They do not sleep, these minds of men; they chatter and shake like tin tops in a hurricane. The sleepless voice of everynight is an unnatural disaster of unseen storms, and old stories told by old men, of day late, dollar short.
Oh, Pensée; there is no poetry in this room; this cot is cold and old pinewood. The whispering muse does not descend; she waits on rooftops, dancing for fresh face poets, and I am greyed and hobbled, a burlap bone bag.
The shifting earth, predawn, calls these bones from night’s fitful grave. The gale calms with my rising; the oakwood smoke from last night’s fires still in my eyes, yesterday’s scars still sore, but fading; I make my way, worn and stiff, toward the door, out into the everyday, into the dawning.
Waking, walking, writing on my breath, talking to myself; beginning to feel the warmth returning; pulling the sun up over the eastern rooftops. The words, like birdsong, from deep inside me; one, then three, five to thirty; small wrens at first, and then crows and jays fly out before me, through the door, into the treetops. Walking out among the rising words, the revolving world pushes crisp air into my face, deep into the empty. This waking voice of everyday is my saving grace; this reach of my morning mind into the distance, throwing words into the sky, stretching into my full expanse. Alive, the word I am; alive, the world I am.
Oh, Pensée; the hurricanes will come again, the muse will dance for younger men; I know this is so, but the everyday will come again as well, and, for that, I will rise, and throw my words into the sky.
One hand span above the hickory on the ridge, behind the fog façade of predawn dark, November’s waning moon is a soft chalk smudge on the washed blackboard sky, and I, on the rain wet road, watch and learn; teacher’s pet.
Hawthorn Winter will be coming on, the last red summer sun rises, one hand high above the tree line, and in the valley, whitetails are leaving for cooler grazing ground. I am where I was yesterday, my brim pulled low over my eyes, waking, as sun slivers find me, slicing me, scorching me deep in my own hardwood prison. For hours, days, weeks beyond measure, I struggle, crawling out through the claws of the hawthorn thicket, my blood still on its briar, its seeds still on my shoes, until, just outside its grasp, I rest on the ridge of tall grass and chicory for a time, beneath the daystars of Queen Anne’s lace, where hope hangs overhead, and I can breathe it in long enough to forget. By twilight, the deepest cuts have dried, the blood has blackened; I am weak, seeking sustenance, and eating fallen berries, before fading back into the fitful sleep of guilt and despair. As dawn wakes me, the hawthorn seeds have grown around me and I am once again in the thick of it. Day upon day, I crawl homeward, and night after night, the thicket grows, with me at its middle.
Beyond The Walls Beyond the briar walls, a staccato of cicada fades in and fades away. Blackbird and wren build nests above me; they welcome the thorn, the berry and branch, a fortress from feral cats. Field mice skitter in and around the quickthorn, while, slowly, the cats, patient predators, circle the perimeter. Bindweed wraps looptight around the branches and draws bumblebees to its bloom brights by morning, and whitetails to its leaves in evening. This unlikely troop follows up the ridge, as each day I grow another vaulted hell, another solitary cell of cyanide seed and cockspur. The lot of us, a hedgerow of outsiders advancing, almost imperceptibly, in a parade of black hearts and blue blacked wings with the devil’s coach horse at the front, and sow bugs and buzzards as the rear guard cleaning the bones of the no man left behind. Pensée follows a furlong behind this rain parade; my last muse, scarred and bruised, patiently collecting the remnants of my life in her broken bone bag. She says it so simple, “Wipe your shoes,” and I will, but not well; the seeds still take root. She cannot fathom that I wear my father’s hand me down genes, and carry seeds of hawthorn and Osage orange in my pocket to grow my own thickets of thorn, when I need to bleed, when I need to feel his strap on my back.
It was not always this way. We once walked the long line, three hundred years of follow thy father, until that path was paved over, the plank road replaced with asphalt and abstracts. A family of seeders in a world of cash crops and cotton gins, blacksmiths in a time of motorcars and aeroplanes, my father and I were not like the crows that adapted; we strayed from the rattle and chatter of the city. Pensée says it was our weakness, like bread and beer, but it was our hearts, broken by the babble of brimstone, and left searching for a home to sit in peace with the silent sermon of nature. There was no home, once my father took to his potion, moonshine mixed with peaches, stoppered in bottles, sealed with paraffin, and in time, I took to it too. I hated him for it, and he hated himself and everyone else. He left to fight the world at their center, in the city, and I went deeper into the woods of my own world, where even love would not find me. We both arrived at the same broken center, my father poisoned by toluene gin and I, drawing my own black and blueprint, designed this prison of thorn. But winter will be coming on, the weather will cool, the growth will slow in the shorter days of autumn; let it take lifetimes, I will make my way home to Pensée and the silent sermon.
In the war before this war, laid low by buck and ball, I was dying, full of fever, caught up in the thornthick of a black locust hedgerow, and hopeless. Magdaléna cut my clothes from the tangle, and wagoned me back to the cottage of the shroud seamstress, to tend my wounds. That is what she tells me; she saved me, I am hers. She is the seamstress; I am her soldier, and she decides my final fight.
Above the treeline on the west ridge, the righteous gather stones to atone for original sin, bringing that burden down into the valley, stacking cairn rings around the scaffold of alder, elm, and ash lashed looptight above the deep well outside the cottage of the shroud seamstress. Sewn inside each shroud, those sinner stones sink hope in the lake of our losses.
The cottage of Magdaléna is unlike those on every street and lane; the dark door set back in shadow from the cobblestone, back from the trade signs hung above the doors of merchants and craftsmen, the dark door that opens to the curious, and the cautious, the prosperous, and the poor of pocket. Her sketches stack, tacked, just inside that door; self portraits of the temptress that she is.
As eyes adjust to the windowless room, the candlelit corners contain amber bottles with soot shaded corks, little and large vessels filled with stout, and laudanum, absinthe, and arsenic, amid crumbling ancient pages of tantric embrace, mysterious and useful arts, india ink symbols of curses and cures in chain locked volumes of once ready recipes, no longer necessary; the measures are in her soul, if Magdaléna has one; she will not say. My guess is that when necessary, she seduces one, coaxes one, as she stole mine.
At dayend, Magdaléna says I have earned my ale, and as I drift into sleep, or stupor, she sings softly, as she slowly piles fire warmed riverstones on my chest, sewing a shroud around me, surrounding me in burlap and linen, preparing me for the deepest sleep. Her long, curved, sailmaker’s handneedle, with coarse thread of horsehair and candle wax moves through skin and linen with the rhythm of her voice; the pain of black and blue all the more precious with her whisper.
Down the ridge, at the edge of the coppiced oak grove, Pensée carries her broken bone bag, gathering kindling twigs and deadwood for the fire; the only practical one among us. She was once my muse, now she stays in the shadows, beyond the tallow lamps. Still, she watches over me, and may save me from the lake tonight, if only for another day, when I can make my way home again from the war before this war.