A little chapbook to end a year that has been challenging in so many ways. This collection of poems came from the long months of lockdown and silence…The night is my mirror
A beautiful poem by my talented friend, Sarah Russell
by Sarah Russell
Leavings are untidy. Remembering
what you want to say as the car pulls away,
or the cell phone drops into your purse,
restraint in an embrace, the casual
see ya, when you ache for more.
There was that time my mother died—
a stiff, proud woman who did not touch.
She lay in bed, while her brothers and I
hovered. We asked if she needed a blanket,
if she wanted music, if she were hungry,
thirsty. At each offering, she jerked her head
from side to side, tight-lipped, angry.
Then the young, Hispanic hospice aide reached
out and took her hand. She knew what leavings
needed, what my mother couldn’t bring herself
to ask for, what we didn’t understand to give.
My mother sighed and held that gentle,
reassuring hand. The aide leaned in, caressed
a wisp of hair on her forehead. My mother smiled,
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– after Longfellow
The wind whispers, the wind sighs,
the dawn light brightens, a magpie cries;
amongst the gum trees tall and green
a girl becomes a faerie queen.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.
Morning settles beneath silk skies,
her reign flits by like dragonflies;
deep shadows dress the naked hill
in dusk, as faerie wings fall still.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.
Night throws a cloak; a barn owl cries,
another answers, stars blink their eyes.
The queen is gone, won’t come again;
these woods forever will remain.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.
– Ryan Stone
first published at Poetry Nook, May 2020
My poem, Clipped Wings, is up today at Eunoia Review – https://eunoiareview.wordpress.com/2020/03/06/clipped-wings/
With thanks to editor, Ian Chung.
I watch a spider spin beneath the veranda eaves. With care, it weaves the foundation from which its web will spread. Unfazed by the dust that swirls around us and stains everything red, the spider continues. Two years ago, I swore I’d never return to this town at the arse-end-of-nowhere. Now, the dry wind blows that distant vow back in my face. I’m sitting on the veranda in the same rickety rocking chair where my mum nursed me. The woman has gone. The chair remains.
Strand upon strand, the spider’s web grows while I wait. So many layers that even if you manage to slip through one, you’re still trapped fast. I wonder if the spider considers its prey, or the turmoil it leaves behind.
The web covers the entire corner of the veranda in silver now, and the spider has retreated from sight. In my pocket I can feel my sister’s letter crumpled and balled. There’s no need to reread, I know each word from the long bus ride here.
A dragonfly hovers. First near my knee, then higher. Wings drone like radio static as it investigates the web in the eaves. The late afternoon sun makes rainbows dance along its wings, and then it is caught. The web shakes with its struggles, but the spider has cast its net well. With each desperate lurch the dragonfly becomes further trapped, loses a little more fight. Soon, the rainbow disappears and the dragonfly surrenders to its fate. The spider appears and I watch it creep forward, certain that no one will intervene.
Out on the red dirt road, a rusty pickup slows. It pulls into the drive, and I can hear the tappets screaming for oil. My sister’s ginger hair fills the cab, visible even through the scum smearing the windscreen. I drag my knife from its sheath. It isn’t until they reach the veranda that my stepdad finally sees me. He drops my sister’s hand.
First published at Flash Fiction Magazine , December 2019
first published at Poetry Nook, September 2019
My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.
Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.
I watched as it rose and tried to escape, hoping it would make it. But the piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. Sweltering in the afternoon heat, I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust to ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.
“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.
A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.
I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “I’m not useless,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.
“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.
“Go home, Donny.”
Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.
I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.
I didn’t look at her.
“I said sit.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”
I did as she asked.
“Now drop your strides.”
Face burning, I complied, knowing my bare arse was crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me back around to face her.
“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”
“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”
She handed me a hatchet.
“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”
Runner up Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, June 2018
Published at Flash Boulevard, September 2019
I glanced around the vet’s office. Minimal. Functional. Sterile. No windows. The only light flickered down from a strobe overhead. The neon globe emitted a low-register hum that battered against the tension already building near the base of my skull. If it was causing my head to ache, I figured it must sound even worse to the sensitive ears of Zeus, the German shepherd sitting on the tile floor beside me.
I lowered a hand to one of Zeus’s ears and began to stroke it. Zeus pushed into my leg in pleasure. “It’s alright, mate,” I said. Which was about as far from the truth as possible.
The single door to the small room opened and a woman in a white coat entered. Tall and athletic, her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. From behind expensive-looking glasses, she considered me for a moment before she spoke. “How is he with needles, Officer? Do you want a muzzle?”
I looked down at the six-year-old shepherd, seeing instead the eighteen-month-old pup Zeus had been when we were first partnered together. Those initial weeks before we’d established a bond had been hell. For all his size, Zeus had been terrified of the injections required of all new police dog recruits. Zeus had nipped and scratched and fought to avoid his inoculations—my hands still bore a few faded scars to prove it.
I’d worked hard to desensitise Zeus to the process. After some trial and error, I eventually stumbled across a fix in the unlikely form of a Bic ballpoint pen. I discovered that pressing a pen to Zeus’s neck, nib retracted, and then clicking the end button to extend the nib, resembled the needle experience. Zeus had a high tolerance to pain. It was more the sensation of force on his neck while he was restrained that frightened him.
Over months and years, it became a constant in our life together. Before he was allowed to play with his Kong, Zeus had to lie down and remain calm while I pressed the pen to his neck and clicked the pen nib out and in a couple of times. Zeus soon associated the experience with the promise of chewing his Kong, and the struggles and nips ceased.
“Officer? Would you like me to get a muzzle?” the vet repeated.
I snapped back to the present and looked down at Zeus. “No. Zeus doesn’t mind. Thank you.”
“Are you ready?”
I signalled for Zeus to drop, and went down onto a knee beside him. I wrapped an arm around his neck, conscious of the strong heartbeat pumping beneath thick fur. I nodded, not trusting my voice.
The vet took out a large syringe full of green liquid and expertly found a vein.
Zeus didn’t flinch. I looked into his brown eyes, recognised the implicit trust that existed, the knowledge that we’d done this together a thousand times before. That everything would be fine.
Only this time was different. Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord, was quickly eating its way through my courageous police dog. Any day now he could wake up paralysed. I wouldn’t let that happen.
Zeus turned his head briefly, looking for his Kong, and then closed his eyes. He rested his head on my hand, deciding he’d hunt for it after a quick nap.
I’m excited to announce that Green Dream took out 1st place in the 2019 Flash Memoir Contest at Writer Advice.
To top it off my good friend, Sarah Russell, took out 2nd with her brilliant flash Donny, 1968.
Here’s the link if you’d like to check out all four winning entries: Writer Advice 2019 Flash Memoir Contest
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank editor, B. Lynn Goodwin at Writer Advice for the wonderful job she does hosting a range of great competitions and writing resources on her site.
I’m excited to have my flash piece Dog Fight published at Matter Press. Thank you to editor, Randall Brown.
I love this review of the recently released collection of poetry by my talented friend, Sarah Russell – Scintilla review
I’ve read many of Sarah’s poems individually, and also this collection as a whole. It’s a powerful collection, nicely summarized by this review.
Purchase details and lots of beautiful writing can be found on Sarah’s site, here – Sarah Russell Poetry
Congratulations, Sarah 🙂