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Canvas

June 24, 2020

I stretch myself over the frame pulled taut
Skin’s creases smoothed so you can paint me
You lay out the brushes with care
Bristles clean and dry
The first brush its head cut sharp to detail the subtle wrinkles around my eyes
The second wide to fill my laughing smile
The third rough to capture a storm swelling behind me over the sea
And one more a piercing point to drop a tear that belies my melancholy

You step back scanning me before preparing your pallet
What shade of Caucasian to choose for my sun aged skin?
How much grey will you need to sneak silver threads into my thick brown hair?
How should you dress me what textures will you drape?
Am I alone on a trail or seething in a concert crowd?
How will you capture the chaotic cacophony swirling in my mind with only strokes of oil?
And how can you reflect everything I’ve seen into the detail of my eyes and are they wide open alert unable to find sleep or quivering and fighting exhaustion or are they shut tight and twitching in rem-triggered dreams or are they still serene like death?

I think you should start with my memories
So many to choose from you can’t possibly paint them all
Lest the layers grow so deep that the paint slides from me dripping forgotten onto the floor
Perhaps start with my memories of running through a New England park pulling a kite its fluttering tail flying up into the crisp fall breeze the kritch kritch sound of leaves beneath my feet
Perhaps start with melancholy the bullies fear that started in 6th grade and lingered relentless until my scrawny frame sprouted 6 feet tall in high school
Perhaps start with sound the music from my parents’ practicing while I lie beneath the Steinway floating on waves of notes as father’s fingers race the keys while mother’s oboe pierces the chords
Or perhaps you start with near silence when I escape the frenetic digital pulse and head onto a trail stepping in rhythm until hours later I lie back eyes closed to let my ears explore the forest depths

And when you are done and the paint is drying its pungent odor slowly fading and imperceptible until the last molecule of scent escapes
And when you walk away your brushes cleaned and neatly packed your tubes of paint capped and stored
Will you remember me? Will you remember each brush stroke and shade of oil?
I hope you choose to paint me with my eyes wide open so I can see your expression when you apply the final stroke
Will you be relieved to finish me to escape this dreary task or will you wish to paint until the pallet runs dry so we can share this moment a little longer?

now

May 16, 2020

i remember vacation planning
the sound of clicking in search of a deal
dk travel guides bookmarked with post-it’s
and a countdown pinned to my wall

i remember ticketmaster scrambles at 10am
refreshing the page to secure a coveted row
blocking my calendar and counting the days
until lights out: the band takes the stage

i remember couples scheduling weddings
baseball fans stubhub’ing tickets
i remember graduates groomed for commencement
and parents strategizing for good seats

but life has become now and not when
planning suspended our futures opaque
days looped together in time escher folds
forced to live in the moment whatever it holds

stages

May 3, 2020

1

a snap brings darkness and the crowd comes to life
packed tight in waves that rush towards the stage
while flashlight beams guide the band mates through space
over cables taped snug past speakers humming bright

each stage a glowing wall of sound
synthetic smoke pouring down into the pit
and floating up to refract laser trails
while vari-lites dance to a pulsing beat

on stage robert smith teased into a moody mop
trent reznor rage causing keyboard keys to scatter
siouxie’s banshees revealed through layered curtains
prince preening purple and cabaret voltaire in abstract green

at the fillmore escape the stage head upstairs
past walls papered with psychedelic posters swirling colors
dylan grateful stones hendrix each sold out show preserved
the balcony walls glowing from chandeliers’ crystals

2

down by market, marquees shine bright
nestled between elegant italian and bustling thai
buzz and anticipation flows past the will call line
finding aisle row seat until the theatre lights dim

this audience is silent ears perked and waiting
from stage left a figure appears from the shadow
“now is the winter of our discontent” he bellows
glorious in the tracking spot of light

3

three thousand miles east broadway stages are set and dressed
a couple steps onto the curb and through lyceum’s doors
settling into jacket draped seats hands fiddling playbill pages
until the curtain reveals colorful performers in choreographed song

4

in a northern canadian cathedral a simpler stage is set
beneath a vaulted steeple and its rich acoustic echo
a man caresses a piano a woman teases an oboe
their audience nestled pew row on row in silent solitude

5

but now the stages are empty and dark
their performers all sheltered in place
uncertain when the spotlights return
their soliloquy songs suspended in space

Fillmore San Francisco

by the ocean

April 20, 2020

awoken again reaching out in darkness
heart racing from stress dreams: fleeing or falling or any of the frenetic scenes
that purge my mind of pandemic news only to be refilled again day after day after
quarantine day
fingers fumbling to find the hour
knowing it will be the still time when you can stretch your ears for miles
only to find more silence and the occasional whistle of wind

staring into the black i imagine unsuccessfully the sleepy things
of counting sheep or rhythmic breathing
until i think of you
standing by the ocean
buffeted by a stiff eastward salt scented breeze
kerchief sheltered from the crispness

“sometimes you have to just turn off the news” you say “and listen to nothing”
(the distinct voice of rippling waves whispering behind you)

i let loose of the swirling thoughts that race my heart and exhaust my mind
and imagine your voice and the crashing waves and stepping out under a new moon
onto sand slipping off my shoes and socks to feel my way across the beach
and let the darkness between the moonless sky and blue black water
wrap around me holding me tight and soaking up the still swirling thoughts
until sky sea and stillness take me away
the stress dreams silenced for one night
sleep taking hold and insomniac rustling subsiding
slipping back into darkness until its inevitable return

falling

January 31, 2020

with a damp chill and shortening days
i drive past dorset through autumn’s peak
high above white clouds stroll puffed in promenade
held delicate together by slender contrails
and morning sun softly warms a crisp early breeze
sending lake shimmered ripples a cumulus mirror

i step into a forest roots firm canadian shield
feet meandering in search of a tickling leaf crunch
all the while drinking air soaked yellow orange red and brown
as in time the breeze grows unsettled around
a bluster that rips determined leaves from their perches
scattering like startled butterflies a colourful stochastic flutter

i walk alone thankful threatening nimbus halts its advance
and slip through the leaves past seasons years decades
transported from canada to new england’s roads
passing through time and space into a 70s country wagon
where the roads ever curving slides me across the trunk floor
as we slip on to gravel in search of a pumpkin pure

touching the pumpkin’s husk hurls me again into space
to boston’s freedom trail searching for faneuil’s fall festival
with autumn colors draping the worn graves of patriots
and the tickling crunch unchanged despite decades passing
through boston common king’s chapel down ever twisting walkways
while artists balance canvases and sketch with fingerlet gloves 

in a moment falling again through the city to rural vermont
winding through postcard towns and white painted gazebos
nestled still in rust textured appalachians
i step into waterbury hugged warm in a pea coat
strolling down uneven sidewalks past sleeping storefronts
to stir and crunch leaves from their wind structured stacks

finally falling surrounded the sweet scent of decay
burrowing deep into earth past shadow seeking light
until mildew and grey gives way newton’s morning
sunshine bright sparkling through orange-tinged edges
leaping out of the pile a burst of maple and elm
distant memories of youth when time had no meaning 

and now each fall passing and cycle of leaves
autumns behind me stacked higher than waiting ahead
i cling to each breath of crisp scented breeze
and try not to blink looking out over the trees
and listen to each crunch as i step through the leaves
until i catch a fell maple to welcome me home

fall colors photo copyright james morehead

in the overnight

December 2, 2019

in the overnight i resist the ripples of sleep
staring down the palette of twinkling lights below
towering cities tucked away villages clusters of homes
smudged translucent by strokes of frozen vapor

the wing tip winks through the window
with a steady metallic heartbeat tap
that reaches outstretched into thin air
gliding graceful lifting through the sky

perhaps below sleepless and staring up
our winking wing tip taps through clouds distorted
becoming a wispy aura painted across the heavens
the engines roar swallowed by the infinite above

and soon the lights give way to a lifeless grey
a blackout veil separating land from air
our trajectory removed no beginning no end
up down forward back rolled into one

darkness dreaming of morning’s peek to steal this silence
wishing to roll up the pitch and fill the void
with a hint then glow then flood of dawn
each point of light waiting to wake into dreams or sorrow

but for now in the overnight you are alone
soaring silent above the promise of tomorrow

the green line

November 20, 2019
(now)

the green line trolley rumbles past park street | bolyston | arlington | copley
     | hynes convention center | kenmore | fenway | longwood | brookline village
     | brookline hills | beaconsfield | reservoir | chestnut hill
each stop blurring one into another
a boston policeman sitting silent next to me
stiff cap pointed badge crisp jacket black boots eyes forward
my parents anxiously awaiting outside newton center station

               i am eleven

(45 minutes ago)

i do what i always do locked in routine

"go down into the station
     put the fare in the fare box
          spin through the turnstile
               turn right / stairs down
                    the tunnel beneath the tracks
                         connecting east to west and home"

the station quiet and empty
i turn to take the first step down
they surround me from the tunnel's shadows
ten boys maybe twelve, buzzing with excitement
one pushes me and another and then 
a hand clamps over my mouth
     (in that moment a memory burns:
     fingers rough on my lips
     sticky smell a sweaty palm
     a burst of terror
     unable to breath)

they pull me wrestling down the stairs
smothered mouth screams tears panic and then
in a moment
	a shout from across the tracks
		they scatter into the shadows

the policeman must have appeared
or perhaps a ticket seller or passerby
i remember nothing and will never know
seconds minutes hours?
my mind erased by each stolen breath

and after a time sitting silent on the green line trolley

(50 minutes ago)

i do what I always do locked in routine

"go from mcdonald’s to the park street station
      don’t cross the street go into the station
          go down the stairs into the tunnel and under the tracks
               that’s how you go home"

my heart is still racing
when they reappear
ten boys, maybe twelve, laughing 
surrounding me blocking the station entrance

“where are you going?”
     “leave me alone!” my shy voice trembling

again they disappear
so I step down

(60 minutes ago)

i do what i always do locked in routine

"after choir practice grab dinner next door 
     at mcdonald’s
          twenty should be plenty
               remember to bring home change!"

when turning from the counter
my tray full of dinner two boys approach
“are you alone?”
     “yes” my shy voice trembles
     (knowing "yes" is the wrong answer)

and then they are gone
leaving me alone with dinner
sweat tickling down my neck

(65 minutes ago)

i do what i always do locked in routine

"grab dinner before coming home
	     mcdonald's is next door"

i walk out of the cathedral church of st. paul
stone steps carved from boston's downtown
breathing in crisp fall air
choir practice hymns ringing in my ears

i am ready for dinner and the green line home

               it was wednesday

Mawu after midnight

November 3, 2016

The velvet black of after midnight
Darkness rich in new moon’s blur
A siren sing-song distant wailing
And steady humm, mechanical whir

I leave behind cool sheets for shadows
Mawu’s tendrils teasing me through
Past stovepipes puffing tufts of memories
To wispy cumulus mists of blue

Nocturnal sprites mask their dances
Sky cast grey its colors spent
Dreamscape dunes form in the distance
A dusty saddle and monochrome tent

The new moon hints but stays unseen
Pinpoint stars on horizon’s spine
Galactic dust, distant Tucana
Comet trails etch a glittering line

Further out near big bang’s edge
Where Mawu’s creation secrets hide
Upon a throne of glistening carbon
Her song in whispers buried inside

The darkness pure, ever expanding
Through her lifetime forward and back
Time spun and twirled in Escher’s loop
Midnight’s fancy drawn in black

arcata community forest

July 25, 2016

shirtless bearded hippies sail
    (by gravity’s pull down the trail)
sky high pupils a hazed hello
    (scented wakes that wave below)

around a turn lush valleys fall
    (in Swans song fog and redwoods tall)
while high above aged sequoias groan
    (and down below roots squeeze the loam)

a knife carved bench overlooks hooved passes
    (distracted horses refuge in stray grasses)
hollowed stumps house midnight flames
    (while younger trunks twirl playful games)

i climb these circles drawn in carta
    (a treasured oasis steps from eureka)
when backdrop soothes night sounds begin
    (the last drop drained to home again)

my eyes closed still where the trail begins

IMG_9166

140 characters

July 6, 2015

only one hundred and forty characters left to share a pacific ocean fog that whistles and swirls around me like chilled hands seeking warmth

a few more characters and later in darkness i’ll wrap my fingers and senses around your distant skin untouched by winter’s caverness embrace

and maybe with a message tapped i can pause your heart from its rushing to and fro and in that moment with only words steal your breath away

with each thought sent i wonder as the characters disappear silently into the sky from my hand to yours if they playfully change their shape

do the characters shift and twirl turning words and phrases into carelessly typed meaningless jumbles? or do they stay locked in rigid lines

and laugh or weep or sigh from the messages they form? or do they lie awake trembling unable to forget their part in a final anguished plea?

i can’t believe that these characters are nothing more than fleeting digital beats: easily swiped away or left unanswered in a digital stack

yet in the silence awaiting your reply i wonder whether my message strayed, hid deep inside the white noise floating between us in the night

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