this is a
white knuckle chapbook
copyright 2017 by Cherie Hunter Day
for white knuckle: Howie Good and Dale Wisely
design by Dale Wisely
The way things seem to us is highly subjective. The term quale/qualia (plural), which is derived from Latin and translated as “of what sort,” “of what kind,” refers to how we assign meaning to the perception of experience. Qualia relate to the sensations we are conscious of as mental phenomena. Although our senses fire the same neural pathway that register in the cortex of our brains, it is difficult to prove in any tangible way that my red is the same as your red.
The ineffable, like love or sorrow, is impossible to nail down with words, yet language is our only tool. Words help us focus our attention so that we can sort and make choices based on our perception.
This collection of prose poems is my red; maybe it is your red too.
You Can't Fix This Type of Broken
The answer isn’t tidy like a DIY project fit into an afternoon of heat and green succulence. The coordinates suggest a scene: the garden hose lies coiled in deep shade, the house key remains under its cracked flowerpot, and the lawn chair is just out of reach. Instead there is this spill house of indiscretion. White-hot without regrets for the truculence and these stories. The wide river no longer holds them in its mouth.
Under the screened-in porch there’s shade and room for the three of us. One sister’s cuticles mend the edges of her nails split from scratching dirt. The other develops an appetite for purslane’s bloated stems. Spotted spurge, groundsel, and sow thistle stay lovely in their names. I take after my mother. We inhabit small kingdoms—ancient in chaos and once upon a time. None of us mentions retribution. It’s summer again. There’s salt for the tongue and iron for the blood. Come tuber and fleshy corms, release the captives from this flannel earth. Heal the speck in the tendril’s eye.
Colony Collapse Disorder
When stores of honey are left unattended, beekeepers label their hives ‘faltering.’ Times are hard. Daughters can’t find their way home following the dance steps of broken messiahs. Laud and loud are only one letter apart. Scatter the brittle, hollow suits on what summer has to say. In harm’s way—wait for it.
The Child of My First Thought
Tongue-tied I learned early how shadows offer an edge. The tracery that extends the there and the not there. I sought those echoes out. White pines brought shelter to the confluence of field and the road that ran past our farmhouse. As a very shy twelve-year-old I once removed every stitch of clothing and stood in the shadows facing traffic. Slowly I counted: ONE one-thousand, TWO one-thousand…all the way to sixty. A full minute in skin that shone like the light through an eggshell. Yet nothing shifted: not my shyness, nor the grief of the anonymous souls driving by.
In search of another soft pocket of summertime, I crawl through the corrugated culvert under the road. It’s a tight fit even for a kid and the brook is barely there. The walls of this grey artery have the stretchmarks of storms from past seasons. The pipes intersect and I can finally stand in the well hole under the storm grate. It’s mostly quiet except for an occasional car that rumbles overhead. There a small allowance for sunlight through the perforated cover. The cement is cool in the belly of the drain. I return to the dry field a stranger.
They don’t come here to sulk. Flock is the construct of the gregarious. Not quite Vantablack—the grackle’s elegant blue-black feathers and features give little warning of its vocal fry. That rusty hinge sound could be the anthem of an entire generation. A grinding to flag the void in every conversation.
Fishermen in this bay have given each watery trap a name. Thrumcap can be a knitted cap, mat of coarse yarn, and an unfinished rope. In mining it refers to the small displacement along a seam, a shove out of place. I fray and claim this rock as the stutter in the sentence of the cove. Without trees or structures, it’s rimmed in wrack and beaconing. Lost in fog, it never shifts or rises to meet me. Yet it orients me, an unwavering needle as if love were that instrument. I look for the ease of homecoming. Refuge or impediment—keep this stretch of water between us.
Wait for the Shadows at Half Past Four
Steller’s jays pluck honeybees from the entrance of a wild hive in the heritage oak. They remove the stingers and venom sacs promptly, neatly, and strum off the mess on a nearby pine branch. The bees’ broken bodies are free of taint before the jays swallow the primed remainder. This is a guarded art, which takes practice. We, on the other hand, are slow learners. From a splintered childhood we have saved all of the stingers. They remain intact as pure potential. We line them up to glitter in the sun. Our timing is far from perfect.
Salvation Comes with a Routine
A crow pushes its likeness down the incline of the cedar shake roof. It’s the dried head and chest of a crow with its mantle of feathers intact. It could be an immediate family member or an amulet. The crow chortles between jabs. His tone is conversational like an invocation whispered under the breath. Leatherhead doesn’t respond but tumbles ahead of the juvenile. This is August—full of heat and requirements. Time to exchange old feathers for new, and cast off complacency. Fill in the obvious absences. There are so many shadows to weigh and an entire season to reconnoiter.
The field is hacked and honey-fed by necessity. It bridles us both. With the goldenrod lined up like taxicabs we know it’s time to leave. Now comes the awkward good-bye—the part where we make promises that we can’t possibly keep. Look at the goldfinches as they assemble into flocks and raid the pantry. They know what they’re after—not gladness. Yet their last-minute flurry doesn’t feel like a salvage run. We succumb to the vertigo of clearing out nonetheless. Despite the hum and bramble bathed in brome light, the furnace in all of us is burning down.
In this snapshot my sister is maybe ten or eleven. Her upper body fills the foreground but I can’t look at her directly. I haven’t been born yet. I zoom in on the familiar that leaks around the edges—the northeast side of the barn draped with leafless Virginia creeper, white clapboard garage, and the corncrib against a clear winter sky. Azure and ochre prevail at the expense of other pigments. Film has its own truth. The shutter moment when everything else is ransomed. It’s difficult to judge the distance to impact. Even decades later I come up empty-handed.
Ashes for Alibis
In the rapture of a snowy day we tunnel through shoulder-high snowdrifts. Our wind-carved encampment stretches up the grey staircase and across the porch of a summer cottage clad with cedar shakes. The tug is almost tidal to find the key above the drip cap and unlock the door. The wicker and upholstery are tented under bedsheets and the stone hearth is smudged with soot. With an ample supply of matches we get crumpled newsprint and pine needles to burn again. We center a flame over each curved wick, and distribute candles to all the rooms, so the lullabies can begin.
Winter. The weave of it. The hillside bilked raw because of light. Any stagnancy is darkly considered. Those alone are duped by their self-help manuals. Leftovers are an anomaly. Ask any starling. As their numbers swell into the hundreds of thousands, the flock roils without a leader. Theirs is the belief in levers, in gradients, minute adjustments. An alarm rung locally, not panic but precision, sends the giant feather cloud heavenward like a shiny black switch. A signal to the rest of us to look up from the hour of our infancy, look up.
“Duotone” was previously published in NOON: journal of the short poem. Thanks to the editor.
Cherie Hunter Day lives midway between San Francisco and San Jose. Her short prose pieces have appeared in 100 Word Story, Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, Quarter After Eight, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Her most recent collection of short poetry is for Want from Ornithopter Press, 2017. She is also the author of two award-winning haiku collections: apology moon from Red Moon Press, 2013, and The Horse with One Blue Eye from Snapshot Press, 2006. Her haiku are anthologized in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013).