all this

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the bank of trees, in still wintery
nakedness, a closet

nothing open, waiting

all hidden, yet awake

each tree a finger, distending
holding something within

sleeves of snow scatter,
disappearing, ground breathing

listening

all this, soulful knowing
past and future

all of this, nothing alive and
yet alive

how?

how did this road get here?

I have been walking
this lane for hours,
cut between the wide stand
of poplars and pines

all this roadside
solemnity suggesting someone?

they say a baby
is the essence of a human

where did the baby go?

everything within me
whispers

here!

 

by chris woodhull

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the window

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A storm blew in last night and knocked out
the electricity. When I looked
through the window, the trees were translucent.
Bent and covered with rime. A vast calm
lay over the countryside.
I knew better. But at that moment
I felt I’d never in my life made any
false promises, nor committed
so much as one indecent act. My thoughts
were virtuous. Later on that morning,
of course, electricity was restored.
The sun moved from behind the clouds,
melting the hoarfrost.
And things stood as they had before.

poem by Raymond Carver / photograph by Shinzo Maeda

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I walked past a house where I lived once

 

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I walked past a house where I lived once:
a man and a woman are still together in the whispers there.
Many years have passed with the quiet hum
of the staircase bulb going on
and off and on again.

The keyholes are like little wounds
where all the blood seeped out. And inside,
people pale as death.

I want to stand once again as I did
holding my first love all night long in the doorway.
When we left at dawn, the house
began to fall apart and since then the city and since then
the whole world.

I want to be filled with longing again
till dark burn marks show on my skin.

I want to be written again
in the Book of Life, to be written every single day
till the writing hand hurts.

Yehuda Amichai

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For Love in a Time of Conflict / by John O’Donohue

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When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.

When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.

When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.

Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.

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who knows where

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who knows where
we will be in a year
but now, here,
on this small ledge

a mountain porch opening
into the night with listening
pines and a cathedral moon
i hold your hand

that made the tea and
for the first time
the thrill of love
returned to me,
without stain —
it could have been a
prayer.

our souls, my soul is a
feathery invisible breathing,
lifting and panicking
with delight —

why here and why now?
who made this,
who made us,
where will we be in a year?

 

chris woodhull

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People who shut their eyes

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“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive. One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

—James Baldwin

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Text

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Writers, painters, drawers, thinkers, coffee-sippers, dwindlers, rocking chair enthusiasts…we are warriors. Brave people put on this earth to question even the things we know are solid and right in our hearts. We remain as sponges; letting thoughts flood in, but occasionally wringing out ones that don’t belong. That’s us. We feel. We believe. And we fall and scrape our knees every day. We are warriors of the heart and believers of a beautiful now and a glorious future.

-paris

as is

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My heart hurt thinking about you

so I bought a book of poems

I may already have:

a line so small and heartbreaking

crept up on me

and slipped itself inside me and

stopped me dead in my tracks

and I trembled

– and yet, I may already have this line

in the very same book I may already own

and yet what if I am wrong

that is the question

about the book at home

and later this evening,

the store closed,

lights out, everybody

gone, home, alone, one lamp lit,

wondering how I dreamed up such a mistake

– what a terrible desolation – and

yet I am now driving home,

book in hand, so to speak,

in a bag resting in the passenger seat,

and the only surprise still possible

is this:

what if on the other hand,

I now have two beautiful slim volumes

of the exact same book of poems,

each with the hidden line I love,

one for me and the other for you.

 

 

chris woodhull

Fine and Mellow / Billie Holiday

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My man don’t love me
Treats me oh so mean
My man, he don’t love me
Treats me awful mean
He’s the lowest man
That I’ve ever seen

He wears high-draped pants
Stripes are really yellow
He wears high-draped pants
Stripes are really yellow
But when he starts in to love me
He’s so fine and mellow

Love will make you drink and gamble
Make you stay out all night long
Love will make you drink and gamble
Make you stay out all night long
Love will make you do things that you know is wrong

But if you treat me right daddy
I’ll stay home every day
If you treat me right daddy
I’ll stay home every day
But you’re so mean to me, baby
I know you’re gonna drive me away

Love is just like a faucet
It turns off and on
Love is just like a faucet
It turns off and on

Some times when you think it’s on, baby
It has turned off and gone

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So Beautiful / short fiction

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She likes his touch; his body against hers, her lips against his. Touching and sighing like the warm lift of an ocean wave.

Her body, unfolding over some stretch of secret coast, thrusting inland, a thin veil of water, a shiv, reaching, pausing then retreating, pulling back, lifting open a trail of breathing.

Softly and quietly, their bodies awaken to each other. It is still night. All emotion, his and hers, dilating into the fullness of a single moment lingering, not moving, yet moving. Inaudibly she sighs: baby; he moans: you.

His presence, his dark eyes, open on her like a soft candle, a diffuse amber glow spilling out through curtains of billowing tulle, through panes of window into her watching and waiting body. It illuminates and spins her in a way that makes all of life make sense or not need to make sense. She looks up and leans forward.

They have not known each other for long, a handful of months. They have been together for what seems like every moment of every day since the beginning of time.

Maybe it goes away, she thinks. Everything goes away. Nothing stays. We all go away. Something this beautiful goes away. A passing thought, she wonders. She thinks this as she unbuttons his shirt and presses his chest against her bare breasts, the color of wheat. Her breasts, small, ornamental, pale against his dark touch. He is kind and gentle. Psalms. He is beautiful like the night. She likes his name. Psalms. She likes the feel of his name in her mouth. Psalms. He says beautiful words to her. He holds her and speaks loveliness into her soul.

Delight is her name; people always smile.

Their bodies limber, supple. His hands touching and lingering on her chest, holding, protecting, small birds nesting in the cup of his palms, quaking and fluttering, not to tightly, not letting go. She opens her eyes. They don’t fly away.

Their moments together are always generous and inspired. As many as they have had in such a short time, each one feels rare.

They love and touch and sing a song they both have only recently found within themselves, only traveling a small distance on the climb, not cresting.

“…talk to me in music…” she whispers.
“…what cha mean? he croons, teasing, knowing.
She leans back gently, her eyebrows lifting.
“Blackstreet. Joy,” he offers.
“Dwele. I think I love you,” she returns.
“Joe. If I was your man,”he counters. She smiles back.
Pausing, she adds, “Kem, I think I love you.”
“So Beautiful. Musiq Soulchild.” He knows she loves this song.
“Yolanda Adams, Open my heart, Jill Scott, Eryka Badou, all her shit.”
“…ah, Marvin, Stevie, Luther, all dat and more, baby……”
“…not fair, you win.”
“…we win.”

They do not lack for longing or vision. They love each other to much to be careless or in a hurry. They share something immutable. Just knowing the crest is there is enough. They do not make love.

They pause at some point, listening and lingering and then sit up, he first, she in half measures, as if unfolding, unwrapping herself from a dream, stretching, first her head and shoulders, then lifting her waist, her knees in a sideways prayer position nearly touching his upright back. They pause side by side, one of them turning on a lamp. She then sits up, pulling her knees to herself and snuggles next to him.

Placing her hand in his, lightly, he receiving it as if passing a coin from a foreign land. He quietly turns her hand over, her fingers languid, thin, touching the soft underside of her wrist, looking up halfway but not making eye contact, the warmth in her body turning his thoughts to colors, soft blue, cerulean, a fleck of red, cerise.

“My hand hurts when I am touched. Do you know what I mean?” she says looking out the window. She has never mentioned this; they are sitting on her couch.

“Yes,” he says.”

“What do I mean?” she says, still looking away, her dark hair, slipping across her forehead.

“When you are moved?” He asks.

“Yes, when I feel something deeply.” Her green eyes open and close.

“What do we mean to each other?” he asks.

He is unsure about what next. He always complicates things. He blunders, revealing more than he intended.

“That is an odd way of asking me what I think about you. You know?”

He holds her hand openly, wondering if she will withdraw it.

I know enough, he hears himself say silently. Why does love have to feel so uncertain?

“Because, how shall I say, your questions have a feeling about them and I listen to the feeling of things. I like letting things just arrive on their own without dissecting, demanding. Do you know what I mean?”

“What do my questions feel like,” he asks. He shakes a bit. Her sudden pronouncement seems distancing. Maybe she does know. Maybe she has decided to leave him. Where did that come from?

Life delivers open invitations to some and others wait for instructions. That is the way it seems to Delight. She thinks about this and asks Psalms if he has something to write with. He goes into his bedroom and returns with a pad and pen. She writes this thought down and a few others.

“So what do my questions feel like?” He is standing near the window, wanting to seem reflective, pensive. She looks up, smiles and keeps writing. He looks out into the night.

The world outside the window, is a winter stage of snow and ice. Cornices, meringues and turns of wintry glacial shapes press about the neighborhood houses of Highland Park, an old historical part of Chattanooga. Sheeted by the pall of a stormy late evening, the window bleary with golden spangles of stars and streetlights. Why does this make him sad? He senses something to come? He shakes if off and sits back next to her. Something is making him sad? It surfaces so near, it takes the breath away. She is still writing, no drawing now. She is enjoying her drawing. He is feeling threatened by sadness.

He brings her water. She is thirsty. He will drink beer.
2.

Morning in bed, Psalm’s eyes warm with life, holding still, then opening, listening to the rustle of bedsheets, all coming together like the awareness of running water. His eyelids lifting, noticing, watching her body move and ascend, her bare feet reaching. The wood, the color of almonds, slatted and forgiven.

Watching Delight unfold herself, noticing her own life, touching her body through her toes, becoming aware of her own stillness and beauty like the unwrapping bouquet of flowers on a kitchen table.

Loving Delight is a prayer, life itself.

She stands and then sits back on the bed. She leans, twisting slightly and kisses Psalms. Delight loves Psalms

They have loved each other for a long time.

The day is already full of light

“I’ll make us some coffee. Psalms.” She does that. She says his name as remembering a favorite ingredient, or the name of a star. Psalms. She knows he loves this. He loves the sound of his name in her voice.

“Put some music on,” he whispers. She plays Gregory Porter’s lovely song, Be Good.

3. (a)

Psalms was late for the appointment with a sliding scale counseling center; he had met the counselor briefly at church. He grew agitated to cover his embarrassment.

– She just left, man, she just left. Like that. Said some shit about us being two different people or something. Had the nerve to say some shit about it all being like the story of the city mouse and the country mouse.

– Not sure I follow.

– She is trying to make it all sound tender or something like that. A children’s story, the city mouse and the country mouse. Some shit she read somewhere. She is in her…

– Meaning that you and she are just to different…

– Yeah, different. But she is thinking about something else really. She always wants everything to sound sweet and tragic. I want it fucked up the way it is.

– when you say fucked up what do you mean?

– fucked up! like it sounds. I want stuff said the way it is!

– I am not trying to upset you..

– Nah it ain’t you…I mean you my therapist or something and I want to be upset. I need to be upset.

– Fair enough. Go on.

– Man can i say something.

– of course

– You a white dude and even though you have been real helpful and I am grateful…you are white. It’s like we talk different.

– Tell me what you mean

– I don’t know, black people talk different than white people. We think different. We taste different. We get upset and that’s the way it is. don’t mean shit getting out of hand. but y’all always trying to turn the volume down and man sometimes I need the music to be loud for no other reason that it feels more real that way. do you know what i mean

– I think so. You want to have the freedom to express your anger in a way that…

– See right there…that! Damn! No offense but I hate the way yall talk about things. You sound like cops when you talk. No color. Vehicles and individuals! you know like that. I don’t see vehicle and individuals I say cars and people. Damn!

– Psalms, I am not denying that I have a cultural bias but I don’t see my role as being one of your corner pals..

– First off brother, I don’t have a corner pals. We ain’t all posting on street corners..

– You know that is not what I meant?

– That too! You all get to always say what you didn’t mean and damn you just fucking said it!

– Psalms if you don’t want to meet anymore I understand.

– How the fuck you gonna understand why we shouldn’t meet when you are not getting something right here and now.

– What i’m saying is that I would understand that we cannot connect on a level to help you.
(b)

“So what happened? What did he do?” Prissy states firmly with impatience. She is a big girl, brown sugar toned, bold and very protective of Psalms.
Her girl friends are tense and somber, quiet with excitement. The waiter leaves the table.
“Not a thing.” Delight adjusts her drink on its coaster.
“What the fuck did he do? You broke up with him right?” All three of her friends surround her with a frenetic curiosity, mostly Prissy.
“Yes I broke up with him, if you want to call it that and no he did not do anything, at least not in any way you are thinking!” She is startled by their intensity.
“So what happened? Are you going to tell us or do we have to have some bullshit night talking about other shit, acting upbeat all the while wondering what the fuck happened. Why’d you even come if you won’t talk?” Prissy sees she pushed to hard; she always sees it after the fact. But at least she sees it, she once said, she’s no bully.
“Excuse me..I’ll be back.” Delight get up from the table and walks to the back of the bar.

“Why do you have to be like that?!!” Cindy glares at Prissy.
“I’m just saying what you all thinking!” Prissy looks away, embarrassed, acting insensitive to the comment, feeling frustrated with herself but only a little.
“You need to just let Delight come how she come, let her be and let her tell us the way she feel like she need to. We are here for her! Not you!”
Tabi nods in agreement.
All three are friends from UPS and went to Howard High together with Delight. At least for most of the time until Delight transferred to a private school her last year. They all know Psalms from school and work, growing up they all like him a lot.

The conversation become a jumble:
That was so fucked up but I kinda understand.
why you gotta cuss every time you open yo mouth
why you gotta cuss every…fuck you, you wanna support yo white bouji girl, then do it but don’t pull me into yo proper fucking lookout mountain sensibility shit, yeah sensibility
yo gutter mouth got nuttin to do wit her
fuck you, she did it again, oh well
oh ok, bye

Delight keeps a list of words and phrases in the margins of her journal for no particular reason: billet-doux, cul-de-sac, incubus. She crosses out things she knows are true and she will not forget.
Delight started talking to herself soon after she meet Psalms. No connection necessarily but in her mind everything connects. She started this practice by accident, blurting out something, “Delight! Stop that,” and then began listening to herself do this often and then considered the possibilities. She explored it as a strategy, a way to pray or hear wisdom and find God’s voice in sound, within the sound and unfolding of her own voice. She knew it was considered a sign of mental illness to talk to oneself; she thought to ask somebody at some point why.

Her notion was that with all the voices speaking in her head and there were not that many but a few, but with those voices she was bound to find His voice in her and perhaps capture it with practice and intention and hear it audibly and thereby engage it more immediately. She had noticed that at times, without sound, she would ask questions to herself or make strong laments and then spontaneously before thinking about it, like the floating answer in a magic eight ball, a calm wise response would surface. The response had its own personality, different from the one asking or crying. It was still her asking and responding, at least she thought so. It was as if she were talking to herself inwardly. Why not outwardly she reasoned?

“I love Psalms,” she would state.
“…yes you do,” she would hear, “but you worry about your love.”
“..I do?”
“Do you?:
“Yes.”
Why?
I don’t know. It is so beautiful. It doesn’t seem like it could be real. I am afraid of it.”
what are you afraid of
it ending
and then what
it leaving something ugly in its place
like what
I don’t know, maybe what is left, what it uncovers, ordinary life, jealousy, boredom, sex, loneliness
that is possible but everything has an end or another way of looking at it is that all of life’s beauty cannot go on indefinitely because what makes it beautiful is its presence, the way it only visits
I dont understand
real flowers are better than plastic flowers but you can always go out and pick fresh flowers, that is the point, they are fresh, freshness is presence, plastic flowers have no presence, they only have a look, an appearance, they are always there but never present
yes
so don’t cling to beauty, let it go if it goes
should i say good by to Psalms?
that I cannot say, that is for you to decide
how
how
how
(silence)
She holds her phone lightly for a minute and then dials his number. It purrs intermittently and then his recorded voice, dark, soft and gentle, “Hey this is Psalms, glad you called, leave a message and I’ll get back at cha, be well. click.”
“hey this is delight, will you call me? I wanted to know if we can meet, that’s all, i hope you call me back. She paused. and then hung up, waited some more with the phone in her hand and waited and then wondered what to do next.

fiction by christopher woodhull