House of the Burning Prairie Come into my house, let me tell you a story.

Muse

I am the secret you keep, the lie you tell,

the name whispered in the dark.

I am your escape, your adventure,

the streak of red against your grey life.

 

There are no secrets, no lies between us,

you’ve told more than you intended.

I can be your refuge, your strength,

the hand you reach for in the night.

 

Yet you flinch, shrink back in fear,

like a burned child, scared of the fire.

Have courage in your heart, in your mind,

a good woman stands waiting.

Still

The man’s kiss still lingers on my lips,

His rough whiskers still brush against my skin.

My hands still caress his soft hair,

My pulse still races from his hands on my body.

His mouth is still warm against my breast,

His scent still infuses my brain.

My back still arches in pleasure,

My breath still catches in my throat.

 

I still dream of lying in his arms,

His long legs still wrapped around me.

Every nerve is still raw, still open,

Still wanting his touch.

My heart still aches from missing him,

He still inhabits my thoughts.

I still wonder if I mean as much to him,

And I still doubt it.

Pas de Deux

They circled one another in a delicate, years-long dance. Centimeter by centimeter, they edged closer and closer. One day they touched, and it was glorious!

She was surprised at his height, but pleased. Short men made her feel defenseless. Men tall enough to loom over her made her feel sheltered, protected. Wrapping her arms around his neck hadn’t been easy—she’d had to stand en pointe. What she had wanted to do was wrap herself, arms and legs, around him and feel his lips on hers. Instead, she embraced him and the power of that embrace would live with her forever.

His strong arms enfolded her, pressed her into him, and the world stopped. For those stolen moments, nobody else existed. The two of them stood alone in their tiny world, its only denizens. He released her from his arms and body and the larger world around them snapped back into place. She was shaken and put her hand on his arm, both to gain steadiness on unsteady feet and to continue touching him.

They sat and talked for hours. She loved the sound of his voice, low and melodic. Time began a strange dance of its own. Had she been talking to him for only minutes or had days passed since that first embrace? But time righted itself when he made motions to leave. A slight panic set in, she wanted more of him, more of his touch, more of his voice. And then he embraced her again.

The second embrace was as potent as the first; the strength of such a gentle man shook her again. Loathe to end the embrace, she leaned into him and he put his arm around her shoulders. She laid her head against him and he laid his cheek on her hair. She laced her tiny fingers with his long, deft ones. There, tucked against him, she felt at peace. His touch felt like home.

When their time had ended, as all such times do, he held her hand and led her to her car. One last embrace before parting, she stood flat on her feet, wrapped her arms around his waist, and laid her ear against his chest. She could hear and feel the drumbeat of his heart. Being in his arms felt natural and good; they had fallen so easily into this dance!

Later, she was most pleased to discover that he had felt the same way! Her pulse quickened at his words and she told him her truth. She was free to be with him; her marriage bonds weren’t shackles, they were pliable and strong, and built to bend and dance with her movements.

But he could not be with her. A decision had to be made since their relationship couldn’t move forward; they decided to remain simply friends. She wanted him so badly, in her bed, in her body, but losing that possibility was small compared to the heartbreak that would follow if she had to stop knowing him.

Being just his friend again, she wondered, how would that look? How would that feel? Would she be able to touch him, even a little? Could they embrace? She didn’t know, but she suspected not. They both had such earth-shaking reactions when in each other’s arms that she feared to be so bold again.

The future was unclear, but she knew that in order to be happy he had to be in her life. And she would do whatever it took, make any sacrifice needed, and stifle her deepest desires, to keep him there.

Corazón

Treacherous heart, it lurches

and hammers at the sound of your voice,

and aches at the sight of your face.

 

My blood thrums and purrs at your touch,

driven through veins by my engine heart.

Ignited by the spark in your hands.

 

I am never cold, this flaming heart

is the blast furnace at my core,

warming all that surrounds it.

 

Arias and laments burst forth

from my singing heart, spiraling in

an angels’ and demons’ chorus.

 

The taste of your skin on my tongue,

salt and sweet, spins my dancing heart

in mad pirouettes and arabesques.

 

The devil’s heart beats in my breast,

betraying me, dooming me.

Would that I could live on without it!

She

He looked over as she got out of the crumpled bed, her naked body gleaming white in the moonlight. She had left the curtains open again, she always did. Maybe this was a stage and the audience was out there in the night. He didn’t understand her, never had, but he couldn’t stay away when she called him. Tonight was one such night; her low, smoky voice had sent a shiver down his spine. She never said her name, she didn’t have to, he just knew.

Two words: come over. And he did, every time. Dates were broken, meetings were interrupted, lives were put on hold every time she called. Every time. She wasn’t a seductive woman; she was seduction, predation, destruction. The whole of his heart had been ripped out and his brain had become unmoored. He was lost and he loved it.

The sex was incredible, but that wasn’t it. They moved in languid concert, always anticipating what the other wanted, needed. When they were joined he knew he had her full attention, but the moment after they both came, she would roll off the bed and become a mystery once again. He rose out of the destroyed bed, sitting on the edge gathering his thoughts. He dressed and left without a word–she wanted it that way.

Shaking his head at his own folly, he got in his car and started his long drive back home. The smell of sex, the smell of her filled the car while he drove. He often thought about moving to her city, but he knew it would do no good. He had mentioned it once, moving to be near her. A look of fury tinged with fear played across her usually inscrutable face. No, you shouldn’t do that, she said, almost in a panic. For the rest of their time together she kept looking at the door, like a wild animal primed to escape a cage.

Every time he would swear to himself that it was the last time, but he was powerless when she called. One day he would change his number and not tell her, but not today, not tomorrow, someday.

Baptism-Part Two

Hiding from view,

a deep, green gully our refuge,

He kissed me, I kissed him,

a first for us both.

 

Our mouths open,

tongues timidly exploring,

Wet, hot, pulses racing,

over too soon.

 

Fleeing, scared,

furious pedaling,

Flushed cheeks and

a guilty conscience.

 

Dry, infrequent kisses

of family were no preparation.

Awkward hugs, faces turned,

scant affection, no emotion.

 

Many kisses from many mouths

followed the first.

On buses, in cars, in back rooms,

and darkened dens and bedrooms.

 

I kissed their mouths in summer,

under a merciless sun,

and in the hot, still nights,

damp with sweat and lust.

 

I kissed their mouths in fall,

under the bleachers at games,

on walks in parks, leaves underfoot,

furtive kisses in stolen moments.

 

I kissed their mouths in winter,

under mistletoe indoors, and outside

steaming the windows of their cars,

dreading the knock we knew would come.

 

I kissed their mouths in spring,

under the blooming redbuds,

in a reborn world we embraced,

shuffling off winter’s chill.

 

That first kiss lit a fire.

One that’s never extinguished,

never banked, only stoked.

The flames baptized me, inside and out.

Ecstasy

Love is a dark angel beguiling,

drawing me in,  seducing me.

It beckons me to dance to its music,

to give in to this temptation.

 

It touches lightly my scars,

I open myself to this fevered bliss.

Lie on my back,

bare my breasts and throat.

 

Love holds me and takes flight,

enfolding  me with soft wings.

It is an intoxicating thing,

This libertine.

 

Love always brings wild kisses,

heated whispers, entwined bodies, passionate sighs.

I am a hedonist,

because I crave these pleasures.

 

Lead me to the side of my love,

to his strong embrace, to his warm bed.

I will gladly abandon myself

to this rapture, this ecstasy.

Drifter

The loose board creaked as Ruth stepped out onto the porch. Have to get Cletus to fix that, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time. She touched the back of one hand to her forehead and pulled the cheap cotton of her dress away from her chest with the other. So hot already and not even noon, she was pleased the housework was done. Of course, it was a lot easier with her new daughter-in-law to help. Odell had picked such a fine girl; Mary was pretty and delicate-looking, but she was a farm-girl and bred to hard work.

Cletus, Odell and the hired man were cutting and baling hay, she couldn’t see them but every so often their voices would drift in on the hot August breeze. They would come in for lunch soon and probably eat on the wide, shaded porch. It was too hot in that house even with the windows open and all the box fans running. It wouldn’t be so hot in the house that Odell and Mary were building, on the parcel of land she and Cletus gave them for a wedding present. They were putting in central heat and air, no window units or floor furnaces for them.

“Ruthie,” said Mary, in her deceptively dainty voice, “I brought you some tea.” Iced, of course. They sat down on the flowered cushions she’d made not just to keep legs from frying on the hot metal chairs, but also to hide the rusty patches Cletus hadn’t fixed yet. Mary didn’t sit for long, that child never did. This time she jumped up to hang a load of wash on the line to dry.

Mary pinned the sheets and towels to the line and dreamed about the many, many loads of wash she would hang on the clothesline behind her very own house. Not that she didn’t like Cletus and Ruthie, she did, but she just wanted to set up her own home. She couldn’t wait to hang the curtains she was making and to put the dishes just where she wanted them. They would get a lot of the work done this winter and maybe by this time next year she would be in her own house, perhaps with a baby on the way.

Ruthie was looking forward, too. Not that she didn’t like having Odell and Mary in her home, she did, but she was looking forward to having fewer people underfoot. And the thought of spending some of the hottest afternoons in air conditioning surely did have its appeal, so much the better with grandbabies to hold. It would be easy since their parcel of land, and the new house taking shape on it, was directly across the gravel road that ran in front their property.

“There, those should dry real quick in this heat, then I can hang Odell’s shirts,” the younger woman said, sitting down again. But for now, for a moment, there was nothing else to do. Nothing to wash or scrub, no meals to get, no men to fuss over, no buttons to sew back on, no gardening to do, no dogs to feed. Nothing to do but sit a spell. It was such a rare occurrence in a country wife’s day that they took full advantage.

Sitting on the porch, looking at the house-in-progress or at some point off in the distance, they didn’t notice him at first. The young man walking eastwards on the road spotted them and waved. Ruthie waved back but Mary didn’t; she was still too newly married to be comfortable waving at strange men. He took her wave as the welcome it was and picked his way across the cattle grate. The women took his measure as he walked the long driveway.

Kind people would call him slender, but he was plain scrawny. He wasn’t as tall as Mary first supposed, it was his skinny build that made him seem taller. To Ruthie, he looked the way cows did when they were malnourished and hopped up from her chair and ran to get him Cletus’ lunch. In her mind, Mary compared the young man to Odell and found him wanting. After a life spent cattle farming, Odell was strong and self-assured; he knew who he was and his place in the world. Their guest was little more than bones-his clothes hung awkwardly on his body and his face, well with some weight he might be handsome. But his skin, Mary thought, looked like it was pulled too tight over his high cheekbones and squared jaw, it looked like it hurt. All she said aloud was, “Hi.”

Ruthie returned with a sandwich and tea. “It’s not fancy, but it’s good. I can make Cletus one later.”

He thanked her and ate his sandwich, occasionally closing his eyes and smiling, but not speaking until it was gone. He thanked them for the meal, the first he’d had in two days, and stood to walk on. Ruthie brushed aside his protests and told him to stay in the shade and finish his tea. So he did just that, taking the opportunity to study his hostesses.

One young, one not so young, both dressed in simple cotton dresses. The young one was pretty and friendly, but no more than that. No coy glances, no preening, no stray touch to his arm, no sultry invitation to sin. He could hear a male voice in the distance every so often, and she would smile off that way. The voice of her husband, no doubt. He watched the not so young one; she must have been a beauty once, he could see a ghost of pretty on her worn face. She had seen good years and lean, and never once wavered in her love of her man and her land. That much he could also see in her face. The women seemed so good and true, so steady and strong; their brows had never been troubled with duplicity, only honest worry.

The older woman wore shoes that his grandmother called brogans, but the younger one’s feet were bare and white on the weathered, gray boards. Wisps of hair escaped their braids and clung wetly to Mary’s face and neck; a trickle of sweat made its way down her throat and into undergarments only barely obscured by her dress. He looked away, not wanting to want what he could never have. If only.

If only all the women in his life had been like these two. A futile wish, he knew, but he couldn’t help but wish it. His mother, too young when she had her bastard child, was killed by another woman, over a man of course. His grandmother never let a day pass when she didn’t remind him of his status as burden. After leaving home at 15, he found himself involved with bad woman after bad woman. How different his life would’ve been. To be raised by a woman like the older one and bed down with a woman like the younger one, he would not be the thing he was now.

“I have to get back on the road,” he said, standing quickly.

Ruthie stood when he did, “Wait,” she said. She opened the screen door and retrieved a bag from inside. “Here you go, young man, enough to get you through at least tomorrow. You dropped your pack by the driveway, if you have a canteen you can fill it at the well.”

Which he did. The women waved at him and he waved back. And the killer walked on. Working his way east, leaving what remained of the brightly-painted bad women in his wake. And those good women would never know how close they came to death. Oh, not from him, after meeting Ruthie and Mary, something in the killer broke. It felt like a bad fever breaking in the night, leaving him weakened and sweating, but free of infection. His freedom solidified later that night in a hobo camp.

There was another drifter there like him. Not one of life’s wanderers like the hobos, but another Very Bad Man. The evil that used to live inside the young man must have resonated like a tuning fork as it left him, and this Very Bad Man could feel it. He confided, deliciously, about two women he had been watching for a time and what, in painful detail, he would do to them at first chance. The young man knew that the Very Bad Man meant the two women, his two women, and kept watch.

Later that night, the Very Bad Man crept from camp headed west. The young man followed him and killed him. He wiped the lead pipe clean and stuck it in the other man’s pack, then he found a good-sized rock and laid the man’s head on it. It was possible that the cops would think him responsible for the other killings and close all the cases. But he wouldn’t stick around to find out. It was still possible to disappear into the mountains and live like a hermit and that is what he did.

The next day the sheriff paid the farm a visit. “Seems like a bum died just up the road from here,” he told them. He didn’t tell them about the lead pipe or that the bum seemed to be headed towards their house. No need to scare them.

Ruthie had to see if it was the young man they’d fed the day before; he had seemed troubled and left in a hurry. When she saw the man, she was relieved. She would never know that she had a guardian angel, and that the angel was a killer.

 

Repair

Love is a shaman healing,

laying its hands on me.

It tells me to have faith,

to stand strong and believe.

 

It sews the veins closed,

it fills the holes in my heart.

Covers me, shields me,

while I recover my strength.

 

Love kisses my mouth

and lifts me to my feet.

It is a kind thing,

this protector.

 

Love always brings relief,

healing, shelter, rescue.

I am a supplicant,

because I crave this solace.

 

Lead me to the soft landing,

the calm waters, the cool forest.

I will gladly give myself

to this mercy, this repair.

Ghost Child

There are ghosts in my House, but I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve always averred that “Dead folks have got better things to do than hang out in my kitchen!” And I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal. I’d love to think that all sorts of fantastical spirits and creatures inhabit the world with us! Fairies, monsters, demons, Bigfoot, aliens, unicorns, dragons, and vampires would make this a much more interesting place. But, alas, they don’t exist.

Sometimes I think ghosts and hauntings belong in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster, a fanciful notion but non-existent. Except, there are ghosts in my house. Ghosts I’ve seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears despite my disbelief. Am I seeing and hearing the spirits of the dead? I don’t know, but I do know that I am sane and I can trust my senses.

We’ve heard the ghosts in our House for a long time: strange noises from the kitchen, phantom doors opening and closing, our names whispered in the darkness. And we’ve seen them, both of them. There is a black shadow person, well over six feet tall, and a white, misty child-sized one. Shadow Man likes to peek around doorways and stand in corners, and he is the one who whispers my name.

One night, not too long ago, I had trouble sleeping and arose in the wee hours of the morning. I tried going back to sleep on the couch in the living room and just as I was drifting off I heard, “Prairie” (actually my real first name) whispered in my ear. There was a slight puff of breath, an exhalation that ruffled my hair. I thought it was Mr. Prairie needing me for some reason. I turned my head to look at him and he wasn’t there. The room was dark but there was a tall, slender deeper darkness next to the couch that quickly dissipated. Sleep utterly fled at that point.

Last night, after the kids were tucked in bed and presumably asleep, Mr. Prairie and I both heard a child singing and playing and laughing. Certain that my daughter was out of her bed and playing, I crept silently down the hall. Oddly, the sound of laughter got no louder the closer I got to my daughter’s room. I opened her door to find the child fast asleep, her room quiet. Then I walked to my son’s room thinking he may be out of bed and playing on his computer. Another opened door, another sleeping child. The laughter was gone and I stood in the hall willing the sound to return, to be normal. I noticed there was an impossible chill in that hall, every door off the hall was closed and I felt no errant breeze.

I think I heard the small, misty spirit at play, while the living children slept. We don’t know who this ghost child is or from whence it came. We live on the site of an old farm; perhaps the ghost came with the land and not the house. Or maybe, more likely, we are hearing the echoes of the past still resonating here in the present.

My own ghosts haunt my heart, things and people lost to me, and time. So it comes as no surprise to live in a haunted house, even though I don’t believe in ghosts.