This river ain't crooked, but she sure ain't straight She sings the songs of broken banjos and forgotten fields. She sings for poor mountain people kicked out of their homes She sings the song of the Cherokee, carries their blood downstream She sings Jesus our savior will protect you, and more. She sings over rocks, roots and litter. She sings for these mountains, for as long as these mountains drain. She's just trying to wash our sins away trying to wash our sins away.
Not the cruel winter wind that slaps the cheek. Not the icy sidewalk, that tries to break us. During these grave days, even when the sun is bright, it offers little heat. It is late afternoon, and twenty-below. My mother has been through many hard deaths, she has every right to be bitter. Instead, she says, Find one thing, beautiful, every day. And stay in the present, daughter, stay in the present. Right now, she’s sitting at the kitchen table, in seventh heaven and on cloud nine, while she tells me of her new companion. I have seen my mother’s cardinal. He’s wrapped in red ribbon, perched on a mound of fresh snow. He doesn’t sing, he whistles. From the cold silence, whether by choice, or by contrast, he reminds us, even winter has a heart. He’s got a lively red mohawk, he wears a black scarf, and he comes to visit her every day (most days, more than once). When he comes to feed, he makes her laugh, spilling seed all over the deck. There is no one who loves him more than she does.
I. When my sister over- dosed and nearly died, her golden retriever was curled up next to her in bed; the other retriever too, the old deaf and blind one, lay sprawled out—guarding her bedroom door. When the medics arrived to take her away, the dogs wouldn’t move—not even for a biscuit. II. My mother has been to hell. She came back with three Weiner dogs. My other sister has seizures, now she has a therapy dog. Hell, we all have therapy dogs. III. We have ashes from dogs, ashes from humans. We have been known to mix them, bury them together. Of course there are rules: The dead human had to belong to the dead dog (or vice versa). The dog had to die first. (I think that’s right.) Right now, it’s all a mess: We have a dead stepfather, his old Weiner dog; a dead Miniature Schnauzer, her living partner; a golden retriever puppy, his dead toddler. IV. My chocolate lab says, Quit putting pictures of the dead kid on Facebook and take me for a walk. By the way, I don’t really like it when we spoon. V. People say, Your family must have a lot of faith. Yes, I say, we have a lot of dogs. Originally published in Lake Region Review, Vol.4
But he was not buried in Minneapolis
And no more may I be
~ James Wright
Handsome Sven’s on the TV, jabbering about the weather. He says it’s been the coldest winter in decades, but I don’t need a meteorologist to tell me that. All I have to do is look outside my window: You’ve never seen an old dog look more pitiful trying to pee fast and not sink into a six-foot snow-drift.
I’ve spent over half of my life in this state. Hell, even James Wright couldn’t hack it. I wish he would have gotten out of Minneapolis more, he might have liked it better in Waconia. There’s hot coffee and donuts at every gas station from here to Ortonville. There’s a community of ice houses on every frozen lake. Even though there’s more drinking than writing poetry in them, you have to admire the occupants for being creative. I should hate it here, but I don’t.
It’s true. I haven’t seen a neighbor in months, but at the grocery store today a tall grey-bearded man with a staff in his hand held the door open. He looked so wise and reminded me of Gandalf (except for the purple Vikings sweatshirt). His lips were dry and cracked and even though it must have hurt, he smiled. Meanwhile, over in the produce section I overheard a young woman say, It sure is cold, but at least the sun is shining. And then I heard another woman with my grandma’s voice say, Today’s the kind of day to stay home and make soup.
I let the dog back in, shut the TV off and warm up my soup. I wrap myself up in my blanket and sink into the couch. I pick up a magazine and find an article about hypothermia. It says that in the final stages of hypothermia, humans have been known to dig themselves into a hole and die. It’s called “terminal burrowing” and it has something to do with the brainstem shutting down. Well now, that’s one hell of a metaphor. That explains everything.
Previously published in Talking Stick, Vol, 24., and Home: An Anthology of MN Fiction, Memoir and Poetry (Flexible Press, 2019).
The lure flies through the sky, drops
slowly, barely breaking
as the water opens
like a lover's mouth. The circle
closes, creating a small ripple,
a welcomed wrinkle.
The water takes back its tongue.
Behind the trees, the sun strips
below the horizon, leaving
behind her blue background,
for slips of gold and auburn.
Because I have noticed the light, the water,
I have held the mystery of time, and yet
before the light gives way to darkness,
just one more cast.
Previously published in Talking Stick, Volume 28. Editor’s Choice.