Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached email@example.com.
Grasses undulate in a freshening breeze,
prairie roiling much like a huge animal
shivering its fur as it wakes and stretches;
tactile ululations announcing another dawn.
Two wild geese spotted heading east into
a winter sunrise – “red sky at morning,
sailors take warning” – wondering if
birds squint against such brightness.
Honking is at first call-and-response
then one voice skips a beat, retrieves
timing so they clack and flap in unison
until they drown below the horizon.
Wandering across this open prairie
without a deadline or a destination, I
encounter what was once a machined,
futile attempt to prevent free passage:
A long fence-line of barbed wire, two
strands in most places, three or four in
others, slackened, no longer stretched
taut, fixed on splintered wooden posts,
Some of which, being decayed with rot at
bottom along a seam of high-water mark
or where snowmelt each spring, leaves
only amputated stumps dangling askew.
Now I focus on this distraction from
my view of subtly-hummocked high-
plains steppe rich in wild, late-winter-
wheat in a face caressed with ravines.
It was a barrier once meant to restrain
the have-nots from the land of the haves,
or to sever from sheep and to cleave to
cattle, or just to quarter and contain land.
What was once open-range, performs now
as gaming platform for hawks to plunder
small darting prey with zeal across this divide
fallen in disrepair since cowboys no longer
Ride the fence-line repairing breaks in company
with their lonesome memories; and tufts of
hair or fur or cloth caught on barbs have mostly
rotted away and an occasional plastic bag
Signals surrender to the spurs, as it flutters
or droops from the wire as weather demands.
The slow squeal of a windmill down an arroyo
spins tales of vacancy and loss as it draws up
Water from a receding aquifer, slurping slowly
into an oblong tin tub roofed in moss and skaters.
Avian, animal and reptile tracks crisscross the muddy
overflow; though, unlike the intent of the barbed wire,
This miniature oasis serves as treaty-land of sorts,
bequeathed by an age submerged long past beneath
a winding-sheet of natural grasses covering the
slow bleed-out of a land once verdant and fertile.
Above the windmill and the water trough,
at the end of a footpath grown indistinct,
on a trailer without tires, sits a shipwrecked
sailboat with a hole in its hull that pleads a
tale of the vessel’s demise, but settles to
serve instead as landlocked houseboat for
casual habitués of this vast sea of grass in
no need of man as mariner or marauder.
Hospice, Home Harbor
Continents drift together, bruises colliding
colorfully – blue, black, green, yellow –
enlarging from the sites of self-injections;
her body at war with itself, ravaging the
victorious along with the vanquished,
and here is so little a neutral country
can do, neutered by frustration, fear,
expectant loss – ignored for all that.
She, so weak, so faint, nauseous, and
I, massaging islands of flesh trying to
liberate the pain of her civil war, am
too late to redeem pawned promises,
seeking forgiveness for unspoken sins,
which won’t salve the other’s wounds.
Persistently, land masses flow together,
expanding across the world of her body,
eclipsing the smooth paleness that was
my map to pleasure her when younger;
as I remember her streaming body
awash with seas of sweat after sex
under a fallow moon at seventeen,
seen through eyes of remembrance,
though now seventy, awaiting results –
tests and consultations – facing the
global apocalypse fast approaching.
And I, too, am defeated at war’s end.
Cutting the throat of night, the
sky bleeds across the horizon;
or, viewed differently, the life’s
blood of day seeps into earth.
Three plums depend from a gnarled branch,
a pawnbroker’s marquee inviting the curious:
come and browse or bite, surrender to appetite,
redeem recollections of sumptuous fruit, and
knock down the seeds next to the birdbath,
cycling the seasons for each new generation.
Peeking through the window
like an avian voyeur, an
observer of birds at bath;
giddy watching sparkles
from feathered splashes;
no other reference – phantasms:
Flashback of the bow-spray,
rail down on a catboat at 10;
sweat pooling between her
breasts at each breath at 17
beneath a summer moon;
an accretion of memories.
Things of nature, as well as men,
possess their own philosophies.
Suddenly, aloft, accusations begin with raucous chirping:
Tiny yellow bird, seen distantly, canary or perhaps parakeet –
hectored by several ravens and a single adolescent hawk –
plunges into a rose bush forest to escape hostile intentions.
Being different seems as subject to attack among avian
as among human; perhaps birds, too, have differences of
religious beliefs or are merely organized as against song.
Unknown whether the butter-feathered bird escaped or not,
but the predators, sated with indignation, drifted away, and
such drama before breakfast prepares me for morning news.
Perhaps God’s Nuts
There have been too many ways
by which God or god or gods
have been characterized.
Perhaps it is not too bizarre to
personify the universal creator
as a paranoid schizophrenic.
Did (s)he start all this with a big bang,
accelerating towards an unimaginably
immobile and frozen entropy; or,
is such a big bang decelerating
towards nil only to then crumple
into a super-heated singularity?
So then what? –
Unfolding again in a parallel manner
with the same or similar outcome? –
or, perhaps collapsing again to a nullity,
a nothing, from out of which it,
this universe, originally burst
into being or, another chance, -
collapsing on through such a
singularity, punching out
to another dimension?
It seems likely that such
a schizophrenic architect
has multiple psychoses,
any of which, or in combination,
may sketch the dawn and death of
stars or entire galactic assembles, of
black holes or obscure dark matter.
All of this presupposes that
such an unstable author
partakes in the busyness of this
one universe, let alone the prospect of
meddling in a multiverse simultaneously.
Conceivably, we are all nuts; merely
the rant, the paranoid imaginings of
God or god or gods at tragic play.