Seasons

Stoically still. It towers.
The wind silently whips through its limbs
causing a sunset of colors to cascade down.
There is no rustling of leaves.
The ancient giant has been stripped
of its glorious display.

Shivering in the moonlight. It stands.
the way it has for generation after generation.
Naked and exposed for all the world to see.
Waiting for that first ray of light, that first beam
of hope to radiate from above.

Expectantly confident. It sways.
The warmth slowly returns to the earth.
The barren limbs sprout a myriad of green life.
The leaves rustle as spring clothes the beautiful
creation with splendor. Rejuvenated.
Revived. It lives.

Furious Scribbling

Pen meets paper; images take the form of
beautifully crafted words. I stare down at the
rhythmic pulsing of my heartbeat , a haunting
echo of my soul imprinted upon the page,
completely lost in this moment of pure beauty
knowing that all too soon the earth will spin
faster and faster until the towering trees are
a kaleidoscope of colors blurring together,
changing with the slightest gust of wind.
Streams of conversations will rush into
a steady river until the only sound that
can be heard is the clouds’ slow consistent
drip.

drip.

drip.
The cold piercing rain will splatter the pages,
leaving me with only the faint whisperings of a
heartbeat, the distant call of an echo.
Shreds of paper will clutter the tearstained ground
And I will cling to the memory
of the voice inside of me that wrote –
“Press in, my child, for I am
your sword and your shield.”

The Next Breath

As Sophie staggered through the front door of her apartment, she caught a whiff of fresh cigarette smoke, more pungent than the stale stench clinging to her clothes and hair. Flying through the living room in four-inch heels, she whipped her head around, searching for the source of that acrid odor.

She stopped short in the kitchen doorway. Her roommate sat at the table, a cigarette clutched between his lips as he peered at his laptop screen. Cash glanced up at her, sheepish as he straightened in the chair. “Good morning, Sophie,” he said.

“I told you not to smoke in here.” She tried to sound stern, but her voice was reduced to a low rasp. “Put it out right now. You’ll set the smoke alarm off.”

Cash took a deep drag, closing his eyes to savor it. “No, I won’t,” he said, “because I removed the batteries. I was going to put them back as soon as I finished this.” Reluctantly he ground the cigarette into a glass ashtray she didn’t know they still had. She thought he stopped smoking after his father died last year.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, focusing his large blue eyes on her again. “You sound like you’re catching a cold.” His stare swept over her red dress and the snags in her stockings.

Sophie’s hands flew like startled birds to her throat, but Cash saw the violet ring of bruises mottling her skin.

“Jesus Christ.” He stood and started toward her.

Sophie stumbled backward and held up her hands. “Don’t.”

Cash froze mid-stride. “Okay,” he said, speaking as though she were a frightened animal he wanted to soothe. “Do I need to take you to the hospital?”

“No.” Her voice broke on the word.

He swiped a hand over his face, never looking away from the bruises. “Who did this to you?”

She brushed stringy hair out of her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to see him again.”

“I sure as hell hope not.” Cash reached for her arm.

The moment his skin touched hers, he was no longer Cash but the man who had choked her senseless just hours before. Sophie jerked from his grasp. “Leave me alone,” she snapped.

“Hey.” Cash pointed a finger at her. “Don’t try to make me one of your nameless fucks. You took care of me last month when I had the stomach flu. You stood beside me at my father’s funeral. You think I’m going to let this drop, when you come home with bruises on your neck?”

“Please,” she whispered, tears scratching her eyes like powdered glass. “I just want a hot bath. We’ll talk later.”

Cash’s shoulders slumped, and his slender body appeared to fold in on itself. “Can I… do you need any help?” he asked.

Sophie shook her head and forced a smile. “No, I’m okay.”

She kicked off her heels before making her way to the bathroom. Not bothering to lock the door, she stripped out of her clothes, refusing to look at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She ran hot water until the glass steamed. Lifting a leg over the side of the tub, Sophie eased her foot into the bath and hissed at the scalding temperature.

She wanted to lather her skin and hair, wash away all traces of the night before, but she was too tired. Instead she leaned back and closed her eyes, the water so hot it muddled her senses and made her shiver.

A soft knock sounded on the bathroom door. “You okay, love?” Cash called.

“Yeah,” she said. “You can come in.”

He opened the door and stopped short, averting his gaze. “Sorry,” he stammered, his face flushing. “I didn’t know you were…”

“Naked? It’s fine,” she said, unable to hold back a grin.

Cash pulled the shower curtain closed. Sophie heard him put the toilet lid down and then sit on it. He let out a sigh that sounded as weary as her bones felt.

“Why do you keep doing this?”

She settled deeper in the water. “I don’t know.”

“It won’t stop until you figure that out,” he said.

Sophie snorted. “You should have been a shrink. You missed your calling.”

“Why do you let these men hurt you?” Cash persisted.

“I ask them to,” she replied.

Even the meekest of men, the ones who twisted their wedding bands and trembled like scared rabbits as she approached them in bars—even they could be goaded into hurting her when she got them alone. Some required nothing more than a submissive look and a plaintive, “Please, sir.” Others lashed out only after she hurled insults at them, snickering at their cocks.

“Why do you ask them to hurt you?” Cash’s voice was just above a whisper.

Sophie gingerly touched the bruises at her throat and thought of what she could wear to the office on Monday to hide the marks. “It’s the only way I can come.”

She heard the low hiss of air between his teeth. “What happened last night?”

She squeezed her eyes shut and thought of the man she met at the bar two towns away. He sat by himself, nursing a gin and tonic. Mid-forties, balding, a bit of a belly on him. He was quiet, but he laughed at her jokes, and as the evening wore on, he leaned closer. His hand was on her thigh when she suggested they go to a hotel.

The man turned out to be one of the nice guys, at least at first. He wanted to kiss her mouth, her neck. She took his hand in hers and forced him to squeeze her breast.

“What …” The man stepped away from her.

She stood in the dimly lit hotel room and took off her clothes. He couldn’t stop staring at her as she slipped between the sheets. “I like it rough,” she told him. “You think you can manage that?”

“How rough?” he asked. A layer of sweat coated his cheeks.

Sophie started to climb out of the bed. “If you have to ask, you’re not up to it.”

“I am,” the man insisted.

When his naked body weighed her down, the man tried to kiss her again. “That’s not what I want,” she said, turning her head away.

He pinched her left nipple hard enough to make her gasp. “Be careful what you ask for,” he said. Then he slapped her face.

As he fucked her, panting from the exertion, she realized he was close to coming. “Hey,” she said. Her sharp tone brought him from his trance. “This isn’t doing it for me.”

His features contorted in rage. “I’m fucking you as hard as I can.”

Sophie burst out laughing. “You can fuck me into next year, pal, but that tiny cock of yours still won’t do the job.”

His large hands wrapped around her throat. Still she smiled as his stare locked with hers. He squeezed hard, his jaw clenched, and the veins protruded at his temples. The edges of her vision darkened as blazing flares popped like flashbulbs before her eyes.

So this is how it ends, she thought. She always believed she would welcome that final release, but the reptilian part of her brain scrambled into action, and she struggled like a mouse with its leg caught in a glue trap, her small fists hammering the man’s head. Her lungs screamed in agony. It felt like the inside of her chest was being scraped with a dull knife.

The man relaxed his grip just before she lost consciousness. He pulled out of her, whispering, “What am I doing?” Then he jumped from the bed and ran to the bathroom.

Sophie rolled onto her side, coughing and sputtering. She drew in a deep lungful of air, tears streaming from her eyes. Over the sound of her labored breathing, she heard the man vomit into the toilet.

Sophie turned her back to him as he dressed. Just before he left the room, he said, “I’m sorry. Please—I have a family.”

She couldn’t tell any of this to Cash, so she dunked her head below the bathwater. When she resurfaced, Cash’s voice filled her ears.

“Is it because of your brother?”

Sophie began to shake so hard the water sloshed over the side of the tub. “You asshole,” she said. “That’s low, bringing him up now.”

“Sophie, I’m sorry,” Cash said.

She climbed to her feet and pulled back the shower curtain. “You want me to say I’m completely fucked up because my brother used to sneak into my room at night?”

Cash held out his upturned palms in supplication. “You’ll end up dead if you don’t stop this.”

Sophie shrugged. “I don’t care.”

Cash stood and yanked at his hair. “Let me help you,” he said. “Please.”

Sophie curled her lip in disgust. “I’ve asked you to help me before.”

“No.” Cash shook his head violently. “You wanted to use me.”

She stepped out of the tub and reached for a towel. “I asked you to fuck me,” she said. “How is that using you?”

“I’d jump at the chance to fuck you.” Cash’s breathing grew heavier. “But not the way you want. Even if I were to tie you up, get rough with you, it wouldn’t be enough.”

Sophie wrapped the towel around her wet hair and pushed past him. He followed her into her bedroom. “You have no right to lecture me about my problems,” she said. “Let’s talk about how you haven’t dated anyone in years.” She slumped on the edge of her unmade bed. “You keep yourself holed up in this apartment, wallowing in your own shame.”

“That’s not true,” Cash said.

Sophie hurled the wet towel at him, and he caught it with one hand. The tendency to bare her fangs and lunge for the jugular began to well in her chest. “Thomas told me about your roll in the sheets,” she went on, smirking at the way Cash’s eyes widened. “You didn’t think I knew about that, did you?” Sophie leaned forward. “I know he told you the next morning that it meant nothing to him—you just served as a hole for him to fill.”

Cash’s face drained of color, and Sophie saw the panic leeching into his skin.

“Now do you want to hit me?” she taunted. “I bet you’d just love to smash your fist in my face. But I’ll let you fuck me the way he fucked you.” The words spilled from her in a ruthless stream. “Thomas said you make a great bottom. So do I, Cash.”

He didn’t ball his fists or advance on her with a raised hand. He only gave her a sad smile. “You won’t win that easily, but keep it up if it makes you feel better.”

His pain was so raw she had to look away. “It doesn’t,” she said, her voice thick with unshed tears. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have any more knives you want to twist in my gut?” he asked, closing the distance between them.

Sophie fell back against the bed. As Cash loomed over her, she lifted her legs and wrapped them around his hips. “Please help me,” she whimpered.

Cash took a shuddering breath and covered her body with the towel. “No,” he said. “Get some sleep.”

When he pulled away, a sob erupted from her lips. “If you loved me, you would hurt me.” She covered her face with her hands, the way she did as a child when she wanted to hide.

Cash sat beside her on the bed and gathered her in his arms. “I do love you,” he whispered, his lips against her hair. “That’s why I’m saying no.”

As they huddled together on the dirty sheets, he held her so tight it made her ribs ache. Sophie found it hard to breathe, but she remained still, terrified he would loosen his grip if she moved.

Hungover and Teething on a Hotel Pen

Naked between borrowed bed sheets, lower back an ice
cream scoop silhouetted by eggshell cotton. Is it Sunday or Tuesday?

I wear time on the bridge of my nose – oily, seared
raw to the salmon layer. A rooster waltzes across the pool deck;

Tiffany water, neatly arranged rows of deck chairs, drinks
with those glassy, doll-sized swords. My eyes blood-

shot with rum. Sweat ring on the pillow, a salty halo. How much
money is left? I could die this second and it wouldn’t be half bad.

Leaning Towards Love

Walking briskly along the Italian cobblestoned street, Valentina knew she would see the top of the Tower if she just looked up. She knew how it would look from this very street corner by heart, sticking out over the tops of the other buildings at a slight tilt, the white marble standing stark against the bright blue sky. She also knew it would remind her of all the walks she had taken down this street with her father many years ago. For that reason, she kept her eyes on the ground.

She crossed the road and pushed through a dingy, half-broken swinging door into a badly air-conditioned convenience store. The heat outside made the air in the store thick and heavy. Flies buzzed around soft fruit and two large whirring fans made groaning noises in opposite corners. The man behind the counter, with his thick black mustache and small spectacles half down his nose, grinned when he looked up and saw her walking in.

“Valentina!” He shouted over the noise of the fans. He threw his hands in the air like all the Italians she knew as he rambled out compliments and greetings to her in his rapid speech. She leaned over the counter and kissed both his cheeks.

“Alberto,” she said and she could feel herself smiling as she said his name with easy familiarity. “How are you? You look great.”

That wasn’t entirely true. He looked like he had shrunk considerably; his whole body hunched over. Her dad would have been 60 this year so she had to assume Alberto wasn’t far behind. They fell into easy conversation, exchanging stories and laughing at old memories. Valentina bought a sparkling water and a pack of gum just like her father always did and Alberto tried to make her take it for free, just as he always had.

Valentina felt comfortable here in this tiny store in the middle of Pisa. Alberto had owned it for longer than she had been alive and was friends with her father for even longer than that. Valentina grew up in a neighboring Tuscan village, around 30 minutes by train from Pisa. Once a month, without fail, her father would take the train into Pisa, stop by Alberto’s before heading to the steps in front of the Tower. He could sit there for hours. Sometimes he would bring a sketchbook, other times nothing at all. She started tagging along when she was only eight but hadn’t been back since his death 6 years ago. For her father the Tower represented something, though she had never been sure what exactly. He used to say it was a landmark that brought people together.

“Are you married, bella? In love?” She rolled her eyes at his question.

“No. No love for me Alberto.” She didn’t mention the fact that her boyfriend of nearly five years had broken up with her last week, prompting her to finally make this journey back to Pisa in the first place.

“Ah well, you see my nephew just divorced – he’s young …”

“Alberto,” She interrupted a story she hadn’t been listening to. “Listen, it’s so lovely to see you, but I should head on.” She indicated her head in the direction of the tower and he nodded knowingly.

“Of course, of course. You come back before you leave though!” She agreed to stop by again and headed out the door on her way.

Valentina wandered past the street vendors, pushing half-broken watches and other shabby items in her face. She followed the lines of tourists, posed with one hand in the air and finally, she looked up.

It was laughably leaning, she had always thought. Leaning so far to one side, that as a child, she was certain it was just going to fall over. She walked across to the steps and took a seat, holding a hand to the sun to shade her view. She never thought it to be a beautiful landmark like her father did, but she was intrigued by the Tower, by its story and all the stories she had because of it. She waited so long to visit, scared of how the Tower would look to her now without him and nervous how she would feel standing in front of it alone but now here it was, standing directly in front of her like nothing had actually changed at all.

A bump to her elbow shook her from her thoughts.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to come in so fast.” A man, probably around his late twenties with dark hair and a boyish face, sat abruptly next to her. “You seemed lost in your thoughts and I was just wondering what you could possibly be thinking about at The Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

He was definitely American. Valentina stared at him, at a loss for words.

“Hi, I’m Alex,” He finally said, sticking a hand out to shake.

“Tina,” She replied slowly, grabbing his hand and giving it a small shake. “I was just thinking about how funny this Tower is actually.”

He threw his head back with laughter. “You know what Tina? I thought that exact same thing. This Tower is funny. Have you had lunch yet?”

Vicky

Says she would blow a guy
for a spicy chicken sandwich at Wendy’s.
Her skeletal frame slinking onto the dance floor
eyes sunken back, bloodshot
from her homemade prescriptions.

I tell her of times I blew guys for the prick of snow
until the time they rolled me back and opened
my only wound that can never be replaced again
with the safety of skin
then came for me in the dead of nights
demanding payments I couldn’t give without
new scars and tears.

She rolls it off as if there is nothing wrong with
being a little intoxicated
on weed and one night stands.

Cat Von Doll

Dresses in a purple wig that circles
plump cheek bones
and eyes shadowed dark for the nighttime show.

Cat Von Doll
wears ladies tights to make a buck
to be with men and
see what love is all about.

Father does not know
that at night his shortstop
stands at stop signs
hiking up a leather skirt.

Cat Von Doll clutches heels
walk of shame barefoot
on glass, make up
wearing thin.

The End of Sanity

The day ended in havoc. My parents were trying to subdue me enough to get pajamas on me, brush my teeth and put me to bed. They were working with my psychiatrist from home to switch my medications. He would call every couple of hours to check on how things were going. Things were not going well. I had descended into a psychosis that would prove to be the end of sanity as I knew it.

It was preventable; it had all been preventable.

Earlier that day, I warned my psychiatrist and my mother that I needed to go to the hospital. However, for reasons having to do with insurance, location and transportation, I was not brought to the hospital – not yet anyway. That trip would come later when an ambulance took me in for traumatic injuries, frostbite and hypothermia. But I am getting ahead of myself.

As my parent’s readied me for bed, the belief that we were all in imminent danger took hold of my mind and would not let go. I believed that the house – or more specifically, the furnace in the basement of the house – was about to explode. You see, the house was a historic landmark built in 1914, and the heating system was nearly that old. So, on that cold, January night, heat percolated throughout the house like fire in the belly of a dragon as the house in turn, belched, gurgled and exhaled heat as though in the midst of some horrifying, fiery indigestion.

In the grip of my belief that the steam heat sounds were signs of imminent disaster, I ran downstairs to the basement to check the thermostat on the furnace. The gauge read 140 degrees Fahrenheit. I called both 911 and the workman, who handled the heating system to report our precipitous peril. The workman assured me that the temperature was normal.   However, 911 was ready to respond, which gave me great relief. Only, at the moment when the person on the other end of the line asked for my address, I lost my nerve, and hung up. When that person called back, my mother got on the line and explained that “my daughter has psychiatric problems,” and that “no, it will not be necessary to come.” No one came.

My parents tried to get me to put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and go to bed. I followed their commands but the conviction that the house was about to explode never left my mind. Later that night, when my parents were sleeping, I awoke to the smell of smoke, which was likely an olfactory hallucination. Not knowing I was in the midst of a delusion, however, I removed the shutters from the family room window, broke the glass with my elbow, stepped out onto the second story balcony, and jumped.

I continued my quest to find help. I searched the backyard and saw a light on near the coach house, where I lived. However, earlier that afternoon I had gone to the coach house to get a change of clothes and had locked the door behind me. That escape route was a no-go.

I then spotted a light shining like a beacon from the porch of my neighbor’s house. I headed toward the light. Only with my first step, I sunk to the ground in pain. My right leg crumpled beneath me as I realized I had landed on an iron grate and not soft padded snow. I had no choice but to crawl on hands and knees to my destination.

One of the coldest nights of the year, the 14 degrees below zero wind whipped through my cotton-thin pajamas. I made my way through thigh high snow drifts, passed through the blanketed boughs of bushes, crossed a brick driveway, and climbed five steps up to my neighbor’s porch. The cold settled into my bones.

I knocked and cried out, but no one answered the door. The world slept that night – deaf to my cries for help. The real trial had only just begun. Waiting. And so I waited. And waited. My fingers began to turn white. I tucked my feet under my pajama bottoms so my toes might escape that fate but to no avail. By some miracle, my mother had given me pajamas with a hood. I tucked my head and ears beneath it. The warmth overwhelmed me. But I was not to escape unharmed.

As the night wore on, I took in the scene trance-like as a thousand winters passed before my eyes. Heading toward unconsciousness, I made one final effort to call out for help. Still no answer. However, I noticed a light in the sky and renewed my efforts. Within the hour, day broke, and my neighbors opened their door to find me frozen and broken on their stoop.

They wrapped me in blankets. Though I could not see or hear them, I could feel their presence. They saved my life. Sane or no, they saved my life.

Those Last Words

“I’m sorry but we have done all the best we can and she isn’t going to make it past tonight.”

Those agonizing words which the doctor left us with are all the memories I have of that night when my mother died. And every time I think of that night, I am reminded of the harsh sobs from my brother and the disbelief etched in my father’s tired face after the constant vigil we all had kept by her bedside for the past one week.

I was just thinking how ridiculous his words sounded. My mother’s condition had been improving and she was still breathing. Her serene face even while being sedated did not seem like she was in pain or that her organs were failing like the doctor explained to us as kindly as possible.

I took her hands in mine and held them while thinking those same hands had carried me all these years, comforted me when I needed it, spanked me when I was misbehaving, cooked me those wonderful meals, and those same hands were soon going to be lifeless and I would never see them again.

I wanted to beg for her forgiveness and let her know how much she meant to me all those years. I wanted her to wake up and let me say goodbye for one last time. I wanted all those things that one does when being told their loved ones whom they took for granted would live a long and fruitful life is not going to live that long after all.

But I could not say it with my throat constricted tight and my chest feeling like it was going to burst, making it so hard for me to breathe. It was as though that I was the one whose organs were failing instead of my mother, who lied there so peacefully in her cold and hard hospital bed.

I just held her hands trying so hard to choke those last words out before the heart rate monitor hooked to her would show that she was no longer just sedated but she would be never waking up again.

And she left us just like that. She died while my father watched disbelievingly, my brother covering his face, his body wrecking with sobs and there was me, who was holding her hands trying to convey some gratitude for the 28 years of love she bestowed upon me without expecting anything in return.

That was three years ago and yet those agonizing last words which the doctor left us with still remain fresh in my memory encompassing everything else that she left us with.

Damp

Clouds cut
into grids

clouds broken
and made again

you tried to catch
thunder
with pool nets

moisture on my sternum
and grass between my toes

you cut
the buds I planted
they fell without announcing
their fall

softly, soundlessly
bodies scattered
I could taste them
long after they died—