Wheeler & the Warbler: Part 2

          I spotted the warbler again, staring through the window of my second block calculus class, concealed in the bushes. I dug lead into the parchment hard and tried to find meaning in the numbers and printed lines, but I couldn’t. The paint of my yellow number two bled onto my palms. The pencil splintered. My fingers grew stiff and my mind wandered from integrals and equations to two prying eyes that watched me from outside. I wished somebody else would notice that damn bird, I really did. The faint noise, the zeep zeep zeeps, could be heard through the thick glass. To my right sat Mary Bates, crouched over her worn down and clumsy red notebook. I liked Mary Bates. She had straight pearl teeth that were easy to talk to and the way she looped her Y’s made everything feel a tad bit better. She was also my neighbor. The Bate’s lived in a crumbly beige house surrounded by rows of tulips. I had always admired her mother, who had spent many hours of her weeks dirtying her pant legs, tending to her lovely mauve and pink painted flowers. One afternoon she had even heard my parents yelling at each other while she was in that garden. She asked Mary to check in with me, sweet lady.

 

          I reached out my shaky jaundiced fingers and lightly brushed the shoulder of her olive sweater. My touch startled her, her head snapped up from her work, hair moving wildly, curly antique couch springs. Her posture uncoiled after the realization that the tap was not from an apparition, but of a classmate. “Look outside the window,” I asked, pointing one bony finger off into oblivion.

“What is it?”

“See that bird?” As I asked, she squinted her eyes, attempting to make sense of the sooty figure, crouched amongst the earth. Mary laughed, her giggles were a flower bed.

“Well that’s odd,” she offered, balancing her pen between two gaunt fingers, “funny almost.”

“Wanna hear somethin’ even funnier?”

“Of course,” I could tell I had Mary’s attention now, surely. Her black pen fell from her fingers to her wooden desk, and she shifted her bruised knees in my direction.

“That little guy’s been following me around,” Mary’s eyebrows raised in confusion, “Past couple night’s he’s been screamin’ out at my window,” I laughed, “even followed me to school!” My words were veiled with humor, I wasn’t too keen on letting Mary Bates know how the warbler made me feel anxious and unnerved and all.

“You don’t think it could be another bird?”

“No, it’s him,” I spoke. This made Mary Bates laugh. Soon our focus on the bird wavered away and we both fell back into the humdrum of formulas and functions. It was nice to have a friend, to have something other than a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The flecks of ivory in Mary Bates’ teeth gave me something to focus on besides the black, besides the black throated grey warbler. The seeming friendship of Mary Bates was the antidote, encased in a glass vile like in those movies, so easily shattered.

 

 

          When the clock’s calloused hands grazed 2:00, the red brick schoolhouse expelled students in all directions, spitting them out like a child would broccoli. There were many hues, dots and people in this wave, a tsunami of hair and sweaters and backpacks and commotion. This Monday mirrored any other Monday. Students itching, until their skin was left raw, to go home. The sound of heavy footprints colliding onto pavement still rung in my ears and so did the sound of popping pink bubble gum. I overheard Bobby Metz tell Charlie Woods, the quarterback, he was going to ask Sylvia Freeman to go steady with him. This is a secret I had kept and this was something that would never happen. In the crowd, I began to search for the warbler. I could tell he was watching; he was always watching. The zeeps had been drowned out by an orchestra of voices but I knew they were there, a steady metronome. I could tell, the way my palms had began to shake like an addict’s and that pit in my stomach arose once more, growing again exponentially. Exponential growth and decay, second block calculus, Mary Bates. He was always there.

          I turned onto Hanover street on the walk home. Attempting to dodge cracks and breaks in the cement, I wished not to harm my mother though at times it felt as if she wished to harm me. This was a habit I had picked up at six, compulsion clung to my shoulders like freckles would, all of my remembered life. Mary Bates was only a few paces ahead of me. With each step, her curls bounced. The warbler was nowhere in sight. I needed to get her attention, I needed Mary Bates.  I yelled. “Mary!” My voice startled her, she turned her neck, hair whirling, squinting over the shoulder of her olive sweater.

“Hey Wheeler,” her strides slowed until I caught up with her. We walked besides each other in silence for a few moments, exchanging only the sound of breaths falling and rising.

“How’d you do on that test Friday?” I asked.

“I think I did well, not my best, but well” Mary smiled, “What about yourself?”

“I wish I could say the same,” I laughed, with the laughter I felt slight weight remove itself from atop my ribcage.

“Have you seen that oddball bird again today?” I was glad Mary remembered.

“I saw him sixth block too, not since then though. He’ll turn up soon.” Mary bit at her thin pink lips in confusion.

“Why’d you say that?” Her pitch skewed itself until her voice spilled out from her chapped lips sweetly, with the consistency of honey.

“I can just tell- I feel all weird when he shows up,”

“Try scarin’ him or something, you know, frighten him. Clap your hands loud and look real big, maybe he’ll just fly away,” she giggled and her cheeks became spotted the color of the flowers occupying Mrs. Bate’s tulip garden.

“I thought that’s what you’d do if a bear came up to you,”

“It’s only an idea, Wheeler. Take it or leave it.”

“Well, Mary Bates,” I looked her in the eyes, “that is one grand idea.”

after David Scriven Crowley’s Andrew with Faith and Reason

This poem was written as a response to David Scriven Crowley’s painting titled Andrew with Faith and Reason displayed at the Emery Art Center. Check out more of his wonderful work at http://www.davidscrivencrowley.com/#!

 

Two stallions, raise torn hooves into sky, muddy ochre and onyx

The avoidance of dirt

Where are your shoes?

Soft lilac soil sinks below

Lavender, peach pulp clouds crowd above, Zeus is watching

And he is angry, face flushed an ungodly red, bursted blood vessels

 

An unfamiliar portrait of a hero, at least you appear to be

Lit by yellow hues, a familiar flesh tone to I and to you

Holding two roped reigns, for what purpose?

Where do you look to with such fear, teeming from pupils

Is it the Gods you fear?

 

Muscles all strain and writhe, casting shadows which overlap

Mauve, plum, muted rose and mulberry, unruly manes

Looming landscapes stretch themselves along the campus, and two arms length

Two stallions, who bear the names Faith and Reason

I later learn you bear the name Andrew

An Open Letter to the Scar on my Right Knee

This poem was written in a poetry class at University of Maine Farmington’s annual Longfellow Young Writers Workshop. 

 

You are pink and fleshy, hues of salmon, a divot which mars my kneecap

You are the creation of river rocks and clumsy footing

Off balance footing, I would never make it in the circus

Big top, red and white

You are a reminder of the last day laughter filled my belly and crowded my bones

Why don’t scars go away?

Why don’t scars leave, like people so easily do?

 

Mid-September air stung at my skin, prickly sensations scattered my bare ankles

Jumping from brinded rock to brinded rock, he was only a few skips ahead of me

All was below me and with a thudding sound and splashing of icy water

I was below all

Smile still strained, uneven teeth continued to show

I was happy and I was red and the water too was red

Why didn’t my smile go away?

 

Spindly shaking fingers were held out to me and I was back and standing

On five dollar flip flops, legs shaky and knees shaky

Right knee shaking

This the last time our dead skin cells collide

Meshing and melding like seemingly close galaxies

 

After that Tuesday there were no phone calls branching into 2 am

You had still not introduced yourself yet

Come Wednesday our weekly trip to the dingy pizza parlor on the end of South street was abandoned, old habits rotted effortlessly into the ground, leaving its bones exposed

 

Thursday passed and the flowers he had given me began to die

I looked down to my right knee and through the bandage I could feel you growing

You were born into a harsh environment and endured when I knew I could not

 

Sunday night I sat alone in my bed, amongst pillows and sheets and linens

Pink rimmed glassy and jaundiced eyes wanted to look anywhere but down

I needed to look anywhere but down

Yet there seemed to be an anchor which tied itself to my chin

There you were

 

Why don’t scars leave like people do?

Something

I am searching for something

Say I am on a hunt

Something to dizzy my head

To shake my skull with a violent yet familiarly gentle force

 

Something to paint multitudes more of freckles upon my shoulder

To make me feel like sharp scuff marks that mar the beige wall

This something will shorten my breathing

In out in out in out

I can feel my ribs hugging my lungs,

White and flesh

 

Something that will crack my spine and splinter through my center

I wish to feel the corners of my mouth burn

And my cheek muscles strain

I want to feel hell, the ground ruptures and succumbs beneath the soles of my shoes

To breathe charcoal, to feel Hades’ forearm drape around me

It’s a comfortable feeling

Hell, it cannot be a place, because you cannot feel a place

A place cannot twist and tear you

And knot you up and tangle you until rendered useless

 

Something that crinkles my nose

Stiff as a leaf underneath dried and dirtied boots

You say I am on a hunt

I am searching for something

Rain Rain go Away

Rain, rain, don’t go away

For I find the strangest comfort in a foggy window and my noisy yellow rainboots

Come again, visit me on Sunday and wrap around my shoulders like a woven blanket the morning after snowfall

I like the abundance of kisses that speckle my cheeks, trying their best to imitate my freckles, leaving me behind their icy drops

And the sound, the sound fills up that empty space in my head and between my ears

In the absence of thoughts, the sound consumes me

I smile at the sight of my reflection in the divots of my driveway that are filled with puddles of all sizes and shapes

Because I find myself beautiful in this mirror

Though my hair is weighed down and sopping

Though a single drop teeters on my nose, hanging on with a weak grip and wavering hands

Until down down it falls, splashing and rippling at the ground

And the mud shifting under my weight as I saunter amongst the trees

Rain, rain don’t go away

A Short Story: Keys

 

Keys

The lone soldier, clad in green like the woodland surrounding him, felt the crunch of stray twigs shiver up his body. The sound accompanied by his footsteps cracked and popped the thick silence held by bare branches. All around him were rooted and effervescent signs of life and growth. The firs let out long sighs and exhales of sorrow, and fallen leaves hummed an unfamiliar string of notes. The soldier himself did not. He did not share the same exhausted sighs or melodious tunes. He did not find rhythm with branches and rhythm with the bark. He only walked.

 

The grey blotted sky yawned until the stars appeared and the sky resembled a charcoal pen. The soldier grew weary and his muscles grew weak. Five hundred and sixty seven steps later he found himself sitting amongst the now dead leaves. Under his backpack and uniform they crunched like broken bones. His stony hands groped the ground, easing once they met with his gun. The soldier gripped his weaponry, holding it tight to his body. Just in case. The cold stock of his gun stung at his fingertips, but he did not move. Just in case.

 

His eyes opened to the sound of twigs breaking. The soldier became tense and he readjusted his hands on his rifle. His muddied combat boots lifted him to his feet. His head snapped. To the left. To the right. Above. Below. A calloused finger tip shook as it met with the trigger. Just in case. The silence felt thick in the air and seemed to remain there. The soldier began to walk once again.

 

The familiar faces etched in bark whispered back to him. The same firs and evergreens and the same pines encircled him. The soldier continued to hold his firearm, it’s body unevenly balanced in the crook of his arm. The woods were vast and the treelines thick. The gun mimicked the weight of a boulder, straining muscles and pulling at the soldiers uniform. His hollowed eyes moved toward a figure in the distance.

 

The figure was large and boxy, but from a distance seemed smooth and delicate. He walked closer, over piles of dead leaves and fallen tree trunks, feeling moss squish under the weight of his combat boots. He walked until he became closer and closer and closer and closer. He walked until he could decipher it’s identity and he walked until he recognized an old friend.

 

His dirtied hands caressed the wooden side panels of the instrument, the feeling struck a contrast to the usual, mud and rocks and bodies and blood and metal triggers. The soldier did not question the pianos location, sitting alone in the middle of a forest, much like himself. He did not want to know the truth. He wanted to sit.

 

After days or months or years fashioning chairs of tree stumps and stones, the cushiony feeling beneath him was a feeling now unfamiliar. He brought his fingers to the keys, the cool sensation of ebony and ivory provoked a slight twitch to the corners of his chapped lips, a smile.

 

    This smile was a stranger. It cracked his skin and drew blood. Then the soldier moved his fingers, first slowly, playing soft scales and light chords. This was the same smile of his five year old self. And that of his six year old self and that of his seven year old self. It was his smile until eighteen years had passed. It was a smile he had forgotten.

 

  The stresses and the tensions and the bruises and the bandages melted off him. The forest grew loud and harmonious. The firs hummed Mozart and the twigs snapped in various metronomes. The simplicity of the music, and of the past vibrated through the soldier. His combat boots eased on the damper pedal and the woods were alive. He found rhythm with the branches and rhythm with the bark. He shared the same exhausted sighs and melodious tunes. The soldier rose to his two feet and removed his rifle from the straps around his shoulders. Gently, and with shaking hand, he placed the gun down. With kicks he attempted to bury the firearm, under leaves and twigs and moss. The soldier did not look back, he only walked.