I have a bad habit of explaining my poetry, and I will continue that, but first, I’ll take you on a scary ride of how my train of thought ended up here. Hold on, it’s a twisty one 😯
This post was originally going to be to refer you to a post compiled by Eli Pacheco at Coach Daddy where he asked bloggers how they would upgrade themselves – in six words. (If you have some time, check it out… there were some great contributions. Mine is #46)… “accept what will be; no worries”. Hold this thought…
In the past month, I’ve had to say goodbye to two of my pets. First, my seventeen-year-old Yorkie-Poo, Bulwinquel. Then, a few days ago, I lost my beloved cat, Cybil. She was fifteen years old and had been in kidney failure for over a year.
When I started writing this poem, it was to deal with the grief of loss over my pets. Then my mind wandered a bit farther back, over the landscape of this year. I half-joke that I’m done with 2015, but I don’t think it’s done with me. This poem ended up being more about another loss I’ve been dealing with: in January, I made the decision to end my 18-year marriage. Until last week, we were living in the same house which has been… well, miserable.
I won’t go into details as to what led to this because I have kids who might happen upon my ramblings here someday. There were several factors involved, but one aspect, I wrote about last October in a poem that was particularly difficult to share. Sharing that poem forced me to see things I chose to ignore for years.
This brings me back to my six-word contribution and this poem. The death that trails behind me are my pets, my marriage, and the idea of what I thought my life would be eighteen years ago. I failed. I don’t like failing and stubbornly tried to deny this failure, but the first 3/4 of this year has been coming to terms with it. It’s a continuing process.
I have spent a lot of time thinking (obsessing, really) about things I have no control over. It’s a daily thing to remind myself not to worry about tomorrow and to instead, rely on faith. I have no idea what the future holds. I’ll find out when it gets here.
This isn’t supposed to be a depressing post. I’m okay really. I’m working on a photo-inspired story but was too busy to complete it for September as I had planned. I’m not going to jinx it by saying when I think it’ll be done. I’ll just leave it at “soon.” 🙂
Thanks for hanging on to this thought train. Now, relax and have a beautiful Thursday!
Each month, I team up with Emilio Pasquale – he gives me a photo and I write a story inspired by it. I barely made it for April, but what follows is the photo he chose, and then my story. His photography is impressive, so if you haven’t checked out his site, you really should (but I hope you will read the following story too – it’s less than 500 words 🙂 )
Photo by Emilio Pasquale (story by me)
I shift my weight to relieve the pressure throbbing in my heels. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here because I lost all concept of time… well, I don’t know how long ago. Minutes, hours, days and weeks carry no meaning for me anymore. I hear muted voices and whispers at my back, a brush fire threatening to consume me. I lean toward the porthole window so I can’t see any metal in my peripheral vision. Had it not been for the scraping of forks on plates behind me, I could imagine being alone on a raft drifting into the ocean. As it is, I feel the shoreline pulling away.
“Has she eaten today?”
“Probably not. She’s been standing there for hours.”
I have a name. My thought doesn’t translate into words because I deem it unworthy of the effort.
I squint and focus on the clusters of palm trees. I start counting, just to prove to myself I’m not completely gone. My vision always blurs around eleven; that’s when I cease to differentiate tree trunks from sailboat masts. I begin counting again, my unblinking gaze moving across the horizon.
“I don’t think she’s right.”
A laugh. “None of ‘em are. It’s called job security.”
I’m not crazy, I’m lost. Again, my thought doesn’t earn the privilege of spoken words.
I can’t discern if I am running away from or toward something. I decide it really doesn’t matter as I lean forward until my forehead rests on the glass. The drumbeat in my chest grows to such intensity that little room remains for my breath. I take what I can get. The glass warms beneath my skin until it feels like an extension of me. I’m mesmerized by the fogging and un-fogging caused by the interplay of my breathing and evaporation.
I hear shuffling feet behind me and voices fade. Isolation envelops me, clutching my insides in a twisting grip.
My muscles twitch beneath the hand resting on my shoulder. I close my eyes and inhale, although I can’t claim much air. I want so much to take in the dampness and taste salt from the ocean. Instead, I realize that hopelessness smells like meatloaf and Pine Sol. Desperation has a taste: the sour bile that creeps up my esophagus and stings the back of my throat.
I don’t resist the tug on my arm and we both stumble. My right hand knocks the picture off the wall and the glass shatters. Shards dig into my bare skin when I land on the ground. I don’t feel anything. My muscles spasm, as if separate from me. I watch, intrigued. I hear a panicked call for help. I don’t care. My eyelids grow heavy as I search for white light or shadows. I see nothing. I half-expect to feel fear or anticipation. Instead, I’m indifferent toward death and life. Commotion surrounds me and I almost pity them.
Why can’t they see the futility of saving what is already gone?
This time Emilio almost stumped me. I was drawn to the obvious with this photo, and if you have read my fiction before, you know I do try to avoid obvious! It’s not exactly an uplifting story, but I thought finding out the character was lost in a picture and not out to sea may have been unexpected, although clues to the setting are there. Thanks so much for reading 🙂
Here’s where I share inspiration for my poetry. This will be short! The thought occurred to me that sometimes no matter what I do, the outcome is the same, so why bother. (I know, that is isn’t very hopeful of me.) Then, I decided I wanted to write a story poem with that theme. The butterfly was simply the captured creature of opportunity, as I had a photo that I’d taken a couple years ago during a visit to Shenandoah.
I made myself small in the space between the beat up sofa and the metal TV tray that served as a table. Hunched with my knees pulled to my chest and arms wrapped around them, I strained to hear the hushed conversation between Mama and Aunt Celia. From this vantage point, I could only see Aunt Celia’s back and sometimes caught a glimpse of Mama’s face.
“I can’t do it,” Mama said.
“It’s been six days. If she’s not better tomorrow, you have to.”
“She’s my baby!”
“But the spirits ravage her.” Aunt Celia lowered her voice. “The ceremonial drapes have hung outside for six days. If Ariana isn’t released tomorrow, the spirits will claim the entire household.”
“She’s only three.” Mama leaned into Aunt Celia, sobbing into her shoulder. Her muffled cries echoed against the concrete floors and adobe walls of the sparsely furnished room.
Aunt Celia put her hands on Mama’s shoulders and set her upright. She then picked up a bundle that had been tucked under her thigh, the white cloth wrapping stark against the darkened room. Slivers of sunlight managed to sneak in between seams of fabric covering windows and through the warped door jam. I watched the back of my aunt’s thick arms move as she fiddled with the object in her lap and then extended her arms to present something to Mama.
Mama gasped. “No!” Metal clanged against the concrete floor.
I glimpsed the ornate silver handle, but my gaze settled on the long blade. I didn’t realize I’d broken my silence until I saw both women looking right at me.
“Mija…Cristina!” Mama and Aunt Celia exclaimed in unison.
“Mija, I thought you were outside playing with the other children.”
I slid out from the hiding place and stretched my legs. “Mama, I’m twelve. I don’t play anymore.”
Aunt Celia moaned as her eyes fluttered closed. “The premonition. It is true.” Her chin dropped to her chest and a string of words in an unfamiliar language tumbled into the otherwise silent room.
My eyes widened and I looked to Mama for direction. She appeared just as frightened. Lines creased her forehead and fear clouded her brown eyes.
“Go,” she whispered. “You should go play outside.”
Aunt Celia continued her chanting as if in a trance.
‘Alternate sacrifice’ were the only two words I understood. The hair prickled on my arms and a tingling sensation ran from my neck all the way down my spine. I sprinted for the door, not bothering to correct Mama that I’d passed the age of playing. Once outside, my toe caught the edge of one of the pavers making up the tiny porch. Stumbling into the adobe half-wall surrounding our house, I gulped several breaths while thinking of what to do. I knew my baby sister, Ariana, was in trouble. I stared at the ceremonial drapes; woven murals in bright colors that mocked life. I always thought that death slithered through night shadows shrouded in black, but the dawning came that death wore vivid hues of turquoise, yellow, red and purple. My eyes zeroed in on the skulls. Smiling skulls. They looked all too happy to rip souls from failing bodies.
I pushed off the wall, vaulting myself toward the brilliantly colored drapes. I screamed as I grasped and pulled at the fabric, tearing the cotton from nails that held them in place. I knocked statues and candle holders from the offering table butted up against the house. I dodged shards of ceramic that were intended to appease the spirits. I didn’t care. It was all just a tangled mess of superstitions, myths and wives tales. I didn’t agree with Mama and Aunt Celia; angry demons wouldn’t materialize and vengeful death wouldn’t steal the souls from healthy bodies in retribution. I believed Ariana would still be writhing in bed, face glistening from fever just as she had done for the last six days.
Aunt Celia bolted out of the front door, followed by Mama.
“No!” she shrieked and her hands flew up to cover her face.
“Oh, mija, what have you done?” Mama whispered, shaking her head.
I dropped shreds of fabric and stumbled a few steps backward. Silence descended; a heavy, stifling quiet that suppressed all noise, except the drum-like pounding of my heart against the bones in my chest. My pulse throbbed inside my head, but I resisted the urge to cup my hands over my ears.
“The alternate sacrifice,” Aunt Celia said.
I stood with my chin up. I didn’t believe in the death spirits, but still prepared for them to take me, just in case. Even in the balmy heat, a chill came over me and produced a dramatic shiver. My heart fluttered and then resumed its normal beat pattern. I sensed death spirits were among us, choosing souls like Mama selected meat from the market. God, please protect me.
Aunt Celia dropped to her knees. An anguished cry escaped her dry lips. “I am ready!” She reached toward the sky.
I stared in shock. Aunt Celia collapsed into a heap and convulsed.
“Look away, Mija!” Mama called over her shoulder as she turned her back on her sister.
I obeyed and turned away from Aunt Celia. On my eighth birthday, Mama had explained that eyes were the windows to the soul. Mama told the story of her great-great grandmother, Anne, who had been caring for her sick brother when she watched him gasp his last breath. She witnessed his struggle and his eventual surrender, only to die minutes later. It was believed that the death spirits entered Anne’s body through her opened eyes, like a burglar slipping through an unlocked window.
Aunt Celia’s body stilled, but I kept my eyes clenched, too afraid to look.
“Mama, I hungry,” a timid voice called from the house.
Mama and I both whirled around to find Ariana peeking around the door. She had been bed-ridden and near death for six days.
“How about macaroni?” I asked. Ariana smiled and nodded her head vigorously before disappearing into the house.
Mama kneeled down beside Aunt Celia and gently tugged her eyelids shut.
Drawing the curtains. All the women in town knew this duty. After death, the eyelids had to be closed to prevent spirits from moving through the body. Male hands weren’t allowed to do this.
As I walked inside, I knew this would be a story told to my great-great grandchildren: the day Aunt Celia took my place as the alternate sacrifice.
This was another collaboration with Emilio Pasquale – he provided the photo to write whatever I could come up with for a story. Be sure to check out his photo blog, if you haven’t already been there 🙂
I went inside a beehive for the first time last night.
You think I’m crazy; I see it in your eyes. I know, because it’s the same look my husband gave me when I told him about it this morning.
But it’s true. Even as my husband scans the Yellow Pages for a psychiatrist (doesn’t he know the internet is much more efficient?) I stand by my claim. I have a bee sting on my neck to prove it.
Well, Larry (that’s my husband) says the flaming red welt doesn’t prove anything- except that I’m a raving lunatic with an allergy to bee stings.
In defense of Larry’s skepticism, it seems logically impossible for a woman my size – five feet-six inches tall, one-hundred-forty pounds…. okay, five-foot-four; one-hundred-sixty pounds- to be able to fit inside even the largest of hives. Near as I can figure, the bee sting must’ve shrunk me in some way and they carried me in.
I made the mistake of supposing this scenario to Larry.
One eyebrow raised, he’d studied me for a few seconds. “You seriously believe bees carried you into a hive. Just how many bees did it take to do this?”
*** *** ***
He looks up at me and reaches for the phone, left index finger marking a number on the yellow page.
The light in the room dims and we both turn toward the window behind him.
“What the-” Larry’s jaw hangs slack.
I walk to the window, almost in a trance. I place my palms on the dual pane glass separating me and the thousands of bees. “They came back,” I murmur.
I hear the chair scrape on the tile. The window grows warm beneath my palm and outstretched fingers. Burning, as if a flame flickered beneath my bare skin.
“Hi, yes, I would like to have my wife evaluated.” Larry pauses. “Well, she says she was in a bee hive last night.” Another pause. “Yes, inside the hive.”
The heat radiates up my arm. I want to scream.
“Um, yeah, that’s her.”
I must have screamed. His voice is more audible, so I know he’s turned toward me.
“I’m not sure what’s happening,” Larry says in a quivering voice.
I want to tell him it’s okay, but I sense otherwise. I gasp for breath.
“She’s collapsed on the ground clasping her stomach.” Another pause. “Yes, I’ll call 9-1-1.”
I hear the phone drop to the floor before I cry out in agony.
For a second time, words escape him. I hear his footsteps retreat and the front door slam. The skin on my abdomen tingles so I rub my hand across it. Puzzled by the moistness, I look and am shocked by the smear of blood and the dozens of bees clustered around my fingers. Gasping for breath, I crane my neck to get a better look.
Hundreds of bees pulse in my abdomen, visible through several holes in my skin. As their energy increases and they venture further from me, my strength weakens. I’d read about the spread of hybrid cleptoparasitic bees in an article on MSN but chalked it up as sensationalizing to get clicks (it worked.) Now, I know the threat is real. They have chosen me.
I also know it will be a matter of time before they leave me an empty shell.
This was a story I started for a writing contest, but missed the deadline. This week of Christmas, you might expect a feel-good story… which is why I decided to finish this creepy/bizarre tale. I’d hate to become too predictable 🙂
Inspiration: A few fears came together for this one.
First, there is my fear of bees in general, heightened by the increased presence of Africanized honeybees (a result of hybrid breeding), which are generally more aggressive than European honeybees.
Second, in doing some research on bees, I read about some cleptoparasitic bees, which use a host bee’s nest to thrive, eventually killing off the host.
Third, I remembered the horrifying ways of the tarantula hawk. This wasp actually overtakes the tarantula and lays the egg in the spider’s abdomen. Several months ago, I’d watched some YouTube videos of tarantula hawk wasps in action, and found a National Geographic video that gives me nightmares. (Click the link, if you dare… bwahahaha!)
Bringing all these fears together, I wondered, “since humans like to muck around with nature, what if further cross-breeding resulted in bees that thrived in human hosts?”
Normal people don’t think this way, do they?
On that note, have a wonderful holiday! I may not be online much for the rest of the year. Just wanted to warn you that any absence is only temporary. I will refrain from typing the obvious 3-word Terminator catch-phrase. (You’re welcome.) 🙄