Affectations

Straight Up Toward The Sun

Soon enough he arrives outside the boundaries of time’s false expectations, and there he knows that he can be a visitor no longer, at least not yet; his day for sitting still is yet to come. The two lovers’ shoulders grow cold to his touch. He reaches for their cane, but they yank the cane away from him, and by this signal gesture he understands that they desire him to leave.

He stands and bows, tips his hat in their direction, and next remembers that he wears no hat to tip. He feels his face flush red and warm with shame for all the poetry he’s written. All the scattered lines he’s traced in imitation of so many artful poses that he witnessed on one altar or another. Inside amphitheater classrooms dressed in tweed and dungaree. Between the leather covers of thick volumes he pretended hard to comprehend. Scribbled words on cotton, perfumed paper floating free above the weave of picnic blankets cradling wine and cheese and randy dreams of sexual intercourse.

“Your life,” he tells himself in a rare and honest moment, “this image you designed and named your life, is all about unrequited love in the form of a serial apology.”

“No matter this cynicism,” he answers his own voice. “All around me now, this very minute, side to side, behind and forward leading me to tap my soles along this worn-slate path; all around me grow my flowers.”

A Birth In Blood

He next stops to watch a rosebud, and standing there he considers that while the rosebud springs unbidden from the ground, waiting for yet another self-proclaimed artist to compare her face to that of love, the metaphor is weak and just as limited as humanity’s vision of romance. “Trite, like you, and as shallow as your poems,” he whispers. “You are no more than a visitor to your self.”

He shivers in spite of the brilliant sunlight that bathes his arms and legs and back, because although somewhere deep inside he wants to realize, with the full and undeniable force of utter candor, that as death approaches so wing away his affectations, yet he feels afraid of death. With a flicker of the edge of hope inside his eyes, he notices that the rosebud leans toward the earth whence she came, and he walks on farther down the played-out path.

Golden Fruit

He picks a poppy from her stem and nibbles gently on her petals. “As I eat this fruit, I beg to save my soul,” he says; and then he tries to laugh away the bitterness he feels inside. “Your visit to this park has failed to change you. Your flowers are a sibling to your poetry; by way of both you mean to wear a mask. What soul? And who is there to beg? A priest? Yes, that’s it, you try too much to sound like a priest.

“Can’t you hear your own voice? You speak to dead people who sit still on a wooden bench within the confines of a garden hideaway that shelters you from the town which surrounds it. You talk to flowers and expect that they will answer you. You tip a hat that you imagine wearing; presume to separate yourself from youthful, amphitheater posturing; almost convince yourself that sexual intercourse never satisfied your urge to be the animal you are; and yet you cower from the angry heat that courses through your veins.

“What need exists, other than to live a lie, for this serial apology you claim as ode?

“If you want to become a poet, then throw away your pen and smell your neighbor’s breath.”

Four Brief Tales of Old Age

Still Lovers Leaning

The visitor follows a worn, slate path around and about a local park, and there he encounters a couple of lovers sitting on a wooden bench. At first, he hesitates and thinks to turn around and away from what he assumes must be one of their private moments together. But the couple beckons him closer and begs the visitor to forgive them their inability to move.

“We lean on this cane for eternity,” they whisper as one voice to him.

“My cap no longer smells of perspiration, and my lover’s shawl fails to flutter when the breeze runs through this place,” the still man says to their visitor. “We long ago grew as quiet as the oak tree that lives behind us, although we own no memories of when our changes first began to occur.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” he thinks out loud. “But might you tell me how it feels to be old?”

“You might tell us the same if you were willing to admit to us and to yourself that age is but one vague factor when it comes to growing old.”

“I see that your wife’s purse sits idle beside her. What of the valuables it contains?”

“Take the purse if you want it. It’s as empty as we are full.”

“Your poetry sounds a maudlin note, old man. I suppose you mean to say that the two of you are filled with love, whereas your wife’s purse . . .”

“You may leave us now if our rhythm and our rhyme displeases you. The choice is always yours to make.”

But the visitor stays. He takes a few steps forward, turns his body leftward, bends himself at the hips and knees, and sits beside the two lovers. There he waits to become a part of them.

A Shack Filled With Memories

Inside his mind he sees the shack. Unpainted, except for the blue, salty tones the ocean winds have washed into the clapboard walls. Stuff, reads the crooked sign above the shack’s door. The air smells like old fish. The old building leans toward the coastline, like a tree bent on finding water. Netting serves as a curtain against the inside of the hut’s only window. A jumble of nameless objects crowds the porch, a colorless urn, a splintered two-by-four, thick and knotted rope meant for the bow of a dying sailboat.

As he stares, he wonders if all the late-night arguments were necessary, or if they were perhaps unavoidable. The shoving insistence that love could be forced into clarity of definition. I’m right and I’m wrong and I’m guilty of all the sins you accuse me of committing. Romance back then, at the time of our beginning, back before our changes occurred and we were forced to sit still on this bench, back then romance was sex, yes the smell of perspiration mixed with that of blood and waste. And now? Now romance is the vision we share of this clapboard shack, of the stuff we’ll leave behind for the next couple to care about. Take the purse if you want it; just please leave the rhythm and the rhyme.

Old Boat Waiting To Be Recognized

When he realizes the danger of discovery that the old shack must contain within, he turns and leaves in order that he might survive his life for at least one more day. He trips and stumbles over cracked and crushed cement, circles round the shack and behind himself he finds the boat, the same boat that always drifts inside his dreams. Moored, yet knocking loose against the wooden dock, no rope strong enough to hold her steady, no sail to catch the breeze. His stomach turns against itself, a sour taste invades his mouth, his sense of balance falters.

She was tender and I was callous to her needs. We set our boat to rocking, let her drift, then overturn for lack of courage. Must lovers always quarrel before they either drown themselves beneath the weight of inexorable fatigue, or sit down quiet and still on a park bench hidden from the havoc of a self-defeating war?

A Placid Stream Leading Nowhere

The visitor falls, face-down in the mire, and there he falls again to sleep. When he awakes, he has forgotten time. The mud that covers him feels refreshing, and the floating boat has disappeared. Salt water ripples like a lake and laps against the shore. The visitor feels hungry, and so he reaches out and wraps one of his arms around the couple’s shoulders. If wars are to be won, tempers are to be tamed, sailboats are to be moored and shacks are to be painted; then he will simply watch as he savors the shadows beneath the oak tree that lives behind them.