In a city park, an elderly man in a navy blue worsted wool coat and scarf, breathed a warm breath into winter air as he sat motionless on a bench. With silvery hair and thick eyebrows, he looked distinguished as a judge. There was a muffled symphony of ravens mixed with distant traffic filtering through gunmetal bare birches and hoar-frosted firs.
He let out another breath and fixed his gaze on a group of energetic chickadees darting and chattering in low evergreen branches, he admired their energy and smiled. He loved the solitude of winter and recalled as a child when he would daydream about silence, especially when his drunken father would thunder at his mother with maniacal screams. Placing his fingers in his ears helped a bit, but his beating heart refused to be quiet. Words became his escape, and eventually his indulgence. Sometimes they were placatory and at other times, they screamed like his red-eyed alcoholic father. He could see words floating and teeming where others saw nothing.
He learned to pick them out in the margins of life; in dimpled smiles of children, in the eyes of the heartbroken, in cryptic glances between lovers, in the unfolding of springtime’s first buds, in the sultry waving heat of summer, in the solemn and naked autumn trees, in ghosted hoar frosted winter landscapes. He took-in another deep-breath as if he had forgotten to breathe as another vision was returning, vivid and serene, like a painting come to life. He saw a little house deep in a glen. There was a garden with fragrant flowers and his beloved wife, dancing and smelling sweet yellow honeysuckle, singing an ethereal melody that still haunts him. They sat and sipped wine, musing for hours until day’s end when they would happily serenade a pastel sunset. At night, in this beautiful bucolic place, they would drift-off to cricket song with accompanying whippoorwill tune.
He liked to reminisce about his life, about his high school sweetheart who became his wife, about their only child, a son, who grew to love writing as well. He was proud and liked to think that he made an impression. The old man had been a grade school English teacher for twenty-five years, doing his best to mold young minds. He also taught creative writing at the local university, until his health started to wane. He missed it and enjoyed seeing excitement in young eyes as he coaxed imaginations to create. He had written several books of poetry in his life, none of which made him much money, but it was never about the money. He just wanted to share his thoughts, “To impart what God had put in his heart,” as he would so often say.
Brushing the slats of the bench with trembling a hand, he remembered life’s seasons, he proposed to his wife here, there was a sentient aura hovering over the painted boards, in black wrought iron back and legs. This bench knew his deepest secrets; it had listened to his tear-filled prayers and praises. When he was not seated here, he entrusted the bench comforted others as well. He knew of its burdens such as dirty shoes and malicious birds, children with popsicles melting in relentless summer sun, the homeless man stretched-out along its sleek frame, whispering unintelligible words and drifting-off to sleep with shoes respectfully and neatly placed underneath.
A poem came to mind, entitled, “When My Days Are Done.” When my days are done and God calls me home, I truly hope I have loved much and shared, but God, please won’t you let my spirit roam, near the ones dearest, who had truly cared, I could be the wind that blows through the trees, closer than the sunshine on their faces, as warm and gentle as a summer breeze, with memories of loving embraces. So shed a few tears for me my loved ones, but rest assured I will always live on, in the bright smiles of your daughters and sons, and I will greet you every day at dawn. And we’ll all meet again one day I’m told, dancing and laughing on those streets of gold.
That poem, and thousands of others he had written over his ninety-one years of life were gathered by unappreciative family members and placed in boxes. He remembered the family’s hurried pace, how they talked of finally being able to rid the place of all the clutter and ‘close the deal.’ That was a dozen or so years ago. The old man sat up straight as a single ray of mid-winter sun, burst through grey clouds. With a bit of boyish wonder, talking aloud, he said, “If you write a poem on a seashore, and the words dissolve in salty surf and spray, where on earth do the words go, do they simply fade away?”
The world has changed so much these past dozen or so years,” the old man quipped with a slightly irritated tone as he released yet another breath into crisp pre-dusk air. A man jogging up the path passed him as if he was not there, bringing with him a short blast of winter wind. “I miss you my love,” the old man sighed, as his visage disappeared in a swirl of powdery snow.
Shadows of bare birch trees crept across landscape as the sun started to set. A young man and woman scurried up the path approaching the bench, as they passed, they noticed an elderly woman seated there. She was bundled in a navy blue worsted wool coat, which appeared much too large for her slight frame, she was also wearing a scarf to match and a gray knitted woolen cap, pulled down over her ears, with tufts of silvery locks protruding. She sat there nearly motionless with a walking cane, like a regal queen upon a throne with scepter. Tears flowed down her face, following wrinkles, formed by a smile.
©Michael J. Donnelly 2016