Underneath

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Photo: Morgan Petroski on Unsplash

 

 

She peeled away the stale layers

Of sorrow,

The sheets that wrapped around the core

Of what had once held

Grins.

And underneath the soot of tears

And grit

And grief

She found the gold that had been

Hidden

Soft against reality’s biting teeth.

 

 

 

For the dVerse quadrille challenge: Peel

 

 

Eyes Of Time

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“Learn to listen,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs told him as they sat to whittle spears and arrows out of saplings.

The old man’s hands moved the sharp bone deftly over the yielding wood, smoothing any bumps that could confuse an arrow’s spirit and send it listening to things other than the direction intended by the hunter.

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast had hands that didn’t listen. The bone slipped. The sticks broke. The tips burned instead of hardening.

“You are still young,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs nodded at the boy’s frustration, his own fingers flying like starlings in a sky dance. “Your patience needs many more moons to grow.”

“…And you face special challenges,” the older man added, and the unexpected compassion softened the lined face in a way that soothed the boy more than the salve where the fire had wounded him. “It is your path to struggle. It is your path to overcome and become One-Who-Knows.”

“Like you?” the boy asked, eyes gliding over his mentor’s legs — one long and lean and straight, one tight and oddly bent. It had taken him months to build the courage to speak to the Shaman, and months more to dare note what all saw but was taboo to mention. The deformity was part of the man’s magic. It lent him awe. It caught the curiosity of spirits so they crowded closer to examine him, bringing hardship but also allowing him to speak and sing and plead and wrangle with them on others’ behalf.

“Yes, like me,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs replied. “A path of pain becomes a path of wisdom. If you let it teach you. If you open your heart and listen to your mind, your eyes, your hands, your scars.”

The boy lowered his eyes. He’d seen the man unclothed and he knew the many scars that crisscrossed the Shaman’s torso and that they were part made in valor, part born of harm.

 

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast still remembered the evening when the old man had tapped the flap to the family’s dwelling, and poked his staff in to let his parents know who’d come. It wasn’t his mother who’d let the guest in. It wasn’t even his brother, who’d since become a man. But his father who had gotten up to greet the healer. His father who’d vacated the best seat and who’d served the steaming pine tea in the whorl cup.

The boy had gone to hide behind his mother’s back while the men talked. He curled his webbed fingers under his thumbs. He stuck his tripping, stubby toes under his mother’s furs. The Shaman scared him, and he felt it in his stomach that it was him the words concerned. He felt it in his mother’s muscles, too, tensing as she listened to a future that she must have known was his, and to the losses that she had to know were coming.

Shamans did not hunt. Shamans did not marry. Shamans did not dangle babies on their knee. They fasted. They prayed. They endured. They traveled worlds of mist and danger to bring back people’s souls. They blessed weapons and fought the spirits of famine and war and ill. They were feared and respected but not often loved. It was not a life a mother would will.

That night had been his last in his mother’s arms. He’d been entrusted to the Shaman since. For days he’d ran in tears to his mother only to have her return him solemnly, her own eyes dripping, to the feathered tent.

“You are fortunate,” she whispered to him once when he clung fiercely and her own hands seemed reluctant to release him. “Some Shamans can be cruel in their training, but he is not. He was my uncle once, in the years before he turned a holy man. He had been raised in violence and he promised he would not impart it on you. Go, my son. He will be like a father and mother to you now.”

 

The moon was born a dozen times since, and his mother had been right. He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs was firm and exacting, but he did not whip or lash or wound him, not in body, not in mind. Underneath the distancing exterior, the healer was kind.

The boy bent his head to the stick, determined. Still his hands refused to do his bidding and the sharp bone bit deep into his flesh. He blinked and breathed and wept but let no sound escape.

“The sky has a story today,” the old man said quietly. “Use your pain to wipe your inner eye so you could hear what it tells.”

The boy pressed his lips together and looked up through a veil of tears to see the sky ablaze. Darkness hovered near.

“It will be dark soon,” he said, and the echoes of the throbbing in his hand reverberated in his chest with a desolation only matched by the loneliness he’d felt during the first nights without his mother’s tent. “A dark time.”

The Shaman nodded.

“Fires spat by sticks of thunder. Cunning mouths and thieving hands …” the boy’s eyes lingered on his deformed palm and in the small pool of blood that gathered it in he saw the life of his people dissolve like a reflection distorted by a sudden breeze.

“A dark time is coming,” the Shaman agreed, oddly pleased. “Not in my time. Not in yours. But it will come and our people will discover many needs. You have cleared your eye well, and you have listened. You are young but with patience and more moons, you will become a One-Whose-Eyes-See-Time.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

 

 

A Path Back

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She’d needed this for so long she almost did not know what to do with it. The sense of expansion felt as if it would crush her chest from the inside. The freedom felt disorienting. The quiet deafened. The freshness of the air dug splinters in her lungs.

It was the yearning, really. The slow release of what she had compressed herself into, for absolutely way too long.

Like pins and needles of a ‘fallen asleep’ limb waking up, it was. Only that this was her soul awakening, her spirit that she’d squelched into an air-tight packet and had pushed into a too-small drawer. Her way to survive.

She’d done this to herself, in a way. She realized. Sure, she could blame others for the part they played, but in the end it was her own small choices to ignore and minimize and shrug off and explain away, that slowly but resolutely coiled herself into herself, and did it so completely that she’d began believing herself to be devoid of need or want or urges to do more than what was outwardly expected.

So she’d stopped taking time for herself. She’d stopped going into nature. She’d stopped asking what she loved, or inquiring what she lost, or still required.

Till that day, when the small worm of “maybe,” fed by events that almost forced her hand, led to a gap in her calendar, and to a decision she could not quite explain to herself. A caprice, it felt, to rent a car and go — without a definite plan or conscious understanding of its meaning — into the wilder parts outside the concrete jungle that had become home.

And with the first crunch of her feet onto the leaf-strewn path, something inside her belly and right above her heart began to crack.

She let the wind carry her tears in zigzags on her cheeks. She used her sleeve to wipe her nose, as heedless as a child and as contentedly miserable. She cried because she could. She felt the ache and wronged bewilderment rise in her, slow at first, then unrestrained in its demand to be freed from the confines of denial and regret.

When she’d first left the car at the makeshift parking by the hiking trail, she thought she’d just stretch her legs a bit and perhaps take a few photos of the foliage. She didn’t realize — or perhaps she had but her spirit guarded it a secret so that, too, not be squashed — that there was far more inside her that needed a bit of stretching out. And that once out of the box that confined it, it swelled and would not be going back.

The air around her rustled and a flock of geese curved a misshapen arrow overhead, heading to a warmer clime. She spread her arms and closed her eyes and twirled a slow circle around.

She’d needed this for so long that she almost did not know what to do with it. But she was going to find out.

As the space in her chest fought to accommodate the rise of feelings, the rush of hope finally allowed her to truly inflate her lungs. The leaves around her crumbled to the touch even as more of them floated down to crown her head and shoulders. Some things in her were crumbling, too, even as others — light as golden feathers — came to rest like beacons on a path back to who she was.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge: Copper

 

A Stranger’s Eyes

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Photo: Conner Baker on Unsplash

 

Her hand clasped the steering wheel and she fought against the tears that threatened to blur the road ahead.

The wheels whirred over miles and miles of black as the stars spread a rotating canopy over her car. A bug atop a line drawn in the sand, she was. A smidgen on the wide expanse of life under the heavens.

She won’t go back.

She could not allow it.

He had her squelched under his thumb for so long that she did not recognize her own face in the mirror. Her eyes had become a stranger’s.

“There are times,” her mother once said, “when a woman must believe herself. You may think yourself broken, but you will love again the stranger who was your self.”

She’d thought it cryptic at the time, melodramatic.

She understood now. “I’m coming home to myself at last, Mom.”

 

 

 

For the dVerse Prosery prompt: Love after Love in 144 words

 

 

Her Song To Sing

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Photo: Jorgen Haland via Unsplash

 

And so she stood

Among the rocks

That piled,

A pyre of life’s debris,

Like so much refuse

Of what had

Once been

Beloved goals.

 

And so she sang,

The words still raw

Against her lips,

Her livid

Scar of

Soul.

 

The song, she knew,

Was more than

A sum

Of her whole,

And beyond any meaning

Voice could

Hold.

 

And so she stood

Amidst the wreckage

Of her faith

Atop the middling shards

Of hope.

 

And she recalled

The seeds long planted

In her core,

Beneath the thickets

Of lost calls,

Awaiting, perhaps,

This very annihilation

As invitation

To grow bold.

 

 

 

(Dedicated to all who are feeling broken. May they find the seeds within their core. And grow bold.)

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Song in 102 words

 

The Key

Photo Credit: Sue Vincent

 

Practically everyone but the real-estate agent had been against him purchasing the place.

“That heap of rot is a death trap,” his friend Tomas had said.

“It is haunted,” Fran had shuddered. “You’ll get murdered in your sleep and become another ghost, just like them.”

Others hadn’t been much subtler:

“The place is a wreck!”

“This monster will eat up all your money and spit you out broke and homeless.”

“Are you out of your effing mind?”

“Gosh, Dude, you need a shrink!”

To be fair, the last two statements were probably true. … Not that this stopped him from finding ways to manage all these years without a shrink. Not that there weren’t times during the first year in the house, when the old thing seemed intent on falling about his ears and his bank account skied a Black Diamond toward zero, when he didn’t wonder whether his mental health was sliding south just as precipitously.

But he’d held on to his bootstraps and soldiered on. In part to not lose face but mostly because he had indeed sank so much of his limited assets into the house that there was no way out but through. He gave up his rental apartment in town and erected a tent in the middle of the mansion’s living room where the roof leaked the least. He uncovered the well and hauled out buckets of muck before clean water once more found purchase. He cleared paths through the overgrown hedges and the man-height weeds that overtook what had been a lawn around the house. He scraped moss and mold off of stone walls. He evicted pigeons, rats, squirrels, countless spiders, and a skunk that made sure her discontent lingered. He discovered woodwork under paint, a carved gate under briars, a clubfoot tub under rubble, and a door to a hidden passageway behind a rotting cabinet.

Here and there a friend would agree to help with this or that, and twice he’d hired someone with engine-muscle to lug out things that needed more than human-power. But most his friends couldn’t help (and some refused to ‘enable’ what they declared an insanity), and hiring anyone ate big bites out of a budget that wasn’t hefty to begin with. So he buckled down and did much of the work himself, making small but steady dents in a mountain he did not think would ever yield to order. The list of things left to do only kept growing: parts of the roof needed repair, the kitchen floor needed replacing, the electric lines were too ancient to hold power, the pipes leaked, and the sewers were more roots than flow. The work was Sisyphean.

And still … between moments of sheer desolation and utter despair, he realized that he was actually sleeping soundly for the first time in his life. A smile would sneak onto his lips as he sanded this or patched up that or cleared another mess of spider webs or thickets. He hummed an ear-worm for a whole weekend and no one shushed him for not being able to carry a tune.

It was as if he’d accepted the house and its flaws, and the house in return had accepted him. He felt happy. He felt at home.

The realization stunned him.

Though he wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, he came to understand that the reason he had been drawn to purchasing a run-down estate with overgrown grounds in the middle of a god-forsaken forest, was in part because of memories of another building surrounded by a tall stone fence: the “Home” that never truly was one and yet had been the only model he’d had.

He’d accumulated more moments of abject misery in the “Home” than he ever wanted to recall. Countless nights yearning to be old enough to leave … even as he’d feared the day he would be made to do so.

This long-neglected house with its aged stone fence and beautiful wide gate, was his. No one could tell him he’d aged out and could not stay. No one could tell him that his bed is needed to make room for someone else, or that it was time for him to fend for himself and no longer rely on the charity of others to feed and clothe and put a roof over his head.

It didn’t matter that the repairs would take years and that most of the rooms would not be usable for just as long. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a clear plan for what he’d use all these rooms for. What mattered was that this old place was real. That it was full of history and memory. That it stood firm onto the ground and offered to be the roots he’d otherwise have no way to lay claim to. This house was him. Healing it was the key to who he could become.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo prompt invitation

 

Go Below

Go Below AmitaiAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

Go below

The surface

Of the things you know

And into hollows

That are there, but

You have not yet

Allowed

To grow.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Surface

 

Be a Rebel Today

hard headed InbarAsif

Photo: Inbar Asif

 

 

Be a rebel

Today

Against old ways

That no longer

Nourish

And worries

That hold back

The changes

You know

Your soul

Needs.

 

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

You, Authenticated

Cross AmitaiAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

What makes you, the real you?

What holds truth to your being?

How do you separate

Masks and screens

From true seeing?

In the search to find you,

What peels off

What is freeing?

Do you take on the journey?

Would it matter yet still

To find out

Or accept

That you’re all of it

Whole,

And besides it some more

Guaranteeing?

 

 

For The Daily Post

Plumb The Depths

 

go deep OfirAsif

Photo: Ofir Asif

 

Explore the vistas

Still unseen

Below the concepts

Left to grasp

As depths of thoughts

Plumb deep

The mind

And Spirit knows

What to redeem.

 

 

For The Daily Post