Can you lay a big tree down, Dave?
Yes, an’ it be as gently
felled as any babe
ever laid to cradle.
Can you make it
fall exactly so, Dave?
Aye. Set your compass to it, Mate.
Then have a go at it, Dave,
but let me caution
you, trees are as unruly
as any Woman on Earth.
Yeah. I’ll be minding that.
Lessons To Be Learned
Never touch a hot stove!
we taught our toddlers.
Don’t run with sharp scissors!
we warned our children.
Choose your friends wisely!
we cautioned our kids.
Don't talk to strangers!
we reminded each other.
Just say “No” to drugs!
We told our teens.
Seat belts are required!
our government demanded of us.
Smoking is harmful to health!
our scientists instructed us.
“Father, I cannot tell a lie!”
A boy leader declared to his dad.
Honest Abe earned his name!
by telling citizens the truth.
“Covid is nothing but a hoax!”
our president lied to us.
Half were fooled and followed!
but so many of us had to die.
Pyramids Take Time
The building—a three-story brick affair was tucked awkwardly in between much
more recently built high-rise apartments and towering hospitals. Its main distinguishing
touch, one of dated elegance, was a large dark green awning spanning the walkway
leading up to the main entrance. Seattle can be a rainy place and the approach to the
Women’s University Club offers its members and guests momentary shelter from the
elements. Parking on the street is forbidden, and the nearest parking lot, two blocks away,
almost guarantees the frequent need for umbrellas.
When Khyber entered the foyer and closed the door behind him it was as if he had
entered another era. The carpet seemed more plush than normal, and together with the
leaded glass windows, richly draped in a heavy fashion rarely seen these days, helped
mute the road noise from the laboring hill traffic just outside the club. Normally a quiet,
serene room, today it swelled with movement and loud conversation, betraying the
excitement and anticipation of a celebratory event.
Khyber stood for a moment, uncomfortable, gathering in the crowd. Recognizing no
one, he carefully navigated across the large entrance hall to the temporary bar set up in
a far corner. He requested a beer, declined a glass. Seeking a bit of space, he wandered
from room to room, not speaking, merely smiling at those who caught his eye. Silently,
he admired the ornate furniture and the deeply set fireplaces, no longer used, but kept as
if ready for comfortable chairs pulled close on a chilly evening. He sipped his beer in silent contemplation.
She was one of those willowy shaped women with a knack for intimidating men. A
classic black dress accentuated the look and heels bought even more leverage. Her
martini glass was full, and it was still early so he assumed she was sober, though her
voice sounded a bit thick.
He paused near her. When she smiled, to be polite, he said in his formal way, “Good
Her eyebrows lifted, showing surprise. “What do you do for a living?” she purred over
the placid pond of gin. Not the most common of greetings. A narrow face, large blue eyes,
and dark brown hair piled high created an elegant image—an Egyptian queen.
Your lipstick is one octave too red, he thought. “I’m a writer.”
He spoke quickly and softly, as if his profession were an embarrassment. He sometimes
wondered if carpenters or electricians hid similar feelings. He doubted doctors or architects
did—at least those whose patients heal and designs get built.
Her extravagant lips posed on the rim of the glass, puckered, her eyes boldly locked on
“And what does the handsome man write?” Now the gin roiled up under the glitz and
cascaded quickly over the cataract.
He resisted the impulse to say, Stories that literary agents don’t care to publish. “Fiction,”
he replied. “Memories, observations. Stories for children and teenagers, mostly. You won’t
find them in the library.”
He took a swig of cold beer and wiped his lips with the side of his hand. “At least not yet,”
His eyes were also a light blue, almost matching hers in intensity, though his hair and complexion were considerably lighter.
Music and laughter sidled in through the open glass doors leading to a patio surrounded
by lush garden. A nearby kitchen belched food preparation noise. Other denizens edged past, clutching appetizers or drinks.
He momentarily forgot her—remembered bitter advice Rick Nelson had offered in an old
song after being booed at Madison Square Garden—something about singing at garden
parties. Apparently not a happy gig. Khyber had always considered the song dishonest. Prefer driving a truck to earning a king’s ransom with your voice? Not likely, he thought.
She coaxed him back. “Does the writer have a name?”
“Khyber,” he said. “Spelled the same as the pass.”
“What pass would that be?”
Her question caught him off guard. He wiped his thumb over the top of his beer bottle.
Tilting his head slightly he took a long drink—made her wait.
“My father was a mountaineer. The Khyber Pass slices through the Safed Koh Mountains
in northern Pakistan into Afghanistan. One of the most dangerous places on earth.”
Just then a black tied waiter arrived. Like the properly trained surgical scrub nurse, his anticipation was ahead of the cue. He held out his hand to gather the empty bottle.
“Indeed,” said Khyber, smoothly making the transfer. “Thanks.”
He knew her next question in advance. “Have you published any of those memories and observations? Anything I might have read, Khyber…” her lips went flat for an instant—
scooped up a rivulet of alcohol, then curved into another teasing smile, “when I was a child
For the barest of moments she shifted her eyes down to her drink as if calculating the
depth of the liquid. Her camel's eyelashes, long and feathery, cast dark shadows below.
“I haven’t been published yet,” he admitted. “It’s a slow process, but I’m working on it.”
The waiter returned, granting a reprieve from the interrogation. He smiled at the pair.
“Dinner will be served in about fifteen minutes.” He smiled at the lady. “Would you care for
a fresh martini?”
“Indeed,” she mimicked, gracefully placing her empty glass on the round tray. “Thank
“Is it so difficult to become published?” She reached out and touched his arm, almost a
“For me it seems to be.” He drank again, filling his mouth with the cold beer before
swallowing. “It helps if you’re famous. I’m not. Obscure, actually.”
Her fingertips rested lightly on his wrist; he kept himself from looking downward toward
the neckline of her dress; but his peripheral vision captured the edge of a tantalizing zone, a
risky mountain pass cleaved through tantalizing mounds of another sort.
She lifted her hand and asked, “Are you connected to the bride, or the groom?”
He smiled, revealing a boyish grin and straight teeth. “Actually, she’s my step-sister.”
The smile faded and his eyes hardened, showed some pain. “Dad died in an avalanche, and
a few years later Mom remarried. That was almost twenty-five years ago. How about you?”
“We were roommates in college. Also best friends, and the nicest person I know.”
Her eyes challenged him. “My name is Ann, spelled anyway you like.”
She played ring around the rosy with one painted fingertip on the glass shoreline.
“You said you write fiction, but aren’t memories and observations just old facts?”
“I suppose they are,” he replied, “but I take things that have happened to me or a friend, or something I’ve read about, and try to tell a story in a unique and imaginative way. Usually
elements get exaggerated or changed to make them more interesting. In a story I’m working
on at the moment, there’s a young girl who accidentally fell into a well and was trapped there
alone for some time. When I was nine years old, my stepfather lowered me into a well out at
our summer place on the island. I dug with a short handled pick and shovel, filling a bucket
with dirt and rocks. He waited up above in the light and fresh air, winched the bucket up and dumped it, then sent it back down. I’ve been terrified of being buried alive ever since.”
He took a long pull on his beer. “It scared the holy shit out of me.”
“You don’t look like the kind of man who frightens easily. Why write only for kids though?
Why not create something of interest for men and women?”
He turned his head toward the sounds on the patio, took a deep breath. “Everybody is or
was a child. That’s a huge audience. Maybe something I write will help a kid get through a
tough time in their life, or an adult might recall and deal with something that happened in their childhood. I used a few books that way growing up.
"My fantasy is to be sitting in an airport somewhere in the world, and see some kid pull my
book out of her backpack. I’ll pretend not to watch while she reads because it might freak her
out if she notices some strange guy staring at her, but I’ll glance over every now and then to see
if she smiles or giggles at something silly I’ve written.” He grinned at the thought. “One little
giggle will make all the work and rejections worth it.”
She dipped the tip of her finger into the liquid and brought a clinging drip to her lips. Her
eyes never left his.
“I prefer to read big girl stories—about murder, greed, sex. If you write about those perhaps
the agents will publish your stories.”
“You could be right,” he said. He felt warm now, a bit of a buzz started.
“But in order to write well about something, I need to know a lot about it. One of the rules
for writing is to write about stuff you know.” He smiled. “I’ve never murdered anyone and I’ve never had enough money for greed to grab me.”
She touched his arm again, ever so lightly. “What about sex?”
“I doubt if I could write about it in an imaginative way. Some subjects are very complex and probably require lots more talent than I’ve got.” He tipped the glass above his lips. Drained it.
Eager to change the subject, he asked, “What kind of work do you do, Ann?”
“I design expensive clothing for beautiful women. Fabric, color, style—to tantalize and snare
the hungry eyes of rich men.” She paused. “Or wealthy women. Adornment for the female form.”
She brought the delicate glass to her lips and spoke over it. “You know, creations to inspire murder, greed, and sex.”
The waiter returned. “Guests are being seated for dinner now.”
“Thank you,” Khyber replied. “We’ll be along in just a minute.”
She smiled. The tip of her tongue darted out and touched her upper lip. “Write something for
us big girls, Khyber,” she ordered. “I want to see where your memories, observations, and imagination lead you.”
“It takes a long time from the writing to the published book,” he said. “We writers must be patient. It’s a tedious game the agents and publishers play. Query letters, heartless rejections,
and replies that never arrive. There’s a lot of waiting for the phone to ring. A writer without patience is in the wrong business.”
He rattled the empty beer bottle—wished he had another.
Ann smiled widely and stepped close, brushing seductive lips to his ear—“Are you patient
with your love-making too, Khyber Pass, that dangerous place of Pakistan and Afghanistan?”
Her warmth and scent made him momentarily dizzy.
He smiled as she slid her lips lightly across his cheek, pausing at the corner of his mouth.
“Indeed,” he replied. “Like building a pyramid,” he whispered.
“Pyramids and sex take time. They turn out best when carefully planned; each step done in
the proper order.” His grin widened until he could almost, but not quite, taste the gin clinging
to her lips.
She leaned away—retrieved a matching black rhinestone clutch.
“Here’s my card. Call me at quarter past ten tonight; lets get started building the foundation
for one of those pyramids.” She stretched across the crevasse; her lips briefly hesitated over,
but never quite touched his.
“I need to eat, Mr. Writer. I’m starved.”
The next morning in his den, precisely at six o’clock, as was his custom, he began. Took a
sip of coffee. Clicked on the Word icon in the dock. Clicked on New Document. He turned his
head, glanced out the window, saw past the aging apple tree—gazed inward.
His fingers triggered the keys—words shot across the computer screen: She was one of those willowy shaped women with a knack for intimidating men. At exactly ten o’clock she finished drying herself and dropped the warmed lavender towel on the bathroom’s tile floor. Glancing at the clock, she poured lotion into a cupped hand, propped a slender foot up on the side of the tub, and beginning at the ankle worked her way up. Hurrying now, she leaned close to the mirror and carefully applied fresh lipstick. “Adornment for the female imagination,” she said to the nude reflection. It was a coy pose, as if she were flirting with herself. Her lips came alive, fluffed up like a pair of goose down pillows—mocked her twin in the looking glass. A crimson flush, unrelated to the shower’s heat, rode high on her cheeks like the morning sun striking a cold and lonely distant mountaintop.Just as she lay back on the bed, the phone rang. Smiling, she picked up the handset and closed her eyes. “What memories and observations is my favorite writer sharing tonight? Anything for the pleasure of big girls?” she asked.
Khyber, unleashed, grinned broadly, sipped coffee, and continued writing.
Ancient Prayer of Trees
Most High Creator of
grant me but an inch of loyal dirt,
black and rich with nutrients,
a drop of cooling water,
and the gentle warmth of morning sun.
I’ll share my shade with all who linger,
(as best I can)
with rope swings,
Phil Loves Katie)
and rickety tree houses.
One more thing:
please, please, oh please
for bearing silent witness to
I tend my garden with memories—
Gramma, soft, shuffling,
shawled against early air,
scolding her reluctant roses.
Later, she mimics a
nodding sentry from
in a stale glass of water,
“Where is that worthless boy?”
A neighbor thanked me for a simple kindness,
restaurant takeout my diet wouldn’t allow.
So off I went, the food still fresh and hot,
to find a someone who needed sustenance more
He was young, wary, browned, and thin,
as one might expect from stranded youth.
He greeted me with a cautious smile—
measuring me, and what game I played.
I told him my tale as best I could, and
mentioned the restaurant where the meal
had been prepared.
He studied me with understanding eyes and
politely corrected my pronunciation,
as he might his grandfather stumbling over
a meaningless rap song line.
He took my offering and traded his thanks.
A grin played his lips, a joggled memory perhaps.
Taken aback, I managed, “Yes, that’s it,”
and went on my way, never too old to learn.
I saw a hawk soaring high overhead,
and wondered what he thought and said.
I watched while he plummeted and flew by,
And yet could not imagine how or why.
Coming near, he cocked his head,
and I inquired of what he read,
“Tolkien, the Bible, and the Bard,”
he shared, uttered while braking hard.
He landed gently, my knee his stool.
“Of what does your mind use for fuel?”
“Much the same as yours, I must say,
but also, of Steinbeck, Updike, Hemingway.”
His eyes were unlike any I’d ever seen,
huge and rounded, yet incredibly keen.
“No poets then, if truth be told?”
His eyes glittered, a mine of gold.
“Mary Oliver, Dickinson, and Frost,”
I hesitated, my memory somewhat lost.
“All masters of the word and thought,”
he mused, “such wisdom can’t be bought.”
ego fluffs up
gets in the way
how little i know
Then things even out
Deny It Not
We are of the sea
and of the caves,
has rinsed us clean
of these dim
Yet we still need
to splash about,
and explore dark
Yes, we have
our desperate thirst
our voracious appetite
our hideous capacity