Literary Orphans

“Disaster,” “Shroud,” & “American Way” by Mike L. Nichols

Disaster

1) Storm

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.

 

 

2) Abner

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.

 

 

3) Melissa

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.

 

 

4) Nel

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.

 

O Typekey Divider

 

Shroud

“Each morning is a token and an ember, a fly-bitten flinch.”

−Meghan O’Rourke

 

 

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.

 

O Typekey Divider

 

American Way

   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.

 

O Typekey Divider

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

O Typekey Divider

–Art by Marcos Lomba