You came, Harlan, to Rochester somewhere in an endless winter, “Ellison in Tundraland” you said. We all chuckled approvingly.
You said a short prayer climbing into the rusting Opel, sliding on the edge of oblivion, and the approaching snowplow.
You stood, hoarse, smelling of Borkum Riff and English Leather, a tweed jacket over a polo shirt and thinning jeans and told us of the insanity of television, a medium pandering to idiots. We nodded, hoping you would finish before the Star Trek rerun.
We sat in Pat and Sandy’s as you consumed two orders of fries, and a dwindling bowl of ketchup. Later we sat in the Rat, staring at the empty bottles of Boone’s Farm until you took pity and ordered two pitchers. You were our patron saint.
Solzynitsyn was exiled to a cabin in Vermont, staring as the leaves greened and fell under winter. You served your banishment in the land of lost souls, miles from any reality.
First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)
Take one part Grand Marnier, one Frangelico, a short cup of coffee, whipped cream only if you wish, curl on the sofa with your life’s greatest love and your first real, truly your first Christmas Eve makes you wonder why you waited so long.
First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)
If I were a character in a novel, say by Kawabata, that evening we met twenty years ago, I would have placed my hand lightly on your shoulder, and I would have felt a heat, embers of a passion that would, in hours, leave me consumed by it.
I was a middle-aged, soon to be divorced man on his first date in thirty years, imagine a teenager knowing what not to do, but with no idea of what to do save chatter and periodically gaze at his shoes.
I was, as the evening progressed, bold enough to take your hand, and hoped that my fear and anxiety might be mistaken as romantic, or bold and daring, anything but the reality that was consuming me.
We’ve been together twenty years, and as I read Kawabata again, I recall those first moments, but in this revised edition it was your passion I felt in that first touch, a flame that consumes me to this day.
The clouds this evening are the deep gray that so long to be black, but the retreated sun just below the horizon lingers long enough to deny them.
The space, shrinking, between the clouds, is the gray of promise that the night will soon deny, and the birds who take over the preserve, chant their vespers, each in his or her own language, uncommon tongues singing their hymn punctured, punctuated by the flapping of wings, as the night encloses us in a cocoon that will carry us into the coming morning.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
So many of the late arrivals tonight are egrets, the Cattles long in among the reeds and brush sharing space, only reluctantly, with the ibis.
It is their snowy cousins who arrive as the horizon is a fading band of orange gold dissipating under the faint, unyielding eye of Venus, and seem shocked when they are turned away with flap of wing and cry, warned by the perching anhinga that in this preserve the inn fills quickly, and in January there is no nearby manger to be found, so you’d best make avian friends, for morning arrives all too quickly enough.