After midnight the dogs roam the yard,
our well-travelled road gone quiet.
maybe other dogs, perhaps coyotes,
their cries carry over miles.
Stars glisten from onyx heavens.
burning, burning, burning to the ground.
Why are they in such a hurry to arrive?
Mesmerized in such dark tranquility, a lone cotton tail sits, the somber Buddha.
The flash light’s snare catches red eyes aglow,
a doe, my aloof accessory, ambles by the thicket,
searching for dangling apples.
We bask in our solitude.
Spiders dabble in the darkness of maple trees, crafting webs,
intricate, circular and symmetrical,
beyond human hands.
Resting low on the evening horizon,
the half-crescent moon,
both confidante and chameleon
knows my secrets and vices,
and bears witness to words spoken in silence.
She comprehends what is better left unsaid.
A black stallion and a dappled mare
slam their bodies against the doors of the nearby barn,
wanting food or freedom.
I am not so different.
Cool, autumn air intoxicates.
Nearby wood burners salt the night with ash.
What is lost and what may be
exist like reluctant allies.
I can create any world that I want here,
for these five minutes,
possibility and hope breathe,
forgetting or accepting negotiable.
Fraudulent sunrise steals in,
clamouring for dominance, insisting on light and clarity.
The grumble of the farmer’s four-wheeler echoes through the forest.
Death robbed me of those I loved,
not stopping at one, collecting more than Its share.
Conversation eluded me.
Daily tasks confounded me.
Black bears would be the salve.
Alligator River Refuge, home to the Lost Colony of Roanoke,
the Hatteras Witch, Black Beard, and the ghost town of Buffalo City,
known for moonshining and the slaughtering of bears,
is where peace would be found.
Close to sundown, so deep in the forest,
now I haunted the old gravel mining roads,
watching and waiting.
Limbs of the loblolly pines, heavy with evening dew, lazed over an abandoned cabin,
humid air nearly suffocated all.
Howling red wolves startled a barred owl, sending it scurrying into the night.
Cicadas kept time with a deafening cry,
as a lone water moccasin slid across the swamp.
Mosquitoes bit and bit and bit,
piercing the skin, sucking blood as the sun slowly shrank from view over the Pamplico Sound.
and like dark apparitions prowling into view,
the bears appeared,
first one and then another.
Kneeling on the embankment to the thicket,
separated by only several yards,
I shared the night with these mystics,
no longer hunted in this place.
Their massive black bodies lumbered along,
fur often damp from stalking through streams.
Amber eyes blazed in the darkness.
We needed no words.
We sat across from each other without fear.
They could kill me in a heartbeat.
At times, I might let them.
They are my link to the past, something primordial, something beyond reason,
and guide me as I endure my present.
The sanctity of the wilderness offers solace to those who seek it.
I feel safest in the woods, where there is the most danger.
I can hear my thoughts.
And I know that I am not ready to leave this world just yet.
Today I didn’t get to wish you a Happy Father’s Day.
Though your arguing and grumbling are still fresh in my mind, I recall the hope for a good word here or there: proof that you were still in there, a body bruised and beaten by age and illness.
Mom wishes that you weren’t so mean toward the end.
You couldn’t help it, I tell her, not really knowing what else to say. You were sick, I tell her.
And now you’ve given me your glaucoma, a gift that keeps on giving.
That’s one present that you could have kept.
I have to ask myself if the heart issues will be far behind, not to mention the strokes.
summer, one big, horrible blur, you had me following you to more hospitals than I can count: Unholy whiffs of Clorox and urine, brightly lit hallways that seemingly went on forever,
And the pained moans from those in dark, dark rooms that I quickly walked by.
Even back on Father’s Day, you were hospitalized.
I remember tossing the card that I bought for you into the closet, thinking that I’d send it to you this year.
It couldn’t be sent.
I bought a card for a guy that I met in a bar in North Carolina, who said that he collected daughters, as he was always helping out a stranded surfer girl or another, and his daughters were grown, and his wife was deceased.
But I couldn’t send it.
There really is no replacing you or letting another hold space for you.
You drove me crazy when you’d throw paper wrappers from straws out the car window.
I think you tried to crush my shoulders when you hugged me.
You embarrassed the hell out of me one time in particular when you were in the hospital, demanding that my best friend—formerly a nurse there but now an administrator—come and take care of you.
But I loved you.
You taught me how to tie a bow with the strings on the apron of my Mrs. Beasley doll.
You took me mud running in Snake Hollow, and we had to walk that bike home when we ran out of gas.
You told me everything would work out when I told you that I thought for sure that I’d flunked a philosophy test in college. (I didn’t.)
You even tried to put my first marriage back together again. (But I think you liked the second husband better.)
Mom always tells you to have a good day in heaven.
I hope you did, Dad. I hope you did.
When you least expect it, they show up.
I’m not talking about apparitions, poltergeists, or things that crash in the night.
But what catches my attention are the spirits.
I stand, stare, in stunned disbelief, making a fool out of myself.
The saying everyone has a twin comes to mind, but the differences are always so slight.
That’s probably just to keep us grounded, to stop us from becoming completely unhinged.
As near as I can tell, there are two figures wandering the streets of this town,
Both the spitting image of my father.
The first embodiment I’ve seen a few times—always on my way to church:
There’s Dad, I’ll say: The ball cap, cane, walking shorts, plaid button-down, short-sleeved shirt, and always, always, the white athletic socks pulled up nearly to the knees.
I giggle, thinking that somehow, I’ve made my father proud of me, knowing that
I’m still trying to be a good Catholic.
I saw the second one yesterday, smack dab in the middle of Kroger.
Poor elderly fellow must have thought I was a Manson sister or worse.
Even a sense of good manners couldn’t alter my gaze.
The hair slicked back with whatever the modern equivalent is these days of Vitalis,
The tell-tale white hearing aids protruding over the ear lobe,
The grizzled face and grim countenance of a man who didn’t smile much in later years,
The brown pants and dress jacket worn even in August, even on a morning of 70 degrees.
I was so taken aback that I filmed the unsuspecting soul with my cell phone to show my husband.
Astrology, Tarot cards, rocks, and runes used to be my guides.
With every feather found, my heart would flutter.
Though I’ve stepped away from that world on my journey to inner peace, some mysteries remain.
Who am I to question a penny or dime laying directly in my path?
Saturation: The Story of a Life
Moments of desire,
the old Dry Dock bar or the Crystal,
dives with pool tables coated with Bud Light and Marlboro ash,
stolen afternoons in parking lots,
hair becomes an unruly mass of tangled curls,
Western Civ classes missed,
but the kiss that just wouldn’t stop.
Endless walks through the woods,
well-worn dirt path zig-zagging around the colossal pines,
thick tree roots exposed like bones,
a canopy of oaks and sycamores shading all that’s wrong in the world,
the never-ending piles of papers needing graded,
the judgments, the expectations, the demands, demands, demands.
A daughter’s duty.
Hospital rooms of pastel paint
and obscene wallpaper with obtuse geometrical squares,
reeking of urine and ammonia,
the beep, beep, beep of endless monitors,
mysterious calls of code yellow or code green from ubiquitous loudspeakers.
Tim Horton’s on the bottom floor as expected as the sun rising.
Reality’s relentless grip like
the strong stench of day-old coffee and stale doughnuts.
Margaritas, the raspberry, the blood orange,
the celebrations for the hospital dismissals
or the commiseration for more days,
difficulty coping, hard to see the world as any other way, agony,
short-lived joy, always taken away.
What’s it like not to have a go-bag?
falling into a slumber on the couch,
head on beloved’s lap,
one good dog in my arms,
at my feet.
Renee Williams is a retired English
professor, who has written for Guitar Digest, Alien Buddha Press and Fevers of
the Mind. Her
Renee Williams is a retired English professor, who has written for Guitar Digest, Alien Buddha Press and Fevers of the Mind. Herphotography can be seen in this year’s Corolla Wild Horse Fund calendar and on the cover of the 2023 calendar.
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