Outside my mind, his breath is shallow;
I see him gasping for air,
his emaciated chest rising and falling.
Some days—no, many— I let him in.
I feed him, clothe him, let him soak in the bath.
I would not want him to suffer.
And yes, some days—no, many—
I let him spend the night.
You might think this would satisfy him,
rekindle his desire for independence,
and sometimes, it does.
Then, I am satisfied, my good deed committed.
I have saved a life.
as darkness turns
like the razor’s edge
she sets in quick under a bright sky
when I want them to fade quickly
Not to play the victim
or take one little fall
between spaces where
human traits reveal themselves
where pride falls to the floor
nothing to separate us
from the weak
The sun is crackling
now on granite boulders
piled in disarray
as frozen in mid-shift
as molten immobility
and heat is oozing up
to drive the cave bears
from fiery crevices
to claw at stones
and scorch their paws
then roar in helpless rage
at the inescapable
They slice the air
to swipe at me
me seated on the flat
and only mossy stone
out of reach
for only now
Snakes are seething
on their bellies
pissed and breathing
spit from hell
for taste of flesh
they look at me
with threatening eyes
a hint of death
trembles in my spine
There is no turning back
Wish what I will
there’s nothing for it
but to bear the heat
thread the needle up
up the path serpentine
and trust in possibility
of blue-skyed Golden Sun
Only the dragon
rousing underneath the rocks
cocks his ear in pleasure
at the mounting fire
(brother to his sister Phoenix)
flame is fuel
to wings that would be spread
And as I remember Icarus
the dragon tells me
fire put to proper ore
with heavenly alchemy
creates the glowing crucible
kindles rising pressure
from the coal
______________________________________________________________________________________________________ Greg Bell writes because he must. A critical illness finally roused him to publish in 2013. He’s since placed work in literary journals & anthologies and was the 2019 recipient of the Kowit Poetry Prize. He’s the author of the hybrid poetry collection Looking for Will: My Bardic Quest with Shakespeare (Ion Drive, 2015) and two award-winning plays:  Says he, ‘We are the witnesses, the Jiminy Crickets, the agents of change’;  let’s go!
Image Credit: Diamond-cut wallpaper abstract [itl.cat] spanning colors to symbolize the red hot stress of adversity to the cool blue of hope
To understand the ocean
I would have to lie
on the sand and
let it scratch my skin
until it was smooth
then I would bury my arms
and let the sandweight
take my bones and
knit my flesh to itself
my legs would grow holes
and turn inside out
my chest would sink in
to the deep moist layer
where treasures are kept
my ears would dissolve
and say hello to my eyes
my nose, curious at the change
would scent danger
then wonder when
the fog would come
from across the world
when the tides would visit
and offer me to the moon
when I would wash from the shore
blink with my big new eyes
at the waves
my tender gills
learning to breathe
in a new kind of school
Grandfather lives with eleven cats in a small house with a roof of red ceramic tiles in a piney forest in the Bohemian Highlands of Czechoslovakia.
The names of the cats are painted on the sides of their dishes: Pirate and Irsko, Kůku and her sister Luna, Kázi and Quinn, Honza, Nely, Arra, Zlatka, and Little Čiča,
Every three days, Grandfather puts on his boots and goes into the woods to hunt for mushrooms. His father and his father’s father taught him how to look for them, hiding among the roots of trees or under logs. He looks out of the corners of his eyes and walks on his toes so the mushrooms don’t hear his clumsy human self-thumping, for they would hide.
The eleven cats sit at the windows and wait for him, whispering among themselves in the language of whisker quivers, ear twitches, and tail flicks. They aren’t allowed to go outside because they will eat baby birds.
When Grandfather returns, he places most mushrooms to dry on a plank. Cats meow at his feet. He slices the rest and puts them in a pot of water with salt, caraway seeds, a little butterfat, and an egg he stole from the chicken.
While he cooks, eleven cats rub themselves against Grandfather’s legs, and cry.
“Wait a minute, you damn cats!” He spoons out the mushroom stew into their cat dishes and gives himself a good portion.
That Saturday at 5 AM, Grandfather puts two baskets filled with dried wild mushrooms on his bicycle. He tells the cats “Behave yourselves.” He rides into the nearby town to sell the mushrooms in the marketplace.
Eleven cats sit at the windows and wish him success because they know that if he sells the mushrooms he can buy food for himself, and them.
Because it is a long ride, Grandfather stays for two days with his daughter, who lives in the town with her husband, two children, two dogs, and a goat in the backyard.
In the house in the forest, when the sun is up, the cats go outside through a secret cat door. They go to a shed hidden in the woods. In the shed is a keg of beer. The cats take down little beer mugs from a long, low shelf and fill up their mugs with delicious beer they have brewed themselves from hops grown in a clearing in the forest.
They drink and drink and laugh and tell each other lies about birds and mice they have caught and the sex they have had.
They drink and drink some more for two days and two nights, then go back to the house and run around. Cups and knickknacks fall off the shelves and break. They throw up and pee in the corners. They empty the small refrigerator of salami and chicken cutlets.
Eleven cats fall asleep and snore.
Grandfather comes home at dusk with money from selling the mushrooms.
He can smell rancid beer from a ways away and he knows that once again, those damn cats have been drinking and left the house in a mess!
Grandfather puts the bike away out of the rain, and hangs the baskets on a hook. He goes into the house where he sees eleven drunk cats with their feet in the air; their tails hanging over counters; their mouths open and drooling, leaves in their fur and spiderwebs on their whiskers.
Grandfather slams the door and eleven cats jump to their feet and puff themselves out. Grandfather yells: “JežíšiMarjáJosefe! You damn cats! How many times have I told you to keep your drinking in the shed? You think I don’t know! You are the most disgusting awful mangy cats in the world and I should throw you out into the cold piney forest to be eaten by weasels!”
Grandfather gets a broom and waves it at the cats. He rages and swats the walls and stomps around.
Eleven cats look at Grandfather with their eyes wide and their fur settling down. They smile cat smiles and jump off the counter or chair or table or shelves or bread box or refrigerator and run around jumping and leaping, trying to trip Grandfather.
Grandfather waves the broom and swats Kazi, the big ginger, and Honza, the fluffy tuxedo… but not too hard.
Grandfather gets tired because he has ridden his bike for two hours. He is not young anymore. He uprights a chair and slowly sits down and sighs.
The cats, who have been hiding under the sink, the stove, the sofa, and in the pantry, slither close to the chair and rub themselves against Grandfather’s legs. They meow for dinner.
Grandfather looks down and pets the cats and says, “I don’t know why I keep you around. You are nothing but trouble trouble trouble. This time you broke the little porcelain shepherd girl my daughter gave me. You are very lucky that I hate it. Very very lucky. Damn cats. Now you just wait for dinner!”
Grandfather gets the broom and a dustpan and sweeps up the broken pieces of knickknacks. Then he takes out some delicacies he purchased in the town market. He takes his time, carefully measuring out portions for eleven cats into eleven bowls.
Grandfather’s dinner is sandwiches his daughter made for him. He takes a bottle of beer from the refrigerator that the cats didn’t open (because then they would really be in trouble!).
After dinner he goes and sits on the porch to smoke his pipe and think about where he can go mushroom hunting tomorrow.
After dinner, Grandfather’s cats clean their little faces and lick off the leaves and spiderwebs. Pirate and Irsko, Kůku and her sister Luna, Kázi and Quinn, Honza, Nely, Arra, Zlatka, and Little Čiča pile in a big chair—a large furry orange, black, brown, white, gray, and striped pile—fall asleep and dream of catching birds in the forest.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Image Credit: Artwork for the story-poem created by Rhea Ewing
The skeleton trees of Washington Square disguise themselves. Autumn’s dusk finds their spirits reanimated, relishing October’s constellations — Aquarius, Grus, Lacerta. Octans, Pegasus — lassoing celestial light.
Harvesting perfumes the air, redolent of that fruity must of grapes, butterscotched foam of ale, fermented snap of apple cider, cinnamon sting of hot pumpkin pies, and surrounds these skeletal entities, soothing them with familiar fragrances. But their obedience is to the dark side, for which they’ve preened in preparation, schooled by memories of nooses, hangmen, suicides, murders — mankind’s antagonistic epilation of bark amid nature’s slow reparations.
Seasonal frivolities by trick-or-treaters or costumed revelers preoccupy ordinary citizens who fail to notice Scorpio’s brazen mischief set loose. Long-fingered dryads bustle, magicking moonglow, fueling jack-o-lanterns’ blaze with souls of these ligatured, asphyxiated dead, haloing doorways and windows, while binge-watching the living on All Hallows Eve.