If we had chosen a dark granite,
the whole episode might
have gone unnoticed,
but on the white ceramic tile
there was no denying the invasion.
The first I saw of them was two
scouts moving in random directions
across the kitchen counter,
foraging for food out in the open.
But they left quickly when they
converged at the toaster.
They pivoted and marched in a reverse direction
disappearing into a crack between
the backsplash and the kitchen counter.
And soon, they emerged, a force
increased thirty fold forming a
trail vibrating across a white, sandy desert.
I imagined the strategy meeting that
must have taken place behind the sheetrock
to organize two s-shaped lines, one file walking
toward the crumbs by the toaster
and the other returning to the backsplash.
Some larger soldiers carried crumbs on their
return trip only to lose them at the crack like a truck
too tall for clearance under a low bridge.
But now they run back and forth
between their hole and a small dish
containing a sweet, irresistible gel.
The package says it will eventually poison
the whole nest, brought back on
exoskeletons, antennae and spindly legs.
Their pattern now resembles no legible
letter of the alphabet but rather the disorganized and
uneven skirmish lines of soldiers
running in retreat across a snowy, barren field.
And slowly, as their number diminishes,
part of me wishes I would have been
more careful scraping the knife across my toast
on drowsy mornings and in cleaning the kitchen;
Or that we would have selected
the blissful ignorance of granite.
This is a war zone.
And in it, a battle involving
germs, decay, cancer and clogged arteries.
A fight against insurance companies,
big pharma, apathy, neglect and incompetence.
I hunker down in the surgical
waiting room, a foxhole
in the war-torn landscape,
keeping my head down, gripping
a sticky pager like a hand grenade.
The only weapons this hospital provides
are copies of the New Testament,
a remedy used by many of my cohorts as they
hold hands in this dugout and pray for their loved ones.
I don’t pray, but I look up instead to a monitor on the wall,
that tracks my wife like radar across the
battlefield through pre-op, holding,
surgery, post-op and recovery.
And as she passes from one room
to another and from one scrub-draped orderly
to the next, I can’t help but think
about the ubiquity of error.
How mistakes are made despite the prayers,
preparations, training and good intentions.
I have a feeling experienced many times in war,
or in casinos, that things could turn out very well
or go horribly wrong and I have little control.
Suddenly the pager goes off like a slot machine,
pulsing my wife into the recovery room,
and I feel this atheist in a foxhole
has just won the jackpot.
Cinquains of Four Seasons
Listen. . .
slowing drops like bombs hit
the picnic table outside, then
freshly mowed, smells
of gas and severed blades
of grass as hot metal mutters
combs through still green
grass collecting colored,
unread letters from oaks warning
rules under these grey skies.
Huddled by the fire, we try to
In the gathering storm, Doppler radar paints
the southeast canvas with a palette of green, red and yellow.
Runners at the bottom of the screen
warn cities and counties of severe weather ahead.
But on the ground, the wrens
have already taken safe harbor
in a desolate tangled thicket.
A feral cat is hiding beneath
an overturned wheelbarrow
as the sound of distant thunder
reverberates in the metal tray.
Before the storm hits, chipmunks, ferrets,
groundhogs and rabbits retreat
to the safety of their holes.
Wind gusts roll the leaden clouds like boulders
across the sky bringing drizzle that escalates
into sheets of horizontal rain.
And then there are those who cannot
seek shelter and survival depends on fortune alone.
Succulent blackberries on bushes cannot run
as they helplessly reflect the granite clouds
with the eyes of a blue bottle fly.
Fluttering wildflowers can only hunker down,
their petals like skirts blown up by the wind
held in place by tenacious roots.
A sumptuous carpet of dandelions
undulates flexibly, stems moving
with the wind, rarely breaking.
And under the threatening ashen sky,
the rain turns to steam as it hits the
simmering engine block of an old farm truck.
A fool’s errand to the feed store abruptly ended,
as the farmer is pinned to the road
by a shallow-rooted southern pine.
Neither of them could hold on
in the eye of the storm.
An Innocent Man
How many flights
did it take her to build the nest?
One piece at a time, flying between
the woods and the top of the column
on the front porch.
She carried sticks, grass, leaves,
and spider silk to make her home.
These were combined with moss,
string, feathers and weeds that
she wove into a tight cup fastened
with saliva and mud.
The mother sat on her five eggs
until one day they began to crack
open one by one.
It was the debut of five hideous
downy-headed babies with
fleshy flightless wings.
The next day, one hatchling was
inadvertently pushed over the
nest’s rim as the mother fended
off an attacking blue jay.
I found the baby splattered in the pine dust
on the porch step and buried
it nearby in the flower garden.
And all the while, the mother screamed and swooped
down at my head until I held up the trowel
in a threatening gesture for protection.
Now, each morning I look through the front door
and see four nestlings peer over a ring
of twisted twigs, tatters of rags and paper.
Mother is gone and their beaks
are agape, peeping for food,
but she is never far away.
And as I open the door, she flies chaotically
at me, yawping and wild-eyed,
protecting her young from a tormentor
who is only retrieving the morning paper.
William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan and grew up a military brat. His first book of poetry entitled Points of Interest appeared in 2012 and a second collection of poetry and short stories Uncommon Pursuits was published in 2013. Both are available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. He has also published over seventy poems and short stories in literary journals and his work has been anthologized multiple times.
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