icy prison, but forcing him under the watchful eye of the sun. Because come winter’s end, the gym coach would send the kids outdoors to run around the baseball diamond at the bottom of the hill, where the bees came from. They lived in between the cracked blue paint and the rotting boards of the abandoned dugout, overwrought with dust.

He hated running laps around the diamond. Everyone else ran with someone – not that what anyone was doing could be described as running, more like hobbling along the beaten path with a friend. He supposed, in retrospect, that what he had been missing was a friend, but it got hard to think clearly when he had to run – couldn’t fly, couldn’t ever fly – laps, and the only thing keeping him company was the constant buzz-buzz-buzzing of the bees. The bees become his dragon, he the sovereign of their kingdom, a tamer.  He’d gallivant around the new playground, sworn to protect it, even when the bees left, because they would come back.

The boy ate his first honeysuckle sitting in the creaky dugout next to a nameless girl, while the world melted around him.

He couldn’t remember the exact circumstances of their meeting that day, there in the fading dugout, but he thought that the bees would, because these bees came every spring. They flitted about the same bushes every year after that first, nuzzling him a greeting in the hot corners of the jumbled world beyond his conscious. He’d great them with a scratch behind their ears and a sugar cube for the road before off they soared, into the sky to fight the monsters. And even though the girl moved away, the bees would remember.

The honeysuckle next to the dugout were special, see. They smelled more beautiful than anything this boy ever did and ever would smell. It was home: a creature comfort heretofore unknown to him, that glass castle he’d created for himself out of magic. The nectar on his tongue fanned the flames of creation that ran wild in his mind, in his youth before youth, before they’d sent him off from the port into the unknown without his flashlight and without a fire extinguisher. The taste wafted through his nostrils and comforted him; the snow had persecuted him, and he didn’t know where Rachel was, but he had come to understand that her dragon was not dead. Honeysuckle was a love letter from the bees to the melting snow.

He’d heard tell of the kids finding this magical flower, but he hadn’t known what honeysuckle looked like. Not until this new girl, this girl whose name he’ll remember before he remembers her face, and he’ll never remember he name. This girl, young and beautiful in the purity of her intentions – nothing mattered beyond showing this boy where the honeysuckle were and sharing in their grace – the girl brought him to the dugout during gym one day and made him sit there while she taught him how to eat a honeysuckle.

She taught him how to befriend the bees, to talk to them and to remember that without the bees, this delicate, delicious thing couldn’t exist. And she wasn’t Rachel, though he was starting to think she too would fade like the dugout, and she left him too, but she heard the bees talk and reminded him how to listen.

It’s because of the bees that came every winter’s end that he could do what he did and see what he saw, which, unfortunately, also meant that gym class would be reduced to running around the baseball diamond at the bottom of the hill behind the school. That part wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the melting snow or how he didn’t have to wear marshmallow-puffy coats anymore, but now he was freer. Now he had his own kingdom to protect, with the bees by his side, lifting him higher. With the taste of something decidedly non-metallic, determinedly not frozen, of something from someone else, someone new, he would survive the trek around the diamond. The dragons would eat no more.

 

Domino

For every action there is an

equal and opposite

reaction to that which

hasn’t killed us and

made us stronger.

I blur between your lines,

a slurred separation

of potential

kinetic energy.

A closed circuit train

to nowhere –

and, god, I just

want you to be there

with me –

you’ll watch it all fall

downstream of the

eastern sea, north by northwest

of someone else’s

westernized village.

We close a circle,

reddened with our toppled vertices,

staring at two blue eyes,

equal and opposite,

caught between a

thin, dark line.

From the Tape to the Mixer

This is a letter

from the sticky tape holding up the poster on my wall

to the mixer sitting on your kitchen counter.

 

Sometimes, we don’t feel good enough;

we aren’t strong enough

to keep holding on, even through all the bumps in the road –

those lumps in the flour just keep bringing us down,

and once the poster I struggle to hold falls once,

I’ll never look back.

 

It’s not a movie poster –

that’s a few inches above and to the right of me,

and it doesn’t even have an image, honestly.

 

It’s a sentence.

“My mother is a fish,” it says,

and I remember fishing it

out of the depths of your sugar jar,

desperately trying to scrounge up

enough sugar for this batch of cookies.

 

And oh –

how you hide in the nonsense.

It doesn’t matter what the sentence is,

what the words are,

because to you, they don’t exist.

 

There’s no chocolate in the twisty blue of the letter ‘y.’

But it’s blue and

you told me you like blue, because

there aren’t enough blue foods.

 

It’s a lack of tension

in my shoulders when the poster falls

because I can smell the cookies

from ten hundred miles away, and sometimes

I think it’s the feeling when

they plug you in for the first time in weeks.

The charge of electricity is like heroin

and you’re soaring.

 

It’s a love letter

from goosebumps to chalk dust,

because I remember how

our skin danced with laughter in the clouds

when we clapped erasers after school,

because our lives have always

been a little too old school.

 

Sometimes, we don’t feel good enough.

Sometimes, I don’t know

if we can be good enough.

But we’ll always have

 

the rolling hills in the distance

and the electric feel of a book in our hands.

 

My eyes look strained in the pictures.

 

And my teacher told me that

happiness equals flowers.

He said that

and we looked at tulips –

 

And I thought of the swing set

where you told me you loved me

for the first time

and we held hands

and ran to the twisty slide –

 

blue like my ‘y’ and

blue like your chocolate chip cookies,

and it was crushing.

 

Crushing in the break

of the waves of future transmissions.

Dead air is terrifying

because there’s nothing there.

 

We don’t talk anymore;

you’re in the kitchen and I’m

falling somewhere else for

someone else’s poster.

Yet, I can still smell the chalky dust.

An Elephant, or Whether Tulips Live Forever

An Elephant, or Whether Tulips Live Forever

There’s this elephantine symbol on the snout of my whistle, and I’m sure I’m not describing the parts to the whole adequately – it’s not an elephant; it doesn’t have a snout – but how does one describe a whistle? I suppose I should being where all things, big and small, begin: at the beginning. At the beginning, there was a little boy, lost in the maze of loose teeth (except for his, dangit) and droopy dogs. It seemed like everywhere he turned, there was another locked closet door to run into or set of stairs to tumble down.

If there’s a beginning, then there’s a story to tell. And maybe it does come back to the elephantine symbol on the blow-y part of the whistle, ‘cause if you turn it a certain way it looks remarkably similar to the way I used to write my lowercase ‘n;’ that is, upside-down and backward, but that’s not where I want to start. I want to start with the labyrinth of tomato plants, the potted ceramics of a veritable descent into madness. There’s a picture of my father, my brother, and I picking the tomatoes we helped my mother plant – and they were tiny; I’ve definitely seen much larger, much better tomatoes – but in this picture, my brother is fading into the fence, and my dad’s covered in greens, and all I can see is this little kid, not as little as he could be, searching for something inside the tomatoes.

I don’t remember what I found that day, but I do remember how much I loved the backyard of our townhouse. I loved getting lost in the height of the weeds and the cover of the tomato plants’ leaves. The tulips smiled at me brightly, and I remember deciding that they would always be there. They were a permanent fixture, just like my family. Mommy’s bright pink tulips would always exist. They’d be my string, leading me back out of the labyrinth. I was always afraid of getting lost – it was why I needed a nightlight. I didn’t want to fade away into the dark, lost to this world forever. I was afraid of being lost, and also of losing things. The idea that things could disappear, could leave forever, that there was the possibility for radical change in a moment’s notice didn’t sit well with me. It’s why I always spoke to my stuffed animals, because I knew, I just knew they spoke to the tulips and if the darkened nighttime sky tried to climb in my window and steal me away, they would save me. That wasn’t always the case, though. We were moving. Away from the tomato plants and Mommy’s tulips couldn’t come with us, they said. My little brother wouldn’t fade into the fence any more, and my father was breaking free of the tomato vines, but without the tulips I was still stuck in the labyrinth.

I found my whistle one afternoon during first grade. It was late autumn, and I hated everything. We were leaving and I couldn’t even pretend like I was leaving a bunch of friends behind at school. I’d transferred somewhere else after kindergarten and was now the freak that skipped a grade – even though I didn’t, not really. The tulips were starting to die, their petals dancing in the brisk Virginia wind, a sign of harsh winters to come. They decorated the roads of my city, and someone shot the playground across the street, and someone else burned down my school. I wasn’t there – though, if you asked me at the time, I’d tell you it had to be Aaron, because who else spells their name with two ‘A’s and plays with matches down the street? But I remember the fire. I remember feeling like something horrible fueled the wreckage and – was this my fault? There were glints of magenta flurries between the flickering flames, and that’s how the tulips began to rot. The monsters I fought in the labyrinth were haunting me, consuming my days and nights, and I didn’t have any string.

The whistle was lying in the grass in my backyard, rusty and dangling next to half a dozen keys and an old key ring. The keys didn’t turn any locks, didn’t open any doors or boxes, but the whistle led me out of the labyrinth. I excitedly hid the key ring in my treasure box, next to a couple broken pieces of chalk, the hospital bracelet my mother wore the day I was born, and a washer with no screw. I didn’t tell anyone about it. It was my little secret, my ticket to adventure and greater things: my string. This key ring would lead me somewhere in the new house – it just had to! I blew the whistle once, but its shrill sound was too wispy, like something was trying to breathe but couldn’t quite get a grip.

There was a man next door to us in this new house – new town – new life, and he is known as the Tomato Man, because I, for the life of me, will never remember his name. This capital-S-T Small Town was tough. It was hard living here, not knowing anyone, not fitting in exactly. We didn’t fit the locks, our hair too curly, maybe our noses too large (You’re Jewish? But Jesus was a Jew. So shouldn’t you be Christian?) but the Tomato Man welcomed my mom and dad with wide arms and an open mind, and it was so important, even if I didn’t realize it until much later. He and his wife lived next door and grew tomatoes. They were the biggest, juiciest tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, and in the summer, he’d walk down the hill to our house, with a smile bright on his face, and share. The Tomato Man had cancer, though, and I think he was my first experience with death. Because, that meant o more tomatoes in summertime, and that was bad, it was all really bad, and oh, god, it was sad. The Tomato Man faded into the fence covered with vines, and the tomatoes stopped coming. The elephant in the room is that some nights, when I couldn’t find my stuffed tiger or my little brother crying or there was a rabid bat in the dining room, I thought I might’ve stolen his string. I think I was afraid that the keys were his, and that I wanted to keep them. I needed to find out all on my own what happens when things don’t fit, and what happens when you find the right fit.

It was sometime after the Tomato Man passed that I put the whistle and keys away. A year or two after the tomatoes stopped growing, my mother’s grandmother died of a stroke in the night. This marked the first time I saw my mother cry, and suddenly, the world was different. Seeing a parent cry for the first time rattles you to the core, because they aren’t superhuman anymore. A new sense of reality began to form inside me, and that left no room for silly adventure, childhood fantasies of doors hidden in the wall that take you somewhere else. So, when I put the keys back in the treasure box this time, it was to be forever. I had been growing up, apart, and out of the keys phase for a while; it was time for something else. Instead of running around with a whistle in my mouth and a laugh in my eyes, I’d chase my cat and think about the best course of action for getting rid of the rabies-ridden bats in living rooms, even if when push came to shove, I’d run away and let my dad take care of it. It was living, not to say that what the whistle was before wasn’t, because it was. Living is different at different moments. The music in the barely breathing, wispy cry is better suited for beginnings, and I was in the middle.

Decades later, the night before I started college, I took out the whistle and keys, to wash them. I’d be getting a door key and a key to my mailbox, and I needed something to keep them on. I didn’t need the keys anymore, didn’t want to risk mistaking them for something they aren’t, and took them off accordingly. That left me with a rather rusted whistle, too dirty to be used. I ran hot water over and inside it, and lifted it to me lips. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t help but awkwardly laugh. What was I doing? I looked like an idiot, standing there in a hotel bathroom with a disgusting old whistle dangling from my lips. But I blew, and once again the whistle tried to breathe. It tried so hard that I finally heard it. It was a sharp knife to my mind, slicing my brain in two, and leaving me with a mesh of white light to listen to and taste. It was copper in my eyes and blood in my ears. A line of spit connected me to the whistle even as I took it away from my mouth, and I stared. My mother came in yelling about how it was past midnight and was something wrong with me, thinking I should blow a whistle at this time of night?

And I looked at her, and I told her I was just cleaning it, blowing the water out of its snout. She rolled her eyes and left, but I stopped and stared at the water flecks now covering my reflection. The whistle pulled me out of another labyrinth by breathing, and if a whistle can breathe, then a whistle can be bigger than the elephant it tries to emulate. It can be bigger than the skies and more powerful than a fiery wind that carries tulips petals across the galaxy. But it’s also small, tiny, and forgettable. It rusts because the oxygen leaves it, leaving it alone, and loneliness is cold and can freeze the heart. But it still tries to breathe, and I’m not sure of a lot in this world.

I think that the keys don’t lead anywhere special – my mother planted them in the grass for me to find – but I think that if I had worked up the courage to show them to the Tomato Man he would’ve told me that he saw that symbol in a book somewhere, and that it was magical, and I would’ve believed him. Because, when the day comes to a close, all I ever wanted was a little magic, some makeshift escapism when the days get a little too hard to handle. That’s when we breathe, like my whistle. We breathe to remind ourselves that we’re alive, that something is, event when the petals fly and the tomatoes die. I don’t know whether or not tulips can live forever or how to grow the biggest, brightest tomatoes, but I know – I know that breathing is important. Breathing is permanent. You’ll breathe beyond your life, and that has to mean something.

National Poetry Month 5/30

It tastes like cold

and summertime porch swings,

a chilled glass gripped tight

raising us from perdition

into our contemporary

hell on earth.

Mosquitoes run the world

and swarms of bees

dance along the stems

of favored flowers.

The mind is a

boggy minefield

of sepia-toned memories

never experienced.

National Poetry Month 3/30

Butterflies’ secrets are coded in their wings,

so remember to listen carefully

as they drink deeply

from the flowers’ nectar.

There’s a faint hum,

a slight drum in the

distant heartbeat in my inner ear.

I remember the clouds, that day,

how they sagged with the

weight of a season’s rain,

and how it all fell

in one big rush.

National Poetry Month 2/30

If I had to die today,

I think I’d like to drown

because at least that

would be familiar.

Ask me fifteen years ago,

and I think my answer

would be the same.

I think I’d like to drown

because then I’d know

for absolute-certain-facts-of-life

that I can’t breathe under water.

But please don’t ask me tomorrow.

I think tomorrow

I’d prefer to live.