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Outsiders

A man whom people at the coffee shop call “the town crazy” lives on Main Street in this now-gentrified village, long-ago site of a mill and not much else except farmland. Tastefully painted former warehouses blend in with the new: a community theater, a park with walkways over and beside the easy-moving river. I’ve never seen him sitting on a bench beneath the stately wooden gazebo where the community orchestra performs. He walks the street after sundown. I hear he is a veteran.

He’d lived here as many years as I have, twenty. Few know me. I am solitary too, though I hang out at the coffee shop on weekends with my pen and paper and the obligatory cell phone that connects me, sort of, with the rest of the world. I decided to introduce myself to him one August evening when a desire to stroll in the company of others prompted me to forego my early evening solitary walks down the dirt road that continues for a few miles beyond my country home. He ambled with a limp and muttered under his breath when he passed me, averting his eyes. The legs of his khaki slacks scrapped the sidewalk.  He wore a red tee shirt that outlined the hump of his belly.

“Good evening,” I said loud enough to interrupt his conversation with himself.

He stopped. His arms twitched and he cleared his throat. “I don’t talk with strangers.”

“Do you talk with anyone?” I asked, hoping my boldness would interest him. “Son, tell me about yourself.”

“Lady, I don’t think you are old enough to be my Mom.”

That was a good sign. I am probably his age.

“Well, friend, do you have a name?”

“Yes, ma’am, ‘Fred.'”

“My name is ‘Sue.'”

“Do you have anything to say to me?” he asked.

“Fred, excuse me, but why don’t you paint your house, the one I’ve seen you walk into after your evening walks?”

“Lady…”

“Call me ‘Sue.'”

“Sue, I can’t afford to buy the paint or I would.”

“I see, and what about benefits like, maybe, veterans’s benefits.”

“How did you know, Sue?”

“I didn’t, Fred, and you told me what I wanted to know.”

“Yes, I am a veteran.”

“Guess, the Vietnam War?”

“That’s right, Sue.”

“Okay, Fred, what happened?”

“Sue, I am not a monkey in a cage.”

“Fred, did I say you are?”

“No. I lived in a bamboo cage for a year after I was captured.”

“Did you eat food?”

“Monkey food. Bananas and even green leaves.”

“What’s your diet like now?”

“Peanut butter and jelly.”

“Why’s that?”

“The doctors say I’m disabled.”

“Anything, Fred, you like to do besides survive on peanut butter sandwiches?”

“Yes. Paint houses. Paint pictures too.”

“This might be your lucky day, Fred. I want you to paint the window ledges of my home. And I want you to paint a picture, what it felt like to you living in a bamboo cage. I will pay you $350 for the painting.”

“Even if you don’t like the painting?”

“Yes.”

“Are you rich, Sue?”

“Some say I am. I know what I like. I know what I want.”

“Sue, why can’t you paint your own window ledges?”

“Fred, look at me. I am short. I am also afraid of falling off ladders.”

“Why?”

“I fell off a ladder when I was 36 years old. It hurt.”

“How high was the ladder?”

“Above the glass ceiling, very high.”

“How high was the glass ceiling?”

“High, though the ladder extended far above it.”

“When you fell off the ladder, did you break the glass ceiling?”

“No. I’d already broken the ceiling.”

“I don’t get it. Were you injured when you fell off the ladder? Disabled like I am?”

“No. I was not injured to the point of disability. I was on a mission.”

“What, Sue?”

“To create a hole in the glass ceiling.”

“Why?”

“To pave the way for ladies like me who did excellent work.”

“How did you do it?”

“Ability. Nerve. Hard work. Never taking no for an answer when the answer required a ‘yes.’ Being charming enough not to seem like a pest. Brave, like a soldier.”

Fred looked at me with smiling eyes. “Do you like coffee, Sue?”

“I prefer tea.”

“How about after I paint that painting you want and your window ledges too, how about some tea at the coffee shop?”

“That’s a deal, Fred.”

 

@ Katherine Posselt 2016

 

 

 

 

Papa’s Hands

Papa’s Hands

His hands carved granite from mountains,
strong from the age of six, when he worked
in quarries, wiped sweat from his brow in
summer, ignored cracks that bled when he
cut stone in the cold winter of northern Spain.

The thrust in New York Harbor of Liberty’s
beacon-hand fired ambition for a life of
plenty through labor and the love of it.
His strong hands built bridges, buildings,
the walls of Congress, hands of an
herculean artist. Every work now an
official monument.

Yet with those hands he brushed my hair
as a child, gathered flaxen strands as if
coaxing clouds into a cup, clasped them
with a silver barrette as if I were a holy
person. With respect. With reverence.

@ Katherine Posselt 2016

The Flow

flowgrass

I rush like a stream fed by spring rain,

harbinger of new. How did you find me,

grasping my legs as if I were an oak to

save you from water overrunning the bank?

My laughing eyes? Do they excite? You do,

sweetness. You whirl foam, churn up bottom

sand, deposit it on the shore, a new bed.

We tremble. I sit down in currents, bathe

parts of me I want you to knead. You plunge.

I grab your hair. We climb the bank in search

of tall, soft, green grass where our bodies cradle,

stroked by sunlight, soothed by rushing water,

born again, unto ourselves this new day of

the flow.

@ Katherine Posselt 2017

When A Fire Sings

When the first flames wedge between the kindling,

my heart skips a beat. Only one. I am a fire master.

 

The spark of learning occurs early for a child. The spark

catches on fire when the child sees the light in a mother’s

eyes, the first eyes most children see to know Earth.

What will they know of Earth? A warm mother’s breast

or the kindling of mass conflagration? What of those in

Syria? Those who became fire in Hiroshima?

 

No religion on Earth burns a baby at birth.  All babies

soon know that their lives are not fed by mother’s milk.

By deception and death the children learn.  Many times

from mouths that scorch with fire of lies false victors 

proclaim. It is they who need the fire that sings. Not all

of us will be damned. Decide if you are one who will burn.

When a soul decides to be rotten like wood in decay, the

fire burns brightest, the soul of that person, that soul in

great pain.

 

@ Katherine Posselt 2016

Burnish

hours Like gilt edges the Virgin’s face in a medieval Book of Hours, burnish reveals contours of jewel weed growing on moist banks in Hudson Mills Park. Tiny dragon mouths, petals, glow gold flecked with crimson, breathing fire an hour after sunrise. Even weeds achieve status in Autumn when Earth expresses Her royal palette before color dissolves into scattered brown oak leaves on this path in silent, pristine gray-blue frost of November. Even then light sparks the fire of frozen crystals that glow like diamonds. Her body persists through every season, changing aspect never essence. I walk this path relying on warmth of my skin and layers of cotton and wool to steady pumping of my heart, motion of my legs and flow of my thoughts that force awareness of miracles, season to season. Her force forces change despite vileness that seeps into soil, air and water, ungodly deposits of two-legged monsters. My nostrils flare at the thought of harm to Her treasures. I guard like a dragon brandishing its tail to strike intruders and breathe a flame of words. Even this ferocity must transmute into some common understanding. @ Katherine Posselt 2016    

Ascension

How you came to me is

no mystery now. I travel

gateways to the stars, bound

before by darkness within myself

until you, my ancient love,

reunited a petal of my body

with the flower of my soul,

this reunion a daisy

with all petals fluid as

oceans, ever churning, 

water molecules elegant

in hexahedron completeness,

a baptism of which I am a 

part restoring Gaia.

 

@ Katherine Posselt 2016

Cherries and a Pickup Truck

On the way to Leipzig, Germany, we stopped. The pickup truck driver stopped beneath a cherry tree, abundant with fruit, the first fruit we had eaten since Dresden had been bombed. My mother, my two sisters, my little brother and I shook the tree. Cherries rained down like manna from heaven. We ate. Our mouths smeared with juice as dark as the wine my father drank.

We were headed to Leipzig, where my mother’s sister was the only butcher. Not much meat existed after WWII, except horse meat. My aunt raised horses. All the neighbors brought her their horses. She butchered them to feed neighbors and us.

The man who drove the pickup truck was an American undercover soldier who could have been killed, being in what would become East Germany. He wore a farmer’s cap and spoke fluent German, the style of German I had learned in the gymnasium, for only the most intelligent German children. I handed him a handful of cherries. He ate only one.

“Son, I have met you already. I remember you half-dead from starvation like a lot of people I met. I gave you a cigarette. Do you remember? How old were you then?”

“Twelve years old.”

“Hope you don’t smoke for the rest of your life. Could not feed you food. You were too close to starvation. I gave you a cigarette and water, and slowly food, little bits at a time.”

“Thank you, Captain. You saved my life.”

“Wish I could say that about other German children, many of whom died before my eyes. Why do you call me “captain?”

“Sir, it’s the only American military label I know.”

“Son, I am a General. Sometimes in War, only the highest-ranked officers perform the most critical operations.”

“My father served the Nazi Navy, against his will, otherwise he would have been killed or starved, like the Jews. You know about the Jews. Jews are people. People should not starve.”

“That’s right, Son.”

“How, General, did you become a General. My father was forced to serve.”

“Son, I am the son of another General, my father and his father and my great-grandfather were all Generals in America.”

“Why?”

“Because very capable people, also wealthy ones, like my ancestors went to West Point, a US Army school. All of us went to West Point. All of us are Generals. Do you think this is fair?”

“I don’t care about fairness. How fair is War?”

“Not fair, Son. I am a General, and I do not cry. When my men died in atrocious battles, I did not cry, not even when I held in my arms their near-dead bodies. Son, Generals do not cry…sometimes in private and only then.”

“Will I see you again, General?”

“No, Son. And I hope you will remember that as a twelve-year-old boy you have been as brave as my duty called me to be.”

“Don’t leave me, General.”

“I must. And I will give you a gift, my Medal of Honor, the best honor a soldier, and me, a General, could receive. Son, always do your best. That will be good enough.”

“I cried when the General left. He did not taste horse-meat stew. But he held the hand of my mother. She smiled.”

@ Katherine Posselt 2016