Moving

You are a new house:
empty and void of memories, eager to be filled. 

You are everything familiar and fresh all at once.
I don't yet know your creaks or your leaks or your broken places.
I haven't read your treasured stories told in popcorn ceilings.

But, I know your layout and the feel of your walls. 
I chose you for your bones and your structure
and the way I imagined myself with you. 

How harmoniously I envision everything working together. 
Soon I'll be able to walk your halls in the dark,
and my belongings will wear marks on your flooring. 

You are a new house:
empty and void of memories, eager to be filled. 

But you still feel like home.

Daydreaming of You

The morning was too dreary to let me feel awake
and my cup of coffee was too hot to consume just yet.
The smell of last night's cigarettes lingered on your skin
beckoning me back into the place of shared secrets
told through wine-stained lips.

My eyes are heavy and my heart is still moving slowly,
but at least I know I'm losing sleep for all the right reasons--
all of them being: you.

Red

If browns, greens, and blues are nature’s colors,
then red belongs to humans.

Red is intensity on both ends of the spectrum.
It is a brand new baby
born fresh from its mother’s womb;
it is the last moments on this earth
as the body gives itself over to the next.

Red is war and violence, but it’s also
the passionate throws of lovers between the sheets.
It is screaming with anger
and crying with joy.

Red outlines the most concentrated of emotions.

Like the life-giving blood that pulsates unseen
underneath our skin,
red is there even when its hue is absent.

Red is pervasive and unyielding,
demanding to be seen for all its power and glory.
Red runs through us.

Red is the most human.

PATHOS (Collaboration with Richard Douglas): The River

Pathos is a collection of short stories featuring photographs by Richard Douglas and writings from select journalists, poets and authors. The aim is to seek a deeper understanding of life's issues in order to gain peace and an understanding of self. 

Photos: Richard Douglas
Words: Kendra Leigh 

The River

By all accounts, my life was starting over.  I was on a journey I had no plans of taking without a map or compass to guide me. For the first time in years, I was alone. And the silence was deafening. 

In my hours of solitude I found myself drawn to the river. It was the only place in the world that my soul could rest. Perhaps it was the sound of the water patting the riverbanks mixed with the muted tones that put my heart at ease. But I think it was much more than that. 

I could bury my feet in the mud and feel the depths of the water. Feeling. Feeling felt almost foreign to me in this place of indifference where I had been drowning my emotions in false happiness and whiskey. But at the river, I could feel. The mud squishing my toes apart and the wind breezing over my misted face. 

The sounds of cicadas whirring in the grass and other animals scampering in the distance combined in perfect harmony with the water. At the river, I could hear. Hearing. Hearing to me had been masked with a chorus of static as I received the same empty condolences from coffee shop acquaintances to my paid therapist. “I’m sorry to hear that.” “It will get better.” “Time heals all wounds.” It’s like the shitty broken records you’d make me listen to on repeat. But at the river, I could hear.

And sunset? Sunset at the river was my favorite sight. The pink glow of dusk danced on tops of the cloudy blues illustrating every pleasant dream I could possibly recall.

Feeling; Hearing; Seeing; Dreaming. The river heightened my senses and my nerves were on edge at its banks. 

This is why I came to the river. To allow myself to experience the truth of my journey. To truly feel alive.

The killing that made for a perfect goodbye

          What would be my dinner was right in front of me, blood still pulsing through its veins. We had named it Pumpkin, but it was not a pumpkin. It was a morbid idea to name our meal, perhaps, but it was so natural to name the animals we kept around. Pumpkin was a pig, a pig that lived with us in the Darien Jungle of Panama, tied up to a fence just outside of our hut.

            We brought Pumpkin on a small boat down the river to the village where we lived for that summer. She was dinner and the meat of her body fed the entire village. The evening before our departure was the last time we saw her. Our goodbye was short. Two of the men who lived in our village held the pig, and in one swift motion, another man stabbed her in the neck. He pulled the knife, tearing at the most vital of veins. Pumpkin struggled, squirting blood from her neck onto her killers. She squealed, the tone piercing through the air. Her pain may have been great but it was not lengthy. Her life had ended in a matter of seconds, which meant it was time to prepare the body. A man with a light blue shirt and dark blue shorts laid the body of the pig on two large leaves, both bigger than her body. He began to shave the pig with a machete. The man then severed Pumpkin’s head entirely from her body and hung the carcass upside down from a nearby tree over a bucket. He cut the carcass down the middle of the stomach, allowing the organs to fall into the bucket below. The man scraped out the body entirely, leaving only the bones and meat behind.

            The next time I saw the pig it had been sliced into chunks and placed in pot which was roasting over a fire. We prepared for a fiesta, our grand goodbye to the community of people we had grown to love. Petey, a four-year-old boy, couldn’t wait for the dinner and the celebration. He crawled in my lap and on the ground and then onto the lap of another person. Some children colored on coloring books we brought for them. The older kids played fútbol in the field near the school. I sat and visited with the young moms who were all so confused I hadn’t started a family yet. I told them they could be my family and they agreed to that—family we would be, at least in heart.

            Dinner was ready. The plates were comprised mostly of rice with three or four pieces of pork. It was not a feast, but it was enough. Pumpkin was delicious. I had never had such fresh meat before. It was the most connected I had ever felt to my food. Much of my team felt it was morbid, even though they had eaten meat at home, to glare into the eyes of their food before enjoying it. I wouldn’t say I disagree. I, however, do feel that it was in some way a beautiful process. We brought a pig to a jungle village as a humble offering, and we were able to share her together. Pumpkin’s death was not in vain.   It was this meal that had made certain we were united as one family. It was the perfect goodbye.

Juxtaposition

            The sun was hiding behind a nearby brick building as it began to set. The air, a bit cooler than it had been just a half hour sooner, was now a breezy 73-degrees. Within the surrounding trees, birds sang their song adding to the chorus of the city around them. Cars whirled by nearly constantly, students hurried to class, the light rail buzzed by dinging its horn to warn any pedestrians who might not have seen it coming.

            In the middle of the normal hurried chaos of downtown Phoenix, two college-aged men sat across from one another, silent, save for the sound of one man’s rustling papers.

            Several loose papers and a legal pad of notes lay on the table. The man on the north end of the table was studying for an exam. Holding his pen in his right hand, he scrolled through his touch-screen smartphone with the other. Referencing the paper and then the phone, he scribbled notes onto his pad.

            The man opposite of him also scrolled through his phone, but he had no papers, only the crumbled wrapper of a recently consumed dinner. He wore a button-up shirt with thin blue, vertical stripes; the top two buttons undone and relaxed apart enough to reveal a white crew neck shirt underneath. He relaxed his back into a slightly hunched position and continued scrolling through his phone before breaking briefly to throw away his trash in a trashcan a few yards south of their table.

            After dumping his garbage, he yawned, and sank back into his chair. He picked his nose.

            The man across from him continued flipping through paper and taking notes.

            “Are there even any websites to describe this?” the man asked his friend as he lifted his right hand a little, palm up, so as to beg for an answer.

            He only received a small chuckle as a response.

            The man stopped looking at his phone as he slouched over the papers. A minute passes by and he quickly transitioned to an upright position. As he organized his posture, he did so with his papers, stacking them into one pile with which he then held between both hands.         

            He read the top paper to himself, mouthing the words but allowing no sound to escape his lips. After finishing the first page he flipped it over facedown on the table. He continued to do this with the remaining papers.

            He pointed at one paper, pushing hard into it.

            “Mmm, the Pentagon Papers.”

            He moved on, mumbling facts from his sheet to himself.

            His friend continued scrolling on his cellphone.

            The man studying his notes allowed his eyes to wander briefly as a blonde-hair woman walked by the table, but as soon as she was gone, his eyes returned to his work.

            Another light rail zoomed by, dinging.

            The man rubbed his forehead as he reread the first paper again.

            He stopped to check the time on his phone, and took the black Ray Ban sunglasses off the top of his head and put them in place over his eyes.

            “I should probably go. I’m going to try to finish this in 20 minutes,” he said as he gathered his things for a subsequent time.

            His friend nodded, smiled and returned to his phone.

            The man left, holding his papers tightly and neatly in his hand.

            His black leather briefcase, however, was left at his table in the seat that had been adjacent to him.

            The man who had been sitting across from him did not take notice of the abandoned brief case.

            He kept scrolling.

A boy and his tutor

            The older man sat up, lifting his pencil off the boy’s paper.

            “If your teacher hasn’t told you what matters, then to her it doesn’t,” the tutor said after making a remark with which his pupil disagreed.

            The conversation between the boy and his tutor was drowning in the sounds of sizzles and the splashes of water as an employee washed dishes in the room adjacent to this dining room. The brushed aluminum walls bounced light across the room, stretching shadows across the boy’s college-ruled paper.

            The boy leaned intensely over his spiral notebook as he attempted solving yet another math problem. His eyebrows slightly furrowed.

            His tutor sitting to his left mirrored him. The intensity matched almost as close as their hair color, both intensity and color a shade duller. The tutor’s left hand moved like a machine pivoting on his elbow, fanning between the papers and functioning as an armrest for his head.

            The boy’s pencil also kept turning—graphite-side down, eraser-side down, graphite-side down again as he continued to work through the mathematical equation.

            Two minutes into the problem and the boy had solved the equation correctly.

            Fractions were the culprit. Tutor and student each took to his respective paper to solve the next problem step-by-step. The two worked side-by-side as they prepared to compare their answers.

            “Okay, here I’ve done it differently,” the tutor said as he pointed to a step in the equation, compassion resounding in his voice.

            He raised the paper.

            “No, see, this is 14/3.”

            Both the boy and his tutor returned to their hunched positions over their papers. As they worked on the same problem, the tutor glanced over several times, monitoring his pupil’s steps.

            “The thing you’re missing is there’s an x there.”

            The boy scribbled some more things on his paper and his tutor flashed him an OK sign.

            “OK, let’s do one more and we’ll call it a night,” the tutor said as he checked his watch.

            The boy began again hard at work. The rest of the night, the boy remained fairly quiet, only nodding in response to his instructor.

            “No, you can’t do that,” the tutor said repeatedly tapping his finger on the boy’s paper.

            Graphite-side down, eraser-side down, graphite-side down again, the pencil went.

            Under the table, the boy’s feet were crossed and moving back and forth, but his hands stayed idle as he looked up deep in thought. His feet stopped moving and his head shook back and forth.

            He dropped the pencil and pushed his hands hard into his eyes.

            “Don’t be afraid of that fraction; It’s not so bad,” the tutor said. “Use eight instead of 16 as your common denominator.”

            The tutor leaned in close to the boy, as if to share a life secret. “Using the least common denominator makes it easier.”

            “Ah!” The boy leaned back, relaxing in his chair.

            “I’m more or less tired, how are you doing?” the tutor asked.

            The boy smiled, remaining silent.

            Both gathered their papers and stood up to leave.

            The boy smiled.