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

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.

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.

Damage

Love is a wolf chasing me

through a dark forest.

It catches me at my worst,

when I am tired and defeated.

 

I open my veins,

I open myself.

Lie on my back,

bare my belly and throat.

 

Love chews me up and leaves

my bones on the ground.

It is a merciless thing,

this predator.

 

Love always leaves a bruise,

a scar, a brand, a hole.

I am a masochist,

because I crave this mark.

 

Lead me to the slaughter,

the guillotine, the gallows.

I will gladly sacrifice myself

to this death, this damage.

 

 

Baptism-Part One

In the waters of the womb

I entered this world.

I learned to walk in a humid place,

fertile with storms.

 

In a church, I was raised

singing of blood and water.

Watching the strange alchemy

of the call and the immersion.

 

Told I was a sinner, hell-bound,

without the incantation.

Told I needed to die to this life,

to be reborn, again in water.

 

White-robed, I descended to him,

the preacher-man also clad in white.

He intoned the magic words,

and put his big hands on me.

 

I held my breath and nose,

and he held me under the water.

At his mercy for those moments,

I thought of death and desire.

 

The preacher pulled me up,

back into the light and air.

I ascended away from him,

the robe clinging to my body.

 

In the upper room, I disrobed.

standing naked before god.

Wondering what they would do should

I stand naked before all of them.

 

I dressed and walked among them,

My hair still wet with holy water.

They expected a changed girl,

and I was changed.

 

Baptism, so intimate, so public,

had stripped my soul naked.

Sure that they could see, smell,

I blushed, aroused.

Horses

Horses hold a unique place in human culture. They may be domesticated but there is nothing servile in them. War horse, Trojan horse, horse of a different color, nightmare, buck the system, Mustangs, ponytail, stallion. Our language would be less colorful without them. We love them, we fear them, we bet money on them. Horses have carried not just people, but hopes and dreams. The settling of the West would not have been possible without them. Unlike pets, horses are truly partners with Man. I was four the first time I rode horseback. Wasn’t much of a ride, just clinging to her mane while some male relative-uncle, father, grandfather, I don’t remember-lead her around the yard. It was glorious.

I rode several horses after that first equine experience, but I was simply a witness to my most powerful and surreal encounter with them.

It was a few years after we moved to Claremore, I was 11, maybe 12. We were waiting for the bus on an early Spring day. I hated that bus, but for just one day I was glad that I was there.

Anyone who has ever lived in Oklahoma in the Spring knows how interesting the weather can get. That day, Mother Nature gifted us with the thickest fog I have ever seen. The stop sign feet from where we stood looked ghostly, and the houses just yards away were completely invisible. It was already an unnerving situation and we were unnaturally quiet.

In our own quiet, we began to hear a strange sound. The fog thickened and distorted all sound, including the one approaching us. Hearing what sounded somewhat like a train, we looked up. In Oklahoma, in the Spring, when you hear a freight train and there is no train, you are about to die. Or to come so close to death as to touch its hem. Even though there were no storm clouds in the sky, only that thick fog enshrouding us, we still eyed the ditch. It was a deep ditch.

The sound grew louder and closer, and then the ground itself began to tremble. Had we been California kids instead of Oklahomans, we probably would have thought it was an earthquake. What happened next seemed improbable and had I been alone I would’ve doubted my senses.

The fog parted like a curtain and a herd of horses burst through. Maybe a dozen of them passed close to me, so close I could smell horse sweat and hear them snort with the effort. They jumped the ditch and disappeared across the road. As the hoof beats faded into the distance, we heard something new-voices calling and whistling. The horses were being chased by cowboys! Real cowboys! As they chased the horses across the road, they took no notice of us.

I have always wondered if, in the fog, we were somehow seeing something out of the past. It seemed so strange, so unreal, yet it was real. It really happened. Not a single one of us talked about it when the bus finally arrived and we had to go back into the present. The experience was too fragile and exquisite to talk about. To speak of the horses in the same way we might talk about teachers or other kids or what we did on Saturday would have been incredibly profane. I didn’t speak a word all the way to school and the rest of the kids who saw them were strangely silent as well.

Of course, life went back to normal but I will never be the same. The horses gave me an incalculable gift that day, one which I can’t even describe in words. Sometimes I wish I could touch somebody in the middle of the forehead and show them what I saw, impart the beauty I received. Alas, this gift remains mine and mine alone and I will never forget them, the horses out of time.

Searching Faces for the Dead

Two years gone now,

I still search for your face

in crowds where I know you are not.

 

The face I crave is not that

of the old man who lies in your grave,

but the face of a changeling youth.

 

We were children together,

genderless and slim, we played,

no attraction no complication.

 

Then we became a girl and a boy

and pushed each other away,

hurt and confused by the change.

 

An older girl reached out

an older boy reached back,

and we were friends again.

 

Attraction was there,

sweetening every moment,

but we only danced ‘round its edges.

 

You kissed my friends,

I kissed your friends,

then one night I kissed you.

 

You tasted wild and dangerous,

fragile and thin,

not quite of this world.

 

I loved you, I did,

but I knew you would break my heart,

so I kept it safe away from you.

 

Your life spiraled away on

a path I would not follow.

I lost track of you.

 

Adults then, we lived

in the same city but

worlds apart.

 

Still, I worried about you,

wondered about that path,

and searched crowds for your face.

 

I doubt I would’ve known you,

the face I searched for was young,

that wild and changeling youth.

 

Then you broke my heart,

and took a piece of it with you

when you pierced the veil.

 

You had so many friends

there that night.

So many broken hearts.

 

Lying there in the box

was no young man, but an old one,

gaunt and gray.

 

My friend, my wild and fragile friend,

was gone, had been gone,

for a long time.

 

Even old, though, I knew it was you,

I cried my tears

and signed your book.

 

Time passed as time does,

I thought of you, on occasion,

and sometimes still do.

 

I know you are gone, two years now,

but still I search for your young face,

in crowds where I know you are not.