Losing March

Northern Mockingbird

At 17, I discovered leaves on trees,
carved veins of light fanning into
a kaleidoscope of green, sawed edges
sharpened into points, bird feathers
descending into arched clouds.

Looking out the window,
lens perched upon my nose, told
to examine the drip of eucalyptus
weighted in sky, held in a metallic grip,
with flaky fingers and root sprawl.

Is this how it’s supposed to be,
a spectacle of finely crafted edges,
when life had been pools of blue rooted
in waves of mountains, palo verdes
a smear of pollen yellow, cacti coated
and licked like well-groomed cats?

The day the world came into focus,
childhood became the soft underbelly,
a tangible abstract of cotton figurines,
until a glut of detail revealed
sticks no longer whittled into animal
shapes but sharpened into spears.

And here I am, in the wake of morning,
no lens to correct my vision, closing the
eyes of my 10-year-old self, only to hear
mockingbirds sing stolen trills, knowing they
don’t sing for joy, but rather to defend all the
imaginary lines drawn for self-preservation.

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On My Satellite

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I would walk a mile in every shoe,
Look through the eyes of every soul
Until I belonged to no one
And no one belonged to me,
Tied to no worldly possessions,
Possessing no earthly desires.
And I would understand humanity.

I would see the smallness of our daily races,
Throw wind to the scurry of ants disappearing
In the warm bricks, thread daffodils in their paths,
Making beautiful obstacles so roads were never easy,
But earned.

I would collect the people with no country,
Cast a rod, reel them in from their colorful rivers,
Point to the imaginary lines
As their tired feet dangled,
No longer pressing into declared ground.
Show them the rounded world,
With no corners to fall from,
No ocean to drown in,
No mind to enslave.

I would churn the cumulus brew,
Blow the frothy tops,
Cool the warming layers,
Stash caches of hope in
Shadowed crevices.

There would be no gravity to pull at my
Shirtsleeves and skin.
No gravity to bring me down and hammer
Me into the ground.
My bones would breathe and I would grow tall,
Expand into weightless particles.
I would float and spin,
See the world as it should be:
A glorious marble of land and sea
And in it, a strange brew of love and sorrow.

But if I stayed in outer space,
I would lose my place.
I would miss my family.
The soft kisses and stormy weather.
The wholeness and holes in my heart,
The bones aching with connective tissue and
Fleshy fragility, the soft tick of time reminding me
Of the moment, the beauty that shows itself every day amid
The ugliness, the selfless acts committed
Without thought or proof.
I would miss the gritty earth.
The soil embedded in my nails.
The patient blooms of spring before an
Unforgiving summer.

The rocketman is lonely, so the song says.
And so, every morning
I build my days with pocketed perspective, fingering
The large earth with my head bent upward,
Watch the night sky fill with extinguished light.
Until one day, I will have to shed the skin I reside in
And hitch a ride on my satellite.

I imagine the view will be just fine.

-S. S. Hicks

Naked Poem

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I wrote a poem with beautiful words,
sounding like a song only I could hear,
knowing there was no point
but to listen.

But the music faded
and the words ate my soul.
I prayed it was only for a day.
A wretched mood.
A slice of time swept over like
shadows grooming mountains,
licking ravines,
moving mavericks of darkness
to tuck away the curled bones —
a memorial of snuffed out
wild things,
scavengers and savages,
fleshless chips crunching under
a booted sole.

But the words.
The terrible beasts.
Shaking leaves off their limbs
to claw at the sky in bitterness,
slashing their nails, leaving white scars,
waiting for the song to be conducted,
the notes to fill the sheets,
the rise and roar of spring,
the buried beauty to return
with vengeance and
solace.

I wrote a poem with beautiful words,
sounding like a song only I could hear,
knowing there was no point
but to listen.

Sunset Witness

 

 

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S. S. Hicks (Sunset off Yarnell Mountain)

 

I drove into a sun-drenched,
Arizona sky.
Met the horizon swallowing day.
Hiked for miles to
disappear into the stretch of land.

In blankets of clouds I stood.
Casting a line
to catch shadow puppets
swimming in valley streams,
patterns snagging on reflections.

Surrounded in trees saturated in lichen green,
pillared stalks of the century plant,
dirt threaded in golden grass,
branches twisting into gnarled sculptures,
clawing at the blue tarp sky,
stirring colors to paint
the sweet carnival.
While the earth begged to be noticed,
dwarfing the demons in our heads.

 

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S. S. Hicks

How Hot Is It? Let Me Tell You . . .

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Since I read a lot of posts complaining about the cold winter last year, while secretly chortling away with Mr. Burns-like laughter, it’s only fair I reveal the darker side of Southwestern living….the summer.

Let me tell you how hot it is. It’s so hot . . .

–For three days in a row now it’s been 115 degrees. And for three days in a row I dreamed of ice fishing in the nude. There has to be a connection.

–I put my running clothes on this morning, took one step outside and lost 10 pounds. Granted it was water weight, but tomorrow I plan on taking two steps, and by the end of the week there’s a good chance 60% of my body will have disappeared and I will emerge as Golem.

–Heat advisories now just recommend an Alaskan vacation.

–Pool parties are Jacuzzi parties with dead mice in the skimmers, after their botched attempts to drink…something…anything.

–It feels like you’re watching the second season of True Detective. Once outside you become confused and disoriented; you forget the names of people around you and can’t keep track of your life’s narrative, unable to recall why you live here in the first place . . . Oh yeah, because last winter was like the first season of True Detective when it made perfect sense.

–Everyone I come across is zombie-like and can’t be bothered with pace. I was in a 40-minute wait line at the post office. In NY, where winter storms invite fistfights over the last can of beans, a brawl would have broken out. But all of us in line knew our cars had turned into an Easy Bake oven and no one wanted to leave the cool 68 degrees safety zone with perfectly good Wifi and Kenny G playing. When the postal employee yelled, “Next,” people just waved her off and grunted.

–Birds spontaneously fall out of the sky.

–I’ve acquired third degree burns from the plastic and metal parts of my car. I wasn’t foolish enough to get a leather interior. In Phoenix, that’s like a hot dog telling a 7-11 clerk it wants a ride on that cool spinny thing. No, no. But when you get cloth, you forget about the other stuff, like the ignition, seat belts, and steering wheel. You know, necessary contact stuff in order to avoid collisions. And good Lord, never leave chapstick in between the console. All I need is a wick to make a candelabrum for Frankenstein.

–I heard someone humming “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes” in the checkout line, and I hummed along with him until the cashier joined in. The bagger thought he was being punked.

–When you grocery shop, people just eat the pint of ice cream in the parking lot. No sense in wasting a perfectly good milkshake.

–When my older kids come home from the school, I have 20 minutes to lecture them about grades, food pyramids, sex ed, and skincare without sass-back or eye rolls before their heat comas wear off and their faux teenage outrage returns.

–Everywhere you go, water stations for humans and dogs are set up in businesses like first aid booths at a Knife Throwing convention. Want to classy it up and double your cost in services? Throw in some cucumbers – double your profits. (Note: Writers can’t afford these establishments. But we know it’s just hipster water anyway.)

Finally, the other day I was in a ladies room when I was propositioned for a bottle of water by a slumped over Midwesterner on vacation. I obliged and told her, “Next time splurge on airfare in February. I know it only costs $50 to fly into Phoenix right now. But there’s a reason. Cah-peesh? Fly home, my little snow bird. Fly home. This is no place for you until mid-October.”

“But I thought y’all said it was a dry heat?”

“That’s just what we say to relatives back East so we can feel superior year-round.”

She is probably overlooking Lake Michigan now, blogging about how hot it is here.

To that I say, “We’ll see who’s laughing in winter. We. Will. See.”

Stay cool!

In Case of Summer, Please Resuscitate

It’s been two months since my last confession . . . Er, I mean blog entry, due to a number of factors, although mostly due to summer fatigue when I like to be off-line and outside. Then throw in beach reading, carpooling kids, chasing fireflies and watching season 12 of So You Think You Can Dance (yeah, Team tWitch!) and suddenly your blog has flat-lined. Whoops.

I have been writing, but instead of posting, I’ve been submitting work for publication so I don’t have the credentials of a baby baboon. Oddly enough, I’ve never really done this.

I’ve also forced myself to get back to WIP #2. This is hard when I’ve been so close on novel #1. Especially considering the math:

Time + Creative Energy =    beninflames

This is a true and scientific equation in the field of creative writing. I should have pursued a career in personal finance, right? Or at the very least a noble quest to find a cure for cancer, or mental illness, in which I would begin immediate investigation into Donald Trump’s bouffant hair dye #5. Red M&Ms explained the 60’s. I think Trump sums up current times fairly well.

So that’s the plan, which may result in sporadic blog posts, but I have tried to stay on top of my blog reading.

Wishing you all a summer of successful writing and enjoyable reading!

Who Let the Scorpions Out?

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I was a scrappy kid growing up — the youngest of three, the only girl, always ready to out-crazy, out-punch and out-run my two older brothers. At five, I had mastered the side karate kick with precision and speed. To this day I still use it when they come at me, claiming to be playful. They’re older and fatter now so it’s a lot easier, and I’ve kept up with my yoga, keeping my kicks high and mighty. That’s the first rule of sibling rivalry: Never let down your guard.

Likewise, this is the first rule of the desert. Behind our childhood home there were acres of mountain wilderness, which we explored and roamed daily. We came across more snakes and scorpions and desert creatures than we could count, saving our finds for dinner conversation and nothing more.

Quick rules: coral snakes — red and yellow kills a fellow, red and black is a friend to Jack; rattlesnakes – freeze, then make a large arc around them; tarantulas are slow and gentle; don’t pick up rocks unless you’re prepare for the quick scurry of scorpions and centipedes; ignore coyotes, bobcats, and javelinas, but if they come at you in a pack, grab a large stick and scream like a banshee. [Ironically, the most terrifying incident was running into a swarm of migrating bees. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest hour of cool. Luckily I heard them before they saw me and I made the fastest getaway of my life.]

But more and more, the desert was getting crowded with development. Frank Lloyd Wright imitation houses were all the rage. Homes with more angles than a geometry final exam started popping up. Isosceles triangles and rhombuses filled our desert space until my folks declared it was time to pack up and move further into the mountains. It was a big move at the time and like most kids, we resisted. I had already built the finest palo verde tree house with a “No Brothers Allowed” sign hammered into its green trunk and I didn’t feel it was an easy transplant. But kids have no say in their parents affairs. It was the early 80’s after all.

So, my mom, dad, brothers and I climbed into our wood-paneled station wagon, the kind with the rear-facing back seat, and headed further north to view a spot of land, ready to embark on a new chapter of desert dwelling. My father had always dreamed of building a house. As we drove, shedding civilization, burrowing further into the land, and my brothers had less drivers they could provoke into road rage by giving them the bird, we began to realize, Dad was really going for it. This was no joke. We drove off blacktop and headed to a vast amount of land littered with cacti and brush, with a white flag of surrender plunged in the middle of a lone valley.

“Here it is!” he declared with triumph, like he was homesteading, but with all the expenses of being a landowner.

“It’s nice,” we all said, staring at the range of mountains, a wash at the foothills, and a large expanse of desert where we would build a corral and stables. No neighbors. No civilization. Just lots and lots of thorny space.

“Ah, you hear that?” Dad said.

We shook our heads.

“Silence. It’s the sound of silence.”

Then my brother hit me and I screamed, just to show him there was no such thing when you have children, followed by a round of, “Will you stop touching me!”

My mother had brought a blanket and food because nothing spells picnic quite like thick cacti, creosote, brittlebush and anthills the size of mini Everest. She paced, scanning a good spot, coming up empty, while Dad carried on.

“And the kitchen will be here. Your bedroom will be here. And way, way on the other side will be your brothers.”

I perked up at that. Way, way? Other side? Yes! 

This lasted all of twenty minutes. Then came the photos. There’s a picture of me in my dolphin, two-toned shorts, holding a wildflower, grinning in a sea of desert. Mom gave up on setting out a blanket and we ate our sun-soaked sandwiches on the flattest rocks we could find, swatting away gnats and stomping off the ants.

Hearing the promise of horses, my brothers became excited about the move. Also, being male teenagers, they were already less suited for society. It was obvious they would either become convicts or cowboys. Unfortunately for me, they chose the latter, using me as a runaway calf, roping my feet until I mastered resentment and how to take a face plant. (Note: You want to stay loose, so you can roll away fast.)

There was a lot of Dad pointing and smiling, mapping out his dream, while my brothers and I collected scorpions and centipedes in the cups Mom brought. Soon we had an entire army of bugs. We built a rink for them to maul each other in, while Mom, still holding the blanket, nodded alongside Dad, disguising her reservations about the whole move.

After a couple hours, we packed up, ready to return home and plan the timeframe of what would follow. I diligently let my scorpions and centipedes go and climbed back into the station wagon with my brothers, who were again in the rear-facing back. We weren’t even a mile away when the shrieks of horror had my dad pulling the car over.

“What? What? What?” he yelled.

“The cups of scorpions and centipedes got knocked over!”

All the car doors flew open and everyone screeched, running away from the station wagon, including Mom and Dad. Two lone empty cups were turned over in the back and all the bugs scurried in between the cracks of the plastic seats, burrowing into the crevices, clenching their lobster-like claws and moving their tiny legs.

stationwagon

“How many were in there?” my father demanded.

“I dunno,” my brother said. “Twenty?”

Then they fought over who spilled the cups.

“Why were you bringing them back?” my mother yelled. “You were supposed to let them go!”

Then a round of finger pointing ensued.

Here we were: five people, ten feet away from a station wagon with all the doors open, in the middle of the desert, yelling, pointing, freaking out. Too bad a satellite image couldn’t have captured it.

After a half an hour of standing there, we decided we would all sit in front, as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. We drove back into civilization with five people in the driver and front passenger seats laughing and kicking like a pack of wild coyotes. I kid you not. And suddenly, us moving away from civilization made sense. We may have tethered our dreams to my father’s, and it didn’t take long before civilization found us again, but my father was right about the desert. You can hear your own voice — and that’s where all dreams start.

The Writer

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Can you spare some change?
he says to the scavenger
feeding off the bone marrow
threading connections with paper truths
selling memories

Those eyes have seen walls
hung with portraits and stolen voices
absorbed in paint
matched to a swatch of prelude blue
fractured light shaped through lace curtains
like sliced lemons adorning plates and pitchers
bumping around with ice on picnic tables
the chimes of when children hung from tree limbs
and leaves gave voice to wind and whispers
laughter mixing with grilled smoke on a hazy sunken day

Sell the memories
when the moon rose and the sun fell
and the knees were skinned
shrouded in nights meant to erase
the anger and displacement, the wrongs never righted

I’ll spare you some change
spin an everlasting narrative
of redemption or hope
whatever you desire
and when you turn to ash
your words will live on
lingering in generations
mouthed until they rattle around in pockets
pass from hand to hand
scuff from time and air
groped and flipped

to rest in a fountain
like a galvanized wish
battered words
copper and nickel-plated
but I will give you the change
and you will give me your paper dreams
and the pen in my pocket
will bleed through each fiber
giving you new life
but it won’t be the truth
existing in the uncracked spine
where the glue meets the pages
sparing you change

an even trade
I say
for I am
______________

-S. S. Hicks

The Flight of the Runner

courtesy of Audubon
courtesy of Audubon

I am a runner – a pounder of the pavement, mostly on the side roads, sometimes taking photos along the way.

I’m in New York for a stretch, running past the infinite shades of green, smelling the sweet scrub of leaves, inhaling a dense thickness that swallows wrappers and decay and turns them into blankets and bedding and oddly shaped sculptures. The shadow arcs of the unseen. I leapt over a lifeless red cardinal smeared like lipstick and long nights. The assault of color blinking in my mind’s eye like a crime scene. The murdered flight. Ah, but the music — the melancholy chords swaying around a whisky-coated voice like last lovers on a dance floor: That taste, All I ever wanted, All I ever needed, Just too dumb to surrender. And the divergence of rays. The spectacle! Inchworms bounce like yoyos, riding silk, surfing a breeze while dreidel-spun pods fall from the oaks, rolling down the streets like laughter, joining the hushed debris of a passing spring — the trample of another season. I cannot help but smile, looking deranged by the fractured light slicing through treetops, cutting layers like cake on a baker’s pedestal. Sweet endorphins. The lusty hit of consciousness that buries every boozy night and monotonous day, the drag and limp of the one-legged grasshopper.

I run between spring and summer, sprinting on the cracks, crushing and embracing the ragged, ripped lines of earth, spilling color under the lazy gather of an indecisive sky, when there is a sharp hail of words: It’s a long road to wisdom, but it’s a short one to being ignored. And I feel a tinge of self-pity, knowing too well: The struggle of writing. The unanswered queries. Words processed and strung out. The stinging rejections. I want to slap some shitty dime store cover on it. Fuck it, go to hell, and call it a day. Then the quick change of thrashing drums shifts to restlessness. Do as I say not as I do because the shit’s so deep you can’t run away. I beg to differ on the contrary. I agree with every word that you say. And the spin of every contradiction I have ever lived and said bucks my stride – we’re all raised by hypocrites — until I catch myself on the wave of can’t stop addicted to the shindig. Chop top he says, ‘I’m going to win big’. My shirt is damp and my hair is glued to my Yankees cap as I run into a raging wall of reflection, clawing away at the self-doubt until I am void of flesh and pain. The nagging ache of aging bones and crunching cartilage. I tear myself down and built myself up. Back to the canvas world. Back to being the painter. My arms, pumping in rhythm, moving to a beat, no longer belong to my body. They spread and lift until the world spins under my feet and everything is seen through the eyes of the red-winged cardinal in flight.

 ***

(Arizona, Kings of Leon; Flowers in Her Hair, The Lumineers; Walking Contradiction/Jesus of Suburbia, Green Day; Can’t Stop, Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

 

the swallow of debris
the swallow of debris
the hanging inchworm
the hanging inchworm

 

 

What Motives Us to Create?

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The desire to create is innately human:

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Nature is the biggest showoff. This cactus flower is the size of my fist and only blooms for one day. I pulled off the side of the road, trespassing, to get this shot — and it doesn’t do it justice.

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Even a parched desert will struggle to create something beautiful.

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Art begs to be noticed, let’s face it. We can draw those stick figure families or write those shitty poems. We can fill our middle school diaries with cringe-worthy angst and paint lemon-colored suns sliced in the high corners of an 8 ½ x 12 sheet of paper, assaulting white space with rainbows and butterflies, or dark daggers and angry eyes. We can pose in the coffee shops with a laptop and a latte, drizzling prose like the caramel on their frothy tops. And it could be brilliant. And it could be crap. And it could very well have saved us that day.

Because creating is inherent to us. Like living and breathing and carrying on in the most wretched of circumstances. And the days I want to quit writing are the days in which I only think I do because we always return — hours, days, weeks, or years later – and make our way back, like spindly branches hiding life under a dull bark, begging to be noticed. Even if it is by one person – known or unknown — feeling okay in that moment, purging ourselves a little bit at a time, until the earth is saturated enough to burst with blooms.

Because spring is inevitable. And we will always remain participants and witnesses.

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