Rope for Her : an After Words Fable

In the beginning rope for her meant a way out.  It was long and made of small hairs that fall off the backs of black and white cows so that when all of the hairs were hand knit together they made a checkerboard of light and dark diamonds.  The rope was exceedingly strong, the knitting done by tiny hands too small to do anything else and the owners of such hands, to stay useful and secure their jobs, did the knitting with such precision and earnest desires that their ropes were made like no others. She liked to look at the rope, she did, but she really hadn’t the need of one, not then, not when she had no desire to leave a place where she was content.

     After a while, and because the rope was left out where it could be admired, attached as it was to a ring in a high wall in case she changed her mind and needed a way out – after a while the rope began to be eaten by small hair-eating bugs who preferred the black hairs to the white.  This left her with a rope that looked as if it had been made of white lace!  A dainty rope!  A beautiful rope!  But not a rope for escape.  So what?  She thought very little about leaving.  Things were not so bad.  And she had the lace rope to admire.  She couldn’t complain.

     When a complaint appeared one day in her throat, like a frog in the throat of a nervous speaker, the appearance of lace the rope had once had – had vanished.  What remained looked like dirty string – common dirty string.  She let the complaint stay lodged in her throat, not even a whisper emerged.  After awhile, she forgot how to make sound.  Even song had begun to sound like complaint to the ears of those who could hear; and they weren’t very big on complaint of any kind.  The safest thing, with only a string of what once was a rope, was quiet.

     She lived in quiet for a very long time.  The string rotted away, disappeared into nothing, just as her voice had done.  And her eyes, which, from time to time, had seemed somehow accusatory to her keepers, her eyes she had taken to keeping closed for long periods of time, until, when she opened them now, they were all the same color of white.  When irises are unneeded, they take offense and go.  Just so with hers.  They’d left half an eon ago.  But her ears were still the same.  Well, not exactly the same.  With age they’d grown bigger, longer, wider.  And her hearing, because there was only that one sense (other than feeling, oh, well, and smelling), had grown keener over the passing years.

     Thus it was that she heard the root of a distant tree.  Ear pressed to one stone in the wall of her keep, she heard pebbles move.  True, they moved at a very slow pace, but move they did.  After a time, the root broke a stone from the upper wall, not far from the ancient ring where the black and white diamond-patterned rope once hung in all its meticulous glory. 

Daily the root grew.  She could not see it with her white eyes, and she could not feel it, it was far too high up yet to touch, but she could hear it.  And she could smell it, earthy like a potato, but not.  She would make a sound in celebration of such a rescue as that the root would provide, but she could not, even if she remembered how, her lips had grown together in such a way that no sound could escape.  When, after a very long time, the root reached the floor of the keep, it waited there offering a barely perceptible dangle.  How sad for her that at the very moment the root came within reach she found her bones all knit together!  She could not move, in any direction.  Slowly, her ears filled with dust and webs and spiders.  Eventually, the root, tired of waiting, took off again with a growth spurt, feeling its way around the circular well where she had lived for such a long time that she had been forgotten.  The root grew through her then, never even realizing. 

In the spring, the blossoms on the tree, the one that seems always to be reaching for a sky it can’t quite reach, are all the same color of white.



[after W.S. Merwin, Hope for Her, The Book of Fables]


The Knife Maker


The knife maker didn’t start out with a perfect knife.  He was a keeper of birds and at that time there were birds that came to be known as “jays” which were kept for their feathers-more blue than ocean or sky, weightless as the web of a spider, tough as lichen on a rock and the rock hosting the lichen.   Even the shade whispered in awe at their brightness, blinked at their sharp cutting tails that flashed like blades of blue glacier ice at the bird’s whim.  The knife maker gathered the feathers from the birds’ pens for the fashion industry of the day and took them to the long paths of women who nimbly knit them together with the sinew of stringy ducks’ legs, making long gowns of iridescent blue, indescribable blue-gowns bartered away by the knife maker’s mountain people with shore peoples who traded shells with sharpened edges for the dresses.    The sharpened shells made breakable scrapers and weapons that shattered in the hand and the knife maker, keeper of birds, watching the feathered tails of the jays in their shaded pens, watching the shade flinch at the sharpness and shape of those tails, picked up a hard stone and began shaping it with another, honing away the lichens and honing the sides into the sharpness, if not the color, of the jays’ tails. 


After mountain knives were perfected, feather dresses weren’t needed for barter and jays were freed from their high-netted pens to scatter the skies over valley and shore. There were no shore people left, no one to wear the blue gowns once the knife-maker perfected his craft. The jays began squawking. They have squawked ever since.

It is said that when the knife maker puts away his hard shaping stone that the jays will warble arias of great beauty. In September of the year two thousand and eight, this has not happened to date.


[After W.S. Merwin, “The Broken,” The Book of Fables]

The Purpose

You lock the door after you leave and try the knob again to be safe, wondering who invented locks in the first place and the purpose for having one on a door nobody opens or tries to open but you.  Now, what if at your car the keypad on the door failed to take the numbers in correctly and would not open, would you bash in the window or unlock your front door and call the Ford Dealership garage and ask for Eddie who changes your oil every three months to see about what could be done?  But the combination does work and you glide into the seat and slide into reverse and float back out of the drive to the iron gates on wheels into your private community.

            How about now if you had clipped on your sun visor the wrong remote control?

            Then when you pressed the button the door on your garage, the one that rolls up now instead of swinging out, the one with three tinted windows across the top and craftsman style trims, that door would roll up instead of the gated community’s gate rolling open.

            You study the remote on the visor, try to decide if to press it will leave your house open to intruders or open your way to take to the boulevard.  “If the gate doesn’t open,” you tell yourself, “then the garage surely has, and, in any event, if the gate doesn’t open, I should have to turn the Escape around and return for the right remote so that the gate will open then.”

            It’s true, the remote on the visor is the wrong remote for the gate doesn’t budge.

            Then it does.

            What if you hadn’t pressed that button a second time, given it that one extra try, gone back to find the garage door still closed, found that it would not open at all with the damned stupid remote?

            But you did.  And now the gated community gate has finished its retreat to the right and you have changed gears out of reverse to roll through.

            “There is a whole wide world waiting for us,” you say to no one in particular, unsure about what you mean by “us” but unwilling to correct yourself.  At least not out loud with the car windows down when cruising out on the boulevard.  There would be no good purpose in that.  None at all.  But you do wish you’d brought the list to remind you where you were going.  Was it the store?  And if so, what exactly was it you needed to pick up?

wc 406

[after W.S. Merwin, “The Answer” from The Book of Fables]

When One Cicada Stopped Singing (Imitating Ernest H.)

One rainy afternoon in Lisbon there were male cicadas in the weeds.  Within seven minutes it got loud and the thunderclouds went in, and the long humans with wide feet in protective shells on the bottom opened single wings over their heads and abandoned the street.  Two stayed near and made mud-women like snowmen with their top feet unprotected and pink.  She and Buz could see them above on the ditch lip.  Buz sat on a rock.  He was stiff and green in the cold ditch.

Buz sang with dual tymbals in his abdomen for one reason.  She was happy to let him.  When he performed for her he elevated her with the cicada rhythm; and they had songs, amazing-fine songs.  She succumbed, quivering lightly upon a cattail so she would not click-clicky about things during the noisy, mating moment.  Before she learned to cling to cattails she used to make a racket and Buz would have to get back on the rock.  There were many other cicadas, and they all knew about it.  Not one envied Buz. 

Before she left for the ponds they hid under a Ford and played.  It was slick and oily, and there were other cicadas click-clicking.  They wanted to stay monogamous, but their genes might not allow – both had other instincts.  They saw through monogamy, for they witnessed human failures, and because of this they tried it.

Buz drummed her many songs that she never got until after her season.  Ninety came on the wind to the ponds and she picked through the clicks and sat quiet straight through.  They were all about the ditch, and how little he missed her and how it was lovely to sing along without her and how beautifully all the males click-clicked in the night.

Before her season they fought about her move to the River to lay eggs.  Buz would not join her until she had laid several thousand down the cattail stems and could come to the aqueduct to meet him.  It was understood she would not eat the eggs, and she would not give them to any frogs or fish in the River.  Only to lay the future larvae and be monogamous.  In the air between Lisbon and Mill Pond they agreed about him not becoming monogamous at once.  Not until when they rubbed hello, in the wild iris at Mill Pond, would he sing only her song.  This they swore in agreement.  She felt pink with envy about his singing to others like that.

She came to the River upon a leaf via the Aqueduct.  Buz went back to sit in a ditch on the outskirts of Lisbon.  It was raucous and noisy there, and a swarm of homopteran insects whirred near the water.  Loitering on the dry bank in the sun, the females of the swarm asked Buz not to sing, and he had never known mute mating before, and finally sent a relayed song to the River that theirs had been only an incomplete metamorphosing relationship.  He was glad, and he knew she would be too, and would soon thank him, and be envious of him, and he believed, without question, he would never want to sing again or be monogamous in his life.  He would mate her as before, but he knew now theirs was only a fragmentary union.  He wished her success with the thousands of eggs, but had doubts about her leaving them to drop and burrow.  He sang his one last note.

These females did not have seasons, and mated him in the winter, and all other times.  Buz heard a song, relayed from the River about her.  A short song about the long line of larvae she ate before they could burrow while celebrating his silence, which bloated her thorax until she exploded while clinging to milkweed beside the sewer.

[word count 653] [from the old files, May 1998, imitating Ernest H. style]

Flight Time

The plane was half full out of Atlanta; I took the empty last seats on the wide side, stretched into a loose question mark across the three narrow spaces, and snoozed.  A  mark of my exhaustion – the 727’s take-off startled me out of sound sleep.  But  even as we climbed and my body rolled tighter to the seat backs, I drifted out of real time again and was gone.

Sorry! someone whispered loudly, that kind of whisper you want to be heard but not in a startling way.

Wha . . . are we there yet?


“New York?  La Guardia?” I was feeling my voice now.  It was me asking questions.  My mouth making sounds.  I knew then I’d drooled – a big wet spot on the back of my hand, the one I’d used to pillow my cheek.  If the voice, the stage whisper voice that sounded vaguely like Morgan Freeman and flannel shirts and Polo aftershave, if the voice, that voice, saw the drool … eu.  I didn’t open my eyes.

“We’re circling La Guardia,” the voice offered.  “There’s a full moon in a gossamer haze out the window on the right, and the Lady in the Harbor holding up her light on the left.” 

And I felt the lightest touch brush a loosed strand of hair from my face … then, I heard the absence of him.  Drool didn’t matter.  Or embarrassment.  I opened my eyes.  No one.  And no flannel scents to guide.

word count = 249

In the Lake

Kelly stood silently watching the ripples spread across the water.  It was a toss up as to whether or not they would reach the kayak and Pat nearly hidden by the play of light and shadow on the lake face.  He was physically quiet, her brother.  The paddle, balanced and resting evenly in his relaxed hands, his forearms resting easily on the craft’s frame, seemed to say that his stillness traveled inside as well as out.  The flat stone Kelly had throne to skid the surface for nine perfect jumps had not broken his attention.  She knew he never heard it’s first ker-plunk or the puh-puh-puhs that followed in unison, fainter and fainter until it finally sank. 

She had aimed the stone to skip clear of the kayak and, surprisingly, it did.  More surprising than the accuracy of her throw was that she bent to pick it up in the first place.  She was 58 years and 3 days into this new year of living and bending was not a thing she did with ease or grace — not anymore.  Pat, on the other hand, still did all things with ease and grace–it wasn’t fair.  He seemed never to age and would frown at her for saying as much, but she didn’t actually ever come right out and say it.  And her thoughts, she would tell you if asked, were hers to own even if she was the youngest.  

What was he thinking now, so unmoving out there, his head cocked back just slightly as if he looked from under the khaki hat brim to study some thing or movement a bit further along on the shoreline?  More than once she tried to follow the general direction of his gaze, but she saw nothing to hold her attention. 

Dividing her time between searching out another flat stone to throw and watching him watch the shore, she sometimes lost him in the dazzle off the lake.  Her pulse would take up a race with itself where, if she had a brown paper bag to breathe into, she would . . . but then the shade would shift again and the burn of bright water subside. 

There! There! Did you see it?  Kel? Did you see it?  Do you? Can you?

Pat is as silent as ever out on the water.  What Kelly hears is a playback inside her head; Pat’s voice, that’s for certain, but from more than forty years back, when he’s a senior and she’s a freshman and they’re on summer break from high school, taking in some Ohio sunshine on a raft anchored offshore from this very spot. 

“Old” Kelly looks out beyond Pat in the kayak, but the place where the raft used to be is just a flat few acres of more water, a still lake face with no wooden respite for weary swimmers to climb aboard and sun dry. 

Where have all the flat stones gone to, that’s what I want to know.  It wasn’t the first time Kelly had asked herself this question; it wouldn’t be the last.  She would bring stones with her next time.  She would buy an extra bag of those shiny decorative stones she used around the ficus to keep Tygger and associates, both known and unknown, out.  But instead of glossy brown, she’d buy white.  The one skipper she’d thrown today was white.  Not that color made one whit of difference. 

Lord knows she had thrown every color of natural stone nature made flat enough to skip over the years.  Point in fact: they were all out there in the lake now. Lots of things out there in the lake.  Lots of things.  Kel never saw whatever it was Pat saw that day back when she was thin and could bend like a swan or a jackknife in dives from the raft or the pier.  She never did know what he saw.  Wishes she had seen it too, with all her old heart, she really does wish she knew — but she doesn’t and Pat, once they brought him up, well, he never said.  He never did.  But they came here, Kelly and Pat, often enough. 

Sometimes, when the shore was white and the trees heavy with snow, they just sat in the cab of Pat’s old Dodge pick up with the heater running and watched mist rise off the water.  It was quiet then, even quieter than now.  Snow put a hush on everything.  And sometimes, not every winter, but sometimes the lake froze up for a good distance out, further than Kelly could even think about skipping a stone.  These were the most worrisome times because Pat would hardly have it but that he walk out there, testing fate every step of the way. 

But, when the weather was good, like it was today, they hauled the kayak up and Pat rowed out safely enough.  If he went too far, and sometimes he did, Kelly’d call out, “Bubbba! Don’t make me get wet now, you hear?” and he would turn the kayak back, mindful of her worry.  He was the kindest of brothers; always had been; always would be, and Kelly adored him.  She just wishes she knew what it was that he saw back then, on that day, that one particular day, in the lake. 

the loons are hushed

the loons are hushed
one after another
my heart pretends to sleep
     ~ M. Wilkie

The difficulty began when pretending stopped being fun and the loons, one after another, stopped laughing at dusk.  A particular stranger noted the silent pond, the frayed stars, a place in the shallows where the water was pink.  What made the stranger particular was his youth:  his long bones had not finished growing, freckles ruled his face, a cowlick ruled his hair.   

What made the water pink was paint, water-based paint, a gallon bucket tipped and run out like thick ink on the shore.   

He was the boy, this stranger with buckets of color, who might have been.   

Now the stars fray further, all but unravel over the pond gone entirely pink with fading day.  Wounds heal.  My heart pretends to sleep.