of primrose and artemisia,
of white moon flower,
and bind them with ribbons
of lace-edged shadow.
Bead your wrists and ankles
with silver starlight
and weave its tendrilled glow
into a wreath to illumine your hair.
Persistent as tide,
rhythmic as heart-beat —
absorb the pulsing, night-song chorus
of cicada and cricket,
of fox and owl,
through the pores of your skin.
Beg the attendance of fireflies
and dust-winged moths
to accompany you,
the Blue Moon.
The parking lot is empty; its perimeters are indistinguishable at this late hour and recede into darkness beyond my vision. Before me is a great, featureless wall of concrete, pale against the dark sky — a cement-block prison. No guards, no wires, no alarms. I enter without ceremony on a “good-will” mission.
The space within is a single, large, dimly-lit rectangle. Iron bars stretch from floor to ceiling here and there in an almost decorative fashion, without actually forming cells or enclosures of any kind. Gray-clad men of teen- and middle age fill the space — collectively, they stand very still, very calm, with hands in pockets and heads bowed. They are listless, swaying slightly in place, though they seem to note my arrival in a bleak and disinterested manner. At this moment, I realize that my scarf is missing, and I understand, to my sadness and disappointment, that one of the men has taken it. As I glance about, not one among them seems to have moved, but neither will any of them meet my eye. Each man stares at his scuffed black shoes.
Once again, I stand outside the prison, alone in the dark and empty parking lot. This time, my arms spill with scarves. I’ve brought one for each of the men within, and for the man who took my scarf, I’ve chosen one in particular — it is a length of deep, dark blue with the black silhouettes of flying birds scattered over it.
Passing through the prison’s blank facade and its purposeless iron bars, I stand amidst the men. They are slightly more animated, curious about the scarves. The birded-blue scarf passes from my hands without my knowledge. But, once my arms are emptied, my own previously stolen scarf gently encircles my neck again.
Moonless, starless, deep dark night, yet I see clearly the massive, hulking structure before me — an even darker shape, rearing up against the night sky. I crouch facing this edifice at a distance of thirty-odd feet. Despite the oppressive dark, I see tendrils of pale green grass fringing and curling against the mansion’s stone foundation, softening its hard lines.
I find myself within the mansion’s kitchen. The room is immense, lit only by a fire leaping in an enormous stone hearth. The kitchen staff is present and busy even at this late hour; altogether and at once, they lift their heads to inspect me, then return to their separate chores — tending the fire, washing up, chopping, mixing dough in large wooden bowls, kneading and rolling out loaves. The outsized room is more than large enough to accommodate the entire staff and their activities, with several lengths of trestle tables arranged in orderly rows bisecting the room’s center. I suspect the staff lives the majority of their lives confined to this room.
Although the fire’s light extends a great distance, it fades as it creeps toward the room’s perimeters, lending only enough dim warmth to hint at deep corners and a long, wide corridor jutting off straight into the dark heart of the mansion. I can barely make out this hall’s carved and paneled walls, its once thick, richly woven scarlet carpet. As I step toward the hall to better see, a woman nearest the hearth notices my intent. She seems to be in charge and, like all the staff, is dressed as if from the late 1800’s — long, full, gray skirts; high-necked, long-sleeved top; white apron; hair secured in a pile upon her head. She warns me not to leave the kitchen; that the house is dangerous at night. But her words follow me like shadow as I venture down the line of scarlet weave. Glancing left and right, I pass the darkened mouths of doors that open into even darker rooms. The dim glow of firelight seems to surround me as I walk, as if I carry its glow with me.
am instead hunched and kneeling in a small, unlit room. My knees press into plush carpet. To my left, flanked by two over-stuffed chairs, is a large, carved fireplace. This is only possible to see due to the pale, thin moonlight seeping through a tall window in the wall several paces before me; a window against which the dark shape of a trim man is faintly illumined — the Ghost. The Reason the mansion is not safe at night; the Reason the kitchen staff keeps the hearth burning and continues working deep into the night. The Ghost looks out the window with his back to me. He cups his right elbow in his left hand, strokes close-cropped beard and mustache with his right fingers. I feel the thrum of anger emanating from him like static electricity.
Fear prickles my neck and spine, and I begin sobbing, hide my face within my hands. I apologize — I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry — a choked, gut-wrenching mantra. The Ghost turns to regard me, the storm of his anger dissipating: “For what?” he asks. My apology is detailed and specific and, I hope, satisfactory.
Veering across my path,
unexpected as a sudden Summer storm —
trailing feathered cloak
of doubt and shadow.
Limbs outstretched in graceful curve,
in embrace of light and life,
she swallows both with grave mercy.
I shiver beneath her passage,
but pass, she does —
winging onward and off
to guide aloft
another restless soul.
Two months have passed — a full eight weeks — since I attended my last drawing class. The onset of May had different plans for me, and I have adjusted nicely, happily even, to those unforeseen ripples. But I do miss my class — the structure, the collection of like-minded souls gathered in that old carriage house; I miss the keen insights, constant encouragement, and infectious enthusiasm of our instructor. For the past ten or so years, my Monday mornings have been an unusual pleasure.
But I am a forgetful creature, and when my pattern becomes disrupted, I often misplace the pieces. Thus, I have not picked up a pencil for more than a quick sketch in these past two months. I have not sat before some carefully lit and arranged still life and attempted to have my hands and eyes come to agreement on what lies before me. Now, the blue ghost of doubt sits at my shoulder, as I’m sure it must for many who wish to create with their preferred tool, whether that is pencil or pen, brush stroke or lens. Uncertainty gathers, the critic is harsh — surely, the gift has fled, it was luck that it had visited at all.
So it is with some nervousness that I pull out my sketch pad — not to draw, mind you…not yet; but to glance backward, to turn those pages and peek. Half the pad is filled and blooms with color. Yes, there are missteps, and the pad holds a fair amount of incomplete drawings — I am notoriously slow and occasionally delay putting pencil to paper when I find a particular still-life daunting. In spite of this, there are drawings that surprise me — I drew that? I laid those colors over the page and coaxed that image into being? It is a relief to see, a concrete reminder that I must trust. Despite the starts and stops I may encounter — planned or otherwise — I must trust that the pencils will know their place in my hand when I pick them up again.
This forest is young, sparse, with slender trees rising, stretching, lifting their branches tentatively. Sunlight drifts and filters through the trees’ canopy. An old set of railroad tracks runs arrow-straight through this open woodland. Grass, weeds, and leaf litter finger the wooden ties and time-polished tracks, and I walk down their center, several strides behind my friend. He is an imposing figure — tall, broad of shoulder, muscled, and clothed entirely in black. Pants, shirt, sunglasses — everything about him refuses sunlight. With each pace, he increases the distance between us. It’s unlikely I’ll catch up, but I feel no sense of urgency, no need to hurry.
Eventually, the tracks emerge from the woodland. The ground here is irregular and falls away, carved out by a sinuous river that switches back and forth beneath the railroad tracks. Supporting the tracks is an elaborate structure of intersecting posts and beams and struts sunk into the river’s banks and bed. I glance down between my feet, between the thick wooden ties, watch the blue water twisting below, churning with vigor as it rushes on its course. When I look up again, I see that my friend has stepped onto a pale dirt road that runs perpendicular to the the railroad tracks. Resuming my pace, I arrive at that same point, where tracks meet road — another man waits here; he looks exactly like my friend, down to the choice of clothing. This man tells me that my friend mistakenly believes the pale road will allow him to circumvent the river and that he will be able to pick up the rail road tracks once again on the other side, but that in truth, the road eventually heads off into the mountains and circles back in the direction from which we had originally departed. I strain to see my friend, but he is now a remote and distant figure. I shout, but he’s too far away to hear me. I wave my arms, but he never glances back.
Then, to my surprise, a third man appears in the middle of the road about 50 feet away. Although his back is to me, I know that he, too, looks precisely like my friend. This third man begins walking away down the pale road’s center, but his movements are odd, mechanical. As I watch, he reaches his right hand up and back behind his neck where he grasps something firmly between his thumb and forefinger. With a slight tug, he unzips the whole of himself, from skull to spine’s base. The silver zipper teeth flash. His exterior self — clothes, skin, sunglasses — float to the dusty road as a single unit, and he steps out of and over them. Without breaking stride, he continues walking in a brand new, yet seemingly identical, version of himself, the man beside me, and my friend.