“There’s a shadow in the mirror with a glimmer of the one that was.”

My creative juices are like a gas-powered lawn mower that’s been kept a few too many seasons. I pull the cord and the engine kicks over a few times and I think that it’s the time that things will engage, but the engine just sputters out again. I pull the cord harder, jumping off the ground as I do so and pulling the mower up a little as well, and the engine tries a few more times, with a little more effort, but sputters out again. I pull a few more times, but eventually I give up: I feel like perhaps the tank has run dry, or the spark plugs are corroded beyond usefulness.

Where do I buy a new mower?

January 8

A day late, but not quite a dollar short: That was the story of his life, it seemed. Running behind but still somehow managing to eke out just enough to be considered a success. Or, at least, not a failure. He didn’t know how many times he’d been here before, sitting on the edge of his seat, biting back the urge to scream, fighting his own anxieties for no apparent reason: He hadn’t arrived, he’d never arrive, but at the same time, he’d never drown either. He’d simply continue to be.

January 7

There was a little girl who thought she’d challenge the world to change, to become the way she wanted it to be. She had grown tired of the angry way it had decided to march onward, day after day, and decided that it needed to learn to walk backwards, or at least sideways. She told her mother of the plan, but her mother told her that she was daft and that she needed to learn to accept things the way they were. She told her father of the plan, but her father laughed and patted her on the head and suggested she go back to playing with her dolls. She told her brother of the plan, but he shouted at her to leave him alone and slammed his door in her face. She told her sister of the plan, but her sister was busy with nefarious plans of her own and didn’t have time for such nonsense. Only her grandmother bothered to listen with an open mind, and then smiled softly and nodded and told her that big challenges require big plans. And so the girl set out to plan, taking the largest sheet of paper she could find and the smallest pencil she could find so that she would have plenty of room to lay out everything she needed, and then she set out to work.

January 6

once, when i was glass
and the morning sun was still high in the sky
i could see the rainbows
shimmering through my skin

the road was long in front of me
but i looked forward to the walk

once, when i was steel
and the noontime clouds crept and dawdled
i could see the reflections
dancing on my flesh

the road was curved and ominous
through the thickening wood

now that i am wooden
and the afternoon light strains through the trees
i can see the wisps of smoke
from my embered soul
and i cannot see the road

— ptkh 010614

January 5

On the fifth day at sea, I was set adrift in a rowboat and left to my own devices. In the boat, I had an oar, rations for three days, and an umbrella. There was no cell phone, which was just as well, because I was out of reach of any towers anyway. There was no radio, either.

This was not punishment: This was of my own choosing, and my own design.

I watched the ship disappear onto the horizon; it took an hour, by my reckoning, but my reckoning was not the most reliable. Especially not in the hours that followed until nighttime, as I left the oar dry and felt the steady rhythm of the waves guide my little boat.

What madness had I gotten myself into?

January 4

There is solace in silence
Quiet that seeps in from the shadows
Sleek as a cat, padding softly across tiles

There is solace in silence
Snowflake settling on autumn leaves
Swirled by chilling winds

There is solace in silence
But at the same time,
Not

— ptkh 010414

January 3

You were the Buddha.

That’s what you’d told us when you’d gone to China and the children had gathered around you, this towering behemoth of a man with a round belly and an expansive smile.

When you were lying there, flat, stomach distended from post mortem gasses, I tried to be sad at your loss. I have never grieved the way I feel I should, and so I thought of the Buddha. I rubbed your belly, “for luck” I said, and for me, that was the first part of letting go.

— ptkh 010314

January 2

There is a paper wasp nest dangling from a tree on our easement, high above the street. It is easily the size of a human head, even desiccated as it is from winter months of disuse.

Back in autumn, after the leaves had fallen and made the nest visible to anyone who walked by, I saw some kids throwing stones at it, but nothing came of that.

I wonder if it will fall before spring, and if there are dormant wasps sleeping inside it, and why the wasps chose such a spindly branch to build on in the first place.

But for now it dangles, like Medusa’s head held tauntingly up at the end of Perseus’s hand, the wasp entryway the silent scream of the Gorgon.

— ptkh 010214

January 1

At some point, walking along the snow-flocked train tracks in the winter evening’s half-light, I became aware.

By this I mean: All that I was was now. I had no past to dwell within, chiding myself, steeped in regrets. I had no future lingering in the wings like a Dickens villain, ready to set me to denser tasks.

I had no recollection of where I was going. I had no recollection of where I had been.

At that moment, I was at peace, and so I let that moment become my entirety.

And then it was gone, and I walked onward.

— ptkh 010114

The Grandfather Tree

I never thought I would give you permission to cut down that giant oak tree in the back of the property, the one that had led my grandfather to buy this land in the first place. It had been tall even when he’d seen it as a young man only a year into his first steady paycheck. He told me about how it had lorded over the property, a gaunt, stern figure looking down over the house from its vantage point at the far corner. The house, my grandfather’s house, was a postage stamp among its gridworked clones, with nothing in particular among its aluminum-sided façade to stand it out among its neighbors, but the tree was its own unique specter, a promise of stability and foundation hovering in the midst of mundane clichés.

Over the years, it had grown as trees grow, slowly, subtly, weathering storms and seasons, throwing down its leaves each autumn only to take them up anew in the spring. By the time I was old enough to see it, it had dwarfed the power lines that now snake through its lower branches. The power company had tried to cut it back, but my grandfather, and then my father, and then at last myself, we had stood firm against any threat to its majestic arms, reaching ever skyward.

When I was a child, it had been struck by lightning. Several of its branches had come crashing down, cleft from the trunk, and destroyed my father’s storage shed. He forgave it. The lightning had not been its fault: The lightning had been a reminder. Don’t reach too high. Know your limits. Aspiration was fine, but everyone had their place in the world and, like Icarus, there was ever the risk of reaching outside of that place and getting hurt.

At the time, I thought my father was talking about the tree.

You’ve hated that tree ever since you met me. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because there’s something in that tree that you can’t be or have, a heritage that contradicts your Gypsy soul, your vagabond spirit. My grandfather, fifteen years gone now, lives in that tree. It is where I am from.

And then, two summers ago, another lightning strike, only this time the giant oak took a direct hit in the trunk, singeing out its guts and leaving a hole large enough for me to stand in. I thought that would be the end of it then, I thought it would collapse after a few months, weighed down by its cavity, destroyed by its own lack.

The next spring, though, the leaves were back on the tallest branches. The gap turned black and ominous, but the leaves were defiant. And then, months later, they fell. As per their wont. And this year, again, they were back.

So the tree lives on, I know. There is life yet in it, even with its charred maw. Perhaps it has another decade, perhaps another century. I do not know how long it was there before my grandfather. I do not know how long it will persist if nothing is done to it.

But it is no longer the tree my grandfather bought this property for. It is a shadow of a ghost. It is time to move forward, and this shell of a tree is holding us back.

So I give you permission, while I am away this summer: Tear it down, make it gone while I am not here to see the deed. Have the remnant of the trunk polished flat so we have a place to sit on the corner of the land and watch the world march on. Chop its flesh into sawdust and splinters. Let it be devoured.

I give you permission to let me let it go.