Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems.

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Lost Time

Oh, we have such big ideas

for such a little space of hours!

We plan and scheme

and debate how best

to spend this cache of a day

in industrious (virtuous!)


We make lists

and organize and map

and architect.

We get lost in our own

deliberative webs.

And the day lazily unravels…

…until we are holding

only the frayed tail end of it

in our idle fingers,

wondering how to knit it up again

into something to show

for all we haven’t done.

lying in a hammock in the woods

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I’ve watered
and staked
and pruned
and pulled
and mulched

and still
I can’t stop
the relentless spread
of August

flowers under hot sun

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Every so often, I set fire to my life
believing I’m practicing alchemy.

I touch a match to it, and my world
explodes into red roar roaring flames of anger
or slowly boils dry on blue licks of lust.

It combusts with the bright yellow heat of ambition
or disintegrates into white-hot flashes of self-loathing,
singeing me with its howling ferocity.

Sometimes it ignites in a green burst of envy,
choking the air with the acrid scent of regret,
or blooms with the slow, torturous orange glow of despair.

Each time, afterwards,
I poke through the remains looking for something precious enough
to pay the cost of all the wreckage I’ve left.
I stir the ruins of each separate immolation with a stick —
as though they were tea leaves to be read for meaning —
before sweeping the mess into the dustbin
and starting again.

It’s only recently I’ve realized that the answer was always there,
that all I had to do was listen to the wind
lifting the edges of the swirling debris:

“Put away the matches. Stop this madness.
You solve nothing with all of this beautiful destruction.
No matter what brilliant color the flame

all ash is grey.”

Burning embers

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She Slows

She slows
then stops
sniffing intently at the base of a tree, her eyes closed with pleasure.
I stop with her, waiting, and crane my neck, stretching it
peering up through the thickly-needled branches
then at them.
How have I never noticed this is a hemlock?
Something about hemlocks pulls at my memory.
The connection clicks, and I laugh at the irony.
“Don’t sniff too deeply here,” I tell her old, deaf ears.
“This one has a history of killing philosophers.”

A breeze ripples its fingers through her fur
and mine can’t help but follow.
It’s soft still, beautiful, even though it no longer fits her
hanging loosely from her gaunt, starved frame.
She looks up at me and smiles in that way she has –
ears laid back, eyes narrowed to slits, her mouth slightly open –
and she gently wags her tail: once, twice.
I smile back, and she continues on with painful slowness
determined to walk as far as her unsteady legs will carry her.

She moves to the next tree in her strange, almost comical gait –
her forelegs shuffling in double-time and hind legs take long, swinging strides –
the result of the toxins building up in her frail, sick body
and derailing even her brain’s simplest commands .

I glance down at a rock in time to see an insect drop into a ray of light
– tah-dah! –
all coppery sparkle and translucent golden wings in the setting sun.
A few months ago – an eternity, a moment – I wouldn’t have noticed.
I would have pulled at the leash, scolding her to hurry
impatient and hurried and frazzled and unseeing
but for the lesson of this slow, grace-ful death of hers.
It has been a hard lesson, full of fear and grief
gradually loosening my grip –
one stubborn finger at a time –
on something that was never really mine to hold.

She tugs a little at the leash, and I return my attention to her.
I find her patiently, happily looking up at me,
ready to move on because there is still a little more light
and there is still a little more strength left in her.
And all at once it hits me: She isn’t teaching me how to die.
She’s teaching me how to live –
simply by doing it, fully and joyfully –
until she slows
then stops.

My dog, Coyote, sound asleep

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Rehearsal Round

Curl into the moonlight
and practice not giving voice.

Walk away from the dish
and practice not tasting food.

Lie still on the cushion
and practice not waking up.

Crawl under the bushes
and practice not being found.

Stretch out to full length
and practice stiffening up.

And, oh, this last aching effort:
Feel her hands in my fur
and lift my gaze to the eyes
that have held me and loved me and healed me

and practice not seeing her cry.

My dog, Coyote, gazing at me

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For my friends and family, especially David. Thank you for lending me courage.

Sometimes you have to admit

the only thing holding you back

is fear.

But you don’t just let it go, contrary to all the advice —

oh, no! —

wrap your arms tightly around it,

crush it to your chest

and jump off that cliff anyway.

And then what?

Use it as a floatation device?:

“In case of an emergency landing,

slip your arms through the straps

and hold your fear close.”


You imagine the instructions read

in a clipped British accent.

“Keep calm and expose your vulnerable bits.

Hook-beaked vultures

are standing by.”

But then you slowly open your tightly-shut eyes

and unclench your jaw

and see that you’ve landed —

not broken, among vultures —

but whole and welcomed by open-hearted friends,

supported by generous hearts.

You re-examine that stone anchor of fear you leapt with

and find buried within it the raw kernels

of courage.

Clouds from airplane