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Welcome to Dianna Henning's Website Posts

Brief Bio

Dianna Henning – email: gammonmackinnon@diannahenning.com, PO Box 184, Janesville, CA 96114

Founder/Facilitator of Thompson Peak Writer’s Workshop in Janesville, CA

Area-Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools and creative writing instructor in Grass Valley, CA. Also served as poetry teacher for Lassen County Schools facilitated through California Art’s Council grants. William James Association’s Prison Arts Program Artist Facilitator (retired) for California Correctional Center and poetry/creative writing instructor at Folsom Prison, Duell Vocational and several other CA prisons.

Henning’s third poetry book Cathedral of the Hand published 2016 by Finishing Line Press.

Recent Publications: Pacific Poetry; New American Writing; The Kerf which nominated “Picking the Bay Laurel With my Daughter” for a Pushcart; Plainsongs, The Moth, Ireland; Mojave River Review; the New Verse News; Sequestrum and Naugatuck River Review. Four-time Pushcart nominee

Published in:
Autumn Sky Poetry Daily; VerseVirtual; New American Writing; Your Daily Poem;The Kerf; Plainsongs, The Moth, Ireland; Sukoon, Volume 5; Mojave River Review; the New Verse News; Hawaii Pacific Review; Sequestrum; South Dakota Review; Naugatuck River Review; Lullwater Review; Blue Fifth Review; The Main Street Rag; Clackamas Literary Review; 22 wagons by Danijela Trajković, Istok Akademia, an anthology of contemporary Anglophone poetry; California Quarterly; Poetry International and Fugue. Crazyhorse, Seattle Review, Asheville Poetry Review & The Louisville Review.

Featured Post

The Leaf Cat

The Leaf Cat

If you stare at something long enough it assumes a life all its own.
Even the wind carries a child in a rucksack.
The child’s name could be Leaf,
emblematic of green, its mixture of yellow and blue.
Our tortured world loves the color green,
its promise of better times.
Oh, to be green in the long night of terror.
Meanwhile, the leaf-cat reclines on a padded porch chair.
The cry in its throat is red

New American Writing Issue: No. 37

http://www.newamericanwriting.com/

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Mother once told me my wakefulness took
up an entire floor—that’s

why I house myself in the woods. All
the tree knows of cover is moss. All

the child in Aleppo knows of cover is run. I can’t
reconcile what’s happening in the world. Night

leavens its darkness, buried
in hypocrisy and vile

politicians. There’s a fog
catcher in Lima who brings water

to the poor. I’ve asked him
to speak to us.

https://www.sukoonmag.com/responsive/wp-content/uploads/Sukoon-Mag-Issue-9-W-2018.pdf

                    Sukoon Vol. 5 

Set Free

When my husband caught the trapped hummingbird
and freed it from the screened-in porch,
his big hands, a woven bird’s nest,
a few fingers opened into an escape hatch,

I held my breath as one does before the delicate—
that spot of bird, singular in its journey,
wings like small lead windows.

It seemed strange to see a big man
who could easily crush the body of such a small thing
release to air the hummingbird, who once in flight,
turned as if to say, I’ll remember this.

 

Your Daily Poem, on-line, 2014

Between Young and Old Time

I am reading a book loaned to me by a very old woman.
Her hands are on the pages and they are slipping into mine;
flesh of a book against my brow as I close my eyes to rest.

What I love best about this book recommended by an old woman,
is how a single strand of silver hair becomes my bookmark—
between two pages, a single strand of hair tells where I left off.

Where I left off is not where I am or where I intend to be.
Further into the book than ever imagined is a story about being
an old woman who reads a book and recognizes herself

in a character. The old woman looks out from the book,
an old woman’s eyes large as an oasis and clear as sunlit sand.
Her hand is a vine of many veins that intertwine and signal something.

Something close and dear as song expresses itself on her lips.
She is sipping lyrics from the air through the straw of a strand of hair.
Her hands are on the pages and they are slipping into mine.

Published In England’s Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2014–Finalist

Absorption

 Fugue
                                                                                                 

I wish I could tell you more about the man
bent over the drawing of his daughters
Sofi and Sonia, how like Saint Bartholomew
in Rembrandt’s painting, the man becomes so intent
that his pencil is now another finger,

and the man himself leaves, as though absorption
in what one loves calls the being from the body,
and being, the only true state, shapes the careful eyes
and lips of his girls. I would like to tell you the man’s name,
but I am sworn to silence on the prisoners I work with.

Were it possible to portray the man
accurately, his skin sewn in a tight weave
of tattoos, I would start with his eyes,
tell you how I see in them the brown loaves of bread
his mother made, his mouth about to form what he is unable to say.

What we cannot utter must write its meaning elsewhere—
the fragments of language building the innovative.
If there is a heaven of words, or at the very least
a storage place, what goes unspoken must send its roots

into a future we know nothing about.
It’s yard recall, but the man, still absorbed, draws
his daughters, his head so close to the paper
that he could be outlining himself—
the shapes of their lovely mouths,
butterflies with spread wings.

The Butcher’s Apprentice

                     Hawai’i Pacific Review, 2006

 

First he showed him how to hold the cleaver,
where to make the best cut,
said to keep his eye on the meat’s grain,
hold the blade steady,
and how beautifully the meat opened
on the maple chopping block,
gracious host to its own body,
the apprentice wiping his bloodied hands
across his heavy cotton apron;
his sigh, such finesse,
a sigh a lover might make,
satisfied before ultimate
pleasure—but, no climax here,
only the calm of knowing

one did the other body right,
and can’t you tell
that the one being trained
seeks the best advice to finish meat,
especially since fine butchery is nearly extinct,

for why else
would the Master train
the hand coming back to fingers,
to opening, carefully at first,
the red flesh that was once desire.

The Cornrow Fire

(Published in Red Rock Review, 2007)

 

The Cornrow Fire

The fire took off as though it were a living thing. Hissing, it danced over the dry grasses and up into the resinous pines. As though it were a strange recital, the blaze tangoed onto the boughs where its dance widened in skirts of flame. Snaps and crackles from falling limbs bruised the air; popping sounds slid through the canyon as the fire grew higher; pine trunks burst, smudges of smoke blemishing the sky.

Firefighters arrived at Roy McCartney’s trailer to advise he promptly leave. They explained that the winds suddenly shifted, and that the fire bent back on itself to switch directions. Better pack up that tin can, get what you absolutely need they warned. Did he know if anyone else lived off these back roads?

Roy pointed south toward a house across the dry field, just barely visible through the foliage, although the porch was easily seen with binoculars and Roy practiced checking on the place. A woman who lived alone needed a man’s keen eye, needed someone to hold safety in check. From a distance his neighbor looked like a small twig, and sometimes when Roy honed his binoculars on her house, he completely missed her. Roy supposed himself an old-fashioned sort.

“That’s my landlady, Emmy Adams, over there,” Roy pointed.

When the fire crew drove off, dust billowing behind them, he tried his telephone to warn Emmy before the firemen got to her place, but the line was dead. It was a silence like his son Lad, the one who never learned to talk despite his coaching, despite all the extra help the school offered poor folks. Even his lightly cuffing his son alongside his head to knock a clear channel straight into his hearing did little good. The lad was entirely clogged, or so it appeared.

“I’d better have myself a look,” Roy concluded. The fire was only an idea until he pegged it onto sight, but he could see puffs of smoke on the horizon, their dreamy impression against the sky, and there was a burnt pine odor in the air. He slugged a wad of chew into the thistle burs, fetched a fresh batch from his pocket, and went back inside to find his field-glasses.

Somehow, the encroaching smoke reminded Roy of Lola, how things level off once they get burnt. He’d slugged through his days, got by on Unemployment, and Emmy his landlady spared him a few rough times by letting him work off the rent. He cleaned out her garage, fixed water pipes that froze up, and replaced two broken windows blown in by heavy winds.

He’d been married until his lay-off from Wilder’s Lumber Yard. This put his luck back some. Lola, his former wife, liked to shoot craps, play poker and all that entertainment dearly cost a man. He hardly noticed Lola’s absence. She’d been out late most nights, and when she was home she’d sit on the front stoop, smoke and look through old film star magazines. Sometimes she’d point out to him, “I look as good as that broad.” Her hair was broom colored and about as stiff as dry wheat from all the peroxide she’d sopped over it, the ends split like forked tongues. Roy called the duration of their marriage a baker’s dozen, thirteen years doing hard labor in kitchen’s trouble.

One day Lola simply lifted off the trailer’s stoop to say she was heading out and that he’d not likely see her again. He did nothing to stop her. He actually sighed from relief. Freedom. Freedom, at last, Roy thought. There hadn’t been much between them since the kids left. Penny worked a casino in Reno. Lad was missing—no one except Roy and one other person knew where, and there’d been several rescue teams scouring the woods for traces of him.

He wasn’t telling anyone what he found by the river. No, that was one hell of a window that looked straight out onto trouble. Some things a man holds close to his chest, needs to honor the secrecy which, like the winter woods, were plum out of light.

“Darn, why did Lola leave her underwear behind?” Underneath the phone table a crumpled pair of panties rested by the phone cord. He reached down and plucked the panties, her silk in his fist. He couldn’t figure that one. Did she think he’d stop by Burger Barn in Doyle where she waitressed on one of his long drives into Reno?

No, he’d best burn all her remaining stuff, take it across the river. He’d already hauled off a goodly amount of her clothes, set fire to them near the same spot where he’d found Lad after the kid went astray two years back. 

*     *

Emmy lingered at her kitchen window, her bobbed hair flat against her neck and so straight across it that she joked to him that only a guillotine was capable of such accuracy. She thought it a little hazy outside but counted herself fortunate that she didn’t live down where those flatlanders were in the San Joaquin Valley. No, the air was bad there with all the crop dusting and chemicals. There were massive amounts of pollution to contend with there that breezed in from Fresno and LA and drifted across the orchards to settle deep underneath the soil itself. Emmy wondered what happened to crops raised from tainted soil, if the resulting food made learning more difficult for youngsters.

Here, in the mountains, you could almost drink the air. It was that pure, that good, and it tasted like an untouched mountain stream, although she was somewhat hesitant to think of streams, especially when a certain memory kicked in. But it hadn’t always been that way. She’d spent many picnics with her classes on nature hunts alongside the riverbanks and paused as she heard the sweet sound of water strum over rocks.

Sometimes when Emmy sat on her front porch to watch dusk fall and charcoal-in the trees, she’d suck in a gulp of early evening air and smack her lips, running her tongue over their chapped surface. She counted her blessings, thanked the Lord for her good fortune that made her home a country home.

Her life wasn’t lonely either, although she did live alone. It was by choice, not by circumstance that she never married. Emmy Adams liked to recall her three proposals after finishing college and her teacher’s training, how she’d quietly turned them down, not that she didn’t care about the men. She just didn’t want to be ruled over. No, a man was best kept from a safe emotional distance. Let one too close and he’d come to think he owned her outright.

As a young girl, sensitive and shy, she looked through the window of marriage by observing some of her relatives quarrel with their partners. No, she didn’t want to hold her will ransom, didn’t want to gnarl her mind with contrary opinions. With her teaching years behind her, she lived exactly the way she’d always intended, simple and without frills. She breakfasted when she wanted; she ran errands when she wanted; she walked her Great Dane, Spike, when she wanted.

The growing smoke irritated her eyes, but not enough to set forth and charge into its origins. What was aging if not reverie? Did she hear sirens? Oh well, she wasn’t entirely sure and not motivated enough to look into what seemed but hints of trouble. No, she’d post her eyes to the trees and their long trunks of bark, the way light silently laddered up them.

The poplars, aspen and pines shimmered in their green. Emmy couldn’t count all the fascinations of the seasons. In March the frogs returned, their songs enchanting the night air. Come May, songbirds returned, and wildflowers grew in the meadows. Nature was her book and she carefully turned its pages.

*     *

           But there was a time when nature didn’t seem so calm, a time when fear riveted through her and she nearly tripped over a bed of rocks on the other side of Gray Eagle River.

She’d been out berry picking, her bucket full of plump blackberries, and she’d been humming “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes,” as she headed back to her cozy yellow clapboard home where Spike eagerly awaited release from his pen. Emmy couldn’t pick berries and keep a dog on a leash at the same time. He always tugged at the end of his tether nearly tipping her over, and although she felt bad hearing him whine when she left, she concluded firm footing more important.

“What’s that lying over there? Hey, you taking a nap or what?” she’d called out.

She could see the lengthy torso of someone stretched near the riverbed and she thought rocks a rough spot to catch a nap. Thumping her leg with her hand, the berry pail set on the ground, she snapped her attention wide-eyed awake. Perhaps I stumbled upon this for a reason, she thought.

            “You got a problem not answering me? Are you trying to make an old lady fearful?”

Odd, she noted, not a mumble from the heap. Emmy used branches to hold her footing steady as she roped her way downhill, hands clasping upper branches for support.

The man, she assumed the pile resting there was a man due to the camouflage clothing and sheer size, was on his side facing away from her, his arms jumbled like he’d taken a bad spill, a tear alongside the leg’s cuff. His hands were strangely bent, a few deep gouges around his wrists.

Emmy was fearful to grab his collar to turn him. She heard the river roiling downstream and that gave her strength enough to tug him full round. There was a sour smell to the air, like cider gone rancid. Holding her breath, she rolled him over and let out a gasp.

“Oh, my God. It’s Lad. Hey, Laddy, it’s time to wake up.”

But Emmy knew from the stone-cold face, the bluish hue of skin and the god-awful rolled eyes that it was unlikely Lad would be waking anytime soon. She let go and squatted next to him, lifted his wrist to check for a pulse. Nothing in his veins ran like a river, and his mouth remained ajar like he was ready to poke out a few words.

             I’ve got to rest him back on the rocks, find someone to help me. Roy came to mind. Fetch the boy’s daddy. Yes, she’d head for Roy’s place, but if she ran into that wretch Lola, she’d exchange no pleasantries. There were some people so down under, so done in by life and by what they’d done to themselves that they were not only seedy, but soulless. Emmy never thought of someone as soulless until she’d met Lola who lived on the cusp of life by ignoring things. No regard for the trees into which she snuffed out her cigarettes, no regard for her own children who’d run naked most summers, not for Roy or anyone. Sucking on a fag meant more to that woman than her family.

Emmy parked the berries in a ditch alongside Waverly Road, a dirt road as most were in these Northern California parts, hitched up her corduroy pants, and headed for Roy’s place. She practiced in her head what she’d say to him and how she’d say it. 

Can’t say too much until I ply him away from the trailer. Don’t know if I should extend my sympathies or offer hope that his son might be ok. It could be Lad will rouse himself while I’m off fetching his daddy, but she didn’t really think that possible. No, that was death I saw back there.

She dug her hiking boots into the gravel as she walked, stuffed her hands in her pockets and started to hum, She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes. Tunes never failed to sooth her frayed nerves. It was her way of being a river, something flowing. Rivers, to her, were the earth’s sweetest songs, but after Lad’s demise their melody changed.

Roy was working on his truck’s engine, rags hanging out his jean pockets. He was so far into the engine he was nearly off the ground and tunneled under the hood. Emmy didn’t see Lola’s Camero and sighed relief she wouldn’t have to deal with the woman.

I’ve got to handle this right she thought. Her heart pounded harder as she approached him. “Roy, you got time to talk?” He swung himself down from his truck, eyes squinting in the full blast of sunlight. “Yup,” he said as he fished a rag from his pocket, wiped grease from his face.

     “Well, I think we’ve a problem back there in the woods on the other side of the river.”

     “What kind of stew are we speaking of?”

     “Lad’s not well. I found him by the river all stretched this way and that like broken rubber bands,” she explained, her eyes fastening themselves on the propped hood of the truck.

     “That kid gets himself into more messes. Knowing him he’s napping from taking too much of that pot weed.”

     Emmy thought on that. Lad won’t be getting into any trouble now, but she’d say nothing until Roy took a look. She needed verification of another set of eyes. After all, all those years of grading papers she saw things at a slight eclipse.

     Roy put his things down, and they walked back along the road she’d just tromped over. “We’d better take Sneed’s Bridge across Gray Eagle,” he said. The worn planks of the bridge creaked as they hurried over it. In the distance frogs began singing. Kingfishers dove alongside the river’s little eddies, snagging hatchlings and a few velvety moths.

When Roy came upon Lad, he let out a gasp. He cupped the boy’s head in his hands; softly spoke like a mother would when rousing a baby for feeding. “Son,” he said. “You’re daddy’s here. Now you look up boy and answer your father.” Only silence rang through the woods.

Emmy covered her face with her hands and wept. She’d never seen this tenderness between the two and never believed Roy filled with an abundance of compassion. She’d suspected he might be a feeling man when he shot her dog Pepper after Pepper got mangled in her neighbor’s farm machinery. Roy talked to Pepper, told him he was sorry on account of what he must do. Pepper raised his head as though nodding, “OK, do what you must.”

Roy got down close to his son’s face. “Boy, I’m awfully sorry for what’s happened to you. It was never my intention you’d stumble out here and crack your head open. You should’ve listened to your daddy about taking off on your own. You were never quite right, but I loved you just the same. My only son. My only…”

Roy didn’t finish his sentence, but looked at Emmy and said, “Not a word of this to a soul. You know how those town-folks are about rules and regulations and you can’t bury your kin where you damn well please, only in the village cemetery. Rules. Rules. Rules. Remember how they made me dig up my mama from the garden where I’d put her after she’d died from lung cancer?”

            I’m going back to fetch a shovel. Lad would want to be buried by this river he swam and fished in, and that’s my intention, honor his love of the place. If the boy ever had a mother, it was this here river. You sit with Lad until I return.”

Emmy sat by the boy. Dusk was beginning to fall, and the river seemed to hum louder in the absence of light. Emmy sang lullabies to Lad, the words splashing in the air. Blue jays sat on pine boughs harping for food, but she’d left the only food, the berries, back in the ditch. “Shoo birds,” she hollered at them and picked up twigs and tossed them at the jays.

It didn’t take long for Roy to return and to dig the hole. The man was riveting motion once he got started, and he dug deep too, reaching down with his gloved hand to clear away stones, anything that might make his son’s sleep uncomfortable. His hair hung in damp strings as he worked. Emmy admired his stubborn strength.

She took hold of Lad’s feet while Roy clenched the boy’s under-arms and they guided him into his resting place. Roy took off his bandana and folded it into a pillow for Lad’s head. Out of his pocket he pulled a penny and placed it on Lad’s tongue. “For the ferry-man,” he told Emmy. Quickly, the place returned to its natural state, Roy pulled some twigs, leaves and a few stones and scattered them over his son’s spot in the earth. Afterwards he rinsed his hands in the river, and the two broke for the road before dark locked them out.

           “Don’t say a word to anyone,” he told Emmy as they sauntered back. “They’ll come in here with dogs and a crew to search for my son but say nothing. The coming rains will soon wash out any scent.”

             Emmy promised her word was good and the two parted at the bridge, damp moss emitting a pungent, nutty smell. 

           The tall pines bordering the road guided Emmy home, the place as dark as a gopher’s hole, only a wedge of light left. She tugged her cardigan around her. Yes, Lad was out there by the river, and soon she’d be making for bed, a slice of salted water-melon on the bedside table, her spectacles on the bridge of her nose as she caught up on her mystery novel, a flashlight on the night-stand aimed at the book’s opened pages.

*     *

           By now Roy could see the flames heave and spit at the edge of the forest. It was like a storybook, everything coming to life, animals running for safety as though driven by a giant shepherd. He wondered if the fuel breaks would keep his place safe and if Emmy was ok. His eyes were starting to burn. The flames jumped from treetop to treetop in the form of a crown fire and he heard the growl of tankers overhead. He wished the fire crew had thinned out the forest like they’d promised the community earlier in the year, but he didn’t ponder long.

           It seemed the heat was rising, and he wondered if he should head back for his truck but decided otherwise. 

He wasn’t sure if it was gravel or bark from the trees in his mouth, but his mouth and throat felt clogged, and dang it was hot as a devil’s pot of black beans pitched over a campfire. His clogged throat made him think of Lad, how the boy never spoke a single word.

           Roy reminisced backwards onto Lad and Penny sitting next to the campfire when they camped out at Hog Flat one summer, the reservoir smoother than a griddle cake. He heard Lad laugh at one of Penny’s jokes, both kids roasting marshmallows black as embers. The sky had turned the color of fresh picked apricots and he sank back in his Coleman sling-chair, a Coors’s in the arm-rest pocket, thinking himself a lucky man to have clean country air, no one looking down their backs and enough food to keep them healthy.

           Although Lad never spoke a single distinguishable word, his boy wore a grin that shot straight for the heart, and the kid could laugh as though such laughter were words. Roy wondered if the penny was enough to get Lad from one life to the next. He wondered if the river spoke to his son in his sleep.

Rounding up the Water

(Published in the Red Rock Review, Summer 2001: Honorable Mention for Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction)

The moon pressed into the lake that night—the surface of the water placid as sleep. There were no noisy boats cutting up, only the guttural chorus of frogs, and their ballooning lungs. A lone woman sat in a nylon ribbed lawn chair, her face toward the lake. One gathered she was waiting for someone by the way she shifted her head this way and that, throwing glances over her lovely shoulder. Her longing hung in the moss-quilted trees, draped itself across the lawn. Lights shone on the other side of the lake. Like lanterns, they cast their warm appeal and the night had a golden feel.

I had just stepped onto the front porch of the cottage and was about to take my place in a chair by the lake, but upon approaching where the Silent Woman sat, caution warned me. From the shadows, there was no certainty I had seen her before. New, I surmised, to these parts. Her fingers quilted pleats in her shirt. She had a bun at the back of her head. A schoolmistress perhaps. An air about her made me renege on returning up the cottage steps to put myself back to bed. My parents expected I was fast asleep. Instead, I tiptoed closer, hid behind lilac bushes. I was the Nancy Drew of mystery and my dream was to solve the unexplained. At twelve, this was my consuming desire.

The New England air was sweet—rich in the right mix of hemlock, birch, pine and damp earth. In looking back, I should have bottled that smell, kept it handy so that I could pull it out whenever my life needed sprucing up. For a very long time, I watched her from my grandmother’s summer place. Some of the vacationers that yearly summered at the lake had no beachfront so my grandmother allowed them to use the property adjoining hers. This must explain the Silent Woman’s presence.

She had something I needed to know. My legs became wood. For the first time, as I stood there watching her, I was quite certain I had grown from the ground like the birch, my skin white as bark on its trunk and branches.

The Silent Woman put something down. Was it a journal and pen? Was she the pastor’s wife, the one we heard suffered terrible bouts of delirium? There was nothing terribly unusual about her, just a silence that cloaked her. She removed her shoes, slowly made her way into the lake. Only the slippery sound of water issued forth as she cautiously stepped over the rocks.

Was she going to give herself to the water? Horrid thought I almost said aloud. What perverse jackal sat at my heart wanting to see how far she would go? The Silent Woman took off her shirt, threw it casually onto the beach; bangles on her arms clinked against each other. She next removed her bra and tossed it too. This woman made lovelier by moonlight, bent to cup her piano player hands, splashing water onto her face, under her arms. It was as though she were rounding up the water, holding it to her nose to breathe memory back.

I parted the bushes so I could see her. She seemed to care little whether her rolled-up-jeans were wet. Perhaps a lover was quietly whispering in her ear, his lips brushing aside wisps of hair. I imagined secrets between them. The water she stood in was full with the fierce attenuation of the moon.

What could I, at my age, have known a grown woman to think as she stood knee deep in the water? No, she could not possibly be the pastor’s wife. She was too graceful for that. We heard his wife was crazier than a loon. She threw a frosted cake at the judge’s face and then proceeded to husk down every inch of clothing in public and pranced about on the lawn of the Elks. This woman was not in the least like what I had heard of the poor pastor’s wife. She was softer, and quieter.

The Silent Woman inched several feet further into the water. I held my breath. She stopped right at the spot where the drop-off abruptly bent into its darkened delirium. She must be well versed in the lay of this place, I thought, or she would have most certainly stepped into a sharp descent. I could almost see her arms, oars fighting their way up to the heavens, and the terrible whirl of water that would issue forth as she sank. However, she did not.

Her memory seemed stoked by the moon, and she carried her memory in her entire body. I had seen that before in aunts who barely spoke because memory and grief so filled them—each finger of their hands, a departed family member. I could hear the lives of others living in her. I strongly suspected she had sisters. She looked like a woman wrapped in the arms of siblings. She was familiar with her womanhood—the ease of its grace moved within her. This clued me she was most certainly from a family of daughters; sisters making sisters, participating in the creative art of being.

Oh woman of the water what do you think as you head back to your chair? Do you know that I, dressed in my twelve-year-old-eyes, have been watching you as you watched whatever you saw out on that lake? The woman lifted the towel and patted her underarms, tilted her head to dry her face. She then reached behind her head, undid the bun; a windfall of hair fell over her shoulders.

I imagined her sisters like mine, tall and willowy. That’s it I thought. She has lost her sisters to the water. Several years back there was a terrible boating accident. The man at the helm of the motor boat was drunk and he made a sharp turn, catapulting the occupants, himself included, all of whom drowned. No way would I swim in the lake after that. I imagined their hair tying up my feet, their hands like wet powder puffs brushing against my legs. For nights, after hearing my relatives speak of this, I got no sleep. From the depths of the water, I saw their watery lives; the way dance would be a constant state of being as they moved with the current. So far as I knew not one body ever surfaced from the lake’s depths. I imagined that if one had it would look much as a cookie soaked in tea.

The loons on the other side of the lake rendered the night more memorable, their plaintive calls thick as mystery. Loons had always been my favorite. ”You’re a reclusive child,” my aunts would say, ”Just like the loons across the lake.“

What is this? The Silent Woman is putting a note in a bottle, capping it with a cork. Again, she’s wading out past the dock. Swinging her arm she tosses the bottle, but not too far. I hear it splash down. Returning to the shore she folds her chair, her towel hung around her neck. The Silent Woman leaves. She simply vanishes into the night and is no more.

Curious. I am curious. With my flashlight in hand, I edge into the water. The stones seem to move under my flashlight and they look more vivid than in daylight. The frame of the dark world enhances them to the point they seem alive. Fish the size of my little finger fan out from my trespassing. I do not venture far into the water. There is a point beyond which nothing prompts me further. Remember, I am afraid of the drowned, that they might reach up and touch me with their death. I catch sight of the bottle. Waves let me pass. Holding back my hair with the ring of my forefinger and thumb, I reach down; retrieve the bottle the Silent Woman tossed.

Back on the beach, I wiggle myself into the accommodating sand. I hurry to remove the cork, take hold of one corner of the note, and slip it free from the bottle. I am spying on someone else’s life. I know this. The water placid as sleep, and the moon, like a saucer, simply floated. With my hand, I smoothed out the note—my flashlight studious. What is this? What does it say? For a moment, I held my breath, as those lost to the water must have done.

 

To the One Who Watched me From the Shadows:

I saw you spying on me from the bushes. The hot coals of your eyes warned me of your presence. I was, like you, once a child in the land of the moon coming down the mountains. I also watched a woman as you have watched me. My sisters and I picked Indian PaintBrushes and the illusive Ladyslippers, illegal to pick, but irresistible nonetheless. This was our favorite childhood place. The world was a circle then, and we were the center of that circle. Now my eyes fill with the labor of loss, forever searching for what has gone. My sisters will not return. Enjoy what you have. Time is a slow memory moving out—it is the boat disappearing in the fog.

In the way of care,

Kathleen

It has been years since I spied on the Silent Woman. I kept her note and the bottle. She is probably dead, or, at the least, very old. I often go back to the lake of my childhood. My sisters are still alive. On moonlit nights, nights of the moon coming down the mountain, I make a wreath of my arms and wrap myself in them. I often wonder if the Silent Woman’s sisters are still in the lake, if they blow bubbles with their soft mouths.