Aurora Borealis Spawned, I pummel down
the earth to lash at leaning cabins containing
wool wrapped and frail old men who I
glimpse inside their glowing glass as I
through shadowed valleys fly. Split their posts.
Gel their seeping blue orbs. Fissure their fingers.
Malevolent I rush and rage, crash
into frames of hacked-down hardwood,
mud stuck and stacked, creaking in
icicle cold and strange in my sight.
See these creatures crystallized in pain,
agonized in frost. Blue stained and stilled.
She had it so hot sweat dripped
down to stain the accounts on my
blue-lined balance sheets.
She wanted the children to be warm.
She stoked the stove till it glowed
brimstone red in the darkened void.
By morning, tattered muslin that filled
the door’s gap to keep the frigid fingers back
had frozen to the plank-wood floor.
Six steers gathered near the door with
tails snaked and warped to frozen flanks
as if popped from life-sized plasticine molds.
My teeth always dented Sam’s coins.
He’d enter my bed like a knight
conquering new lands, in righteous fervor.
Tonight he creeps in, shuffles sheets
penetrates my cocoon of heat
his toes a jolt of thrilling cold.
My mother’s dead. Choking,
her red speckled rags stain my vision
of Him slipping into this four post bed.
Blinding wind and snow kept him in my
room all night. I couldn’t stand the stench
of his fetid breath or the glow of his eyes.
Daddy stepped off the back porch
in his mackinaw and muffler and
into a whirling white wall.
He took four steps, I counted his
foot prints, before they seeped
back into that tempting white world.
I wanted to lick the flakes like paper cut
outs we’d made in the schoolhouse
glowing red against the greyed-out foothills.
In blue morning light, daddy’s hands rigid
inside his cross stitch mittens gripped a split
corral post as if in submission to Northern Gods.
His frozen face tilted up to heaven.
His iced wide eyeballs pleading.
His offering frost and snot-sicles.
“Each morning is a token and an ember, a fly-bitten flinch.”
You’re already there when
I slide in, pull the stiff
white linen over our faces.
It’s freezing, so I swoop my legs
back and forth, a reverse paraplegic
snow angel, bumping into your
ice cold calf. You take no notice.
Silent, still and frozen your
breath doesn’t fog the dark
above your slack, pallid face.
I settle in,
wait for morning.
Whiskey & Rage
You aren’t allowed to collapse
at the casket, sobbing.
This behavior causes great discomfort
for the other mourners, forcing one of them
to puff out his chest and stride across the room,
face fashioned in supercilious compassion,
to lift you by your armpits, and walk you back
to your seat like some doddering geriatric.
Their first gentle touch the impetus
that slams shut a door, leaving grief
to hyperventilate, bewildered and
tear streaked, its palms pressed
against the hardwood laminate.
In appropriate silence, the message conveyed:
There, there now. Show some restraint.
This is real life, not some
goddamned movie. But
grief unreleased is distilled
at an average rate of one drop per second
into a lidless 55 gallon steel drum while
the angel’s share fouls the air at 1 ppm.
When full, this barrel proof distillate may
slosh over at the slightest provocation.
A snapped shoe lace. The sight of
a stranger laughing with her undead
mother. Frustration at a vaguely
perceived personal inadequacy.
The unbidden thought that she
will never read anything I’ve written
and the barrel is kicked over. And
in spite of their vapor protective ensemble
the hazmat response team gets insidiously
infected with this pure form pain and
sorrow expressed as rage while affixing
labels and Teflon coated caps to sample vials.
After the last yellow suited team member exits
a fat, acne scarred deliveryman and his
ponytailed assistant arrive on the scene,
reeking of nicotine, to cart in a fresh barrel.
I can never make out the logo on the company van,
and they always manage to lose the lids.
Mike L. Nichols is a graduate of Idaho State University and a recipient of the Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. He lives and writes in Eastern Idaho. Look for his poetry in Rogue Agent, Tattoo Highway, Ink&Nebula, Plainsongs Magazine, and elsewhere. Find more at mikenicholsauthor.com
–Art by Marcos Lomba