There is an image I can’t seem to get out of my mind; I am standing in the snow at the edge of a wood, the trees are as thick as the shadows and the only sound heard, carried on the bitter cold wind swirling around the back of my neck and off and over the tops of the tall, green pines is that of heavy footsteps in the icy snow.

I can see in the distance not too far off a girl, young and pretty, she stands in the open in a blue and white flowered dress. She doesn’t see me, she doesn’t appear to be cold but I can see her sweet breath crystallize and fade away on the breeze. I recognize her, but not as a young girl, instead I have seen her, known her as a woman, one whose lived a life of struggle, of pain and loss and sickness. But in spite of it she always seemed to be surrounded by light that shown in her eyes, it danced wildly there and in a deeper place too that she held safely, gently, as if it were a small tender puppy.

I want to offer her my coat but she doesn’t seem to be cold, she looks back over her shoulder at me as if knowing I want to help her, but with a look as if to say that she was fine, she smiles and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks, it’s a huge and bright smile and it made me feel swell.

Then she suddenly turned back towards the woods and from somewhere in the darkness the hefty, crunchy footsteps came louder, closer. I am afraid but she is not, instead she stands firm, tall and proud. In a moment of sudden quiet, an unkindness of ravens rushed from the trees and  flew straight for her, turning at the last instant, she, unfazed and smiling raises her arms in support and celebration of them. She seemed to see the beauty in them as they flock and swarm overhead.

Just then from behind a thickly barked Evergreen the shadow appears in the form of a wolf, its face stern and black, it’s eyes deep and mysterious, its breathe weighty and wafting, it echoes over the field in which the girl stands firmly. My heart skips as the wolf steps out in the direction of her, slowly, methodically. The deep brown, sweaty hair on its shoulders rising and falling as it makes its way to her.

I fear for her, I cry for her, and as the wolf approaches I am confused as she opens her arms in a gesture to suggest her willingness to accept it. The wolf steadily approaches her until it halts just within arm’s reach of her breast. The wolf stands facing her, it’s raspy breath, seems and cold, but she extends her arm and in a slow, gentle manner slides the palm of her small, soft hand along the wolf’s jawline to its chin. Then drops her hand to her side, and something changes, I look at her, she is aged, her skin less soft, her hair thinned and her posture hunched. She glances back at me again over her shoulder and smiles, and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks now wrinkled but no less vibrant.

In her eyes I am pulled in and lost, watching a history of her fending off the wolf, she battles whole-heartedly with each attack, sustaining injuries she fights on as she ages all the while smiling as if to say that no matter the wounds, the damage, she wins because she continues to fight and because she appreciates the fight, respects it and trusts it. It becomes her struggle, and though never does she control it she conquers it daily, surviving and living in spite of it, smiling always.

But today seems different; she appears tired, but not beaten. Instead she smiles at the wolf and the wolf lowers its head to her, it seems to respect her. Suddenly she steps to it and together they begin to walk towards the wood, I try and follow them but cannot move, I am not welcome there, not yet.

The two of them walk side by side, companions at rest, reverential partners in the echoes of battle they slowly disappear into the shadows. I fall to my knees and cry, I weep for her and for my loss. When I open my eyes again the moon has risen, and it is quiet but then in the distance, the triumphant call of an owl reverberates among the trees and I know it is her, it is Pennie, she is free from the pain, and she has earned her place away from the fight, she is in the presence of magic, of mystery and ancient knowledge.

Now at night, when I hear the hoot of an owl, I will know it is her, among the animals she loved so much, watching over her puppies, and I imagine her, smiling somewhere beneath the light of the moon, her eyes shining brightly from behind her swollen cheeks.

in remembrance,

Pennie Harrington 1950-2019


The Truth behind Her Eyes

Wandering through the fall days longing for an answer to a question he hasn’t formulated yet, but wondering each day what’ll happen the next. He looks for an out from a dark place, his only respite enjoyed on his bike, riding in the cool air, feeling the slight warmth of the sun on his face. And writing, putting pen to paper the old way, trying to keep up with the voice in his head as he scribbles in an old hand made leather bound book he crafted himself. He is lonely, he is worried and he feels trapped.

On a sunny Saturday morning he walks into his writing group, it’s located in the midst of many cultural shops throughout the Global Market in Midtown. It is still early but the sounds of many of the shops and restaurants begin to echo throughout the indoor market like a cacophony of a tinny instrumental. The tables in the restaurant the group meets in have already been formed into a large square to accommodate the slowly, quietly arriving writers. They all take their seats in their favorite places below the early sunlight flowing in between the blinds in the large window. And they patiently wait for their turns to read and listen to each other’s stories, rhymes and reflections of their internal hymnals.

This is his place, his saving grace; there is no judgment here, no criticism, no dishonesty and no harm. It is a place for him to divulge his pain in an artistic manner, to spill over his dreams and nightmares, it is here that he learns to carve out a space for honesty and truth without repercussion, to offer himself in a way that others feel and hear and welcome without prejudice. It is here that he met her.

He removed his jacket and gathered a cup of coffee and sat at the table facing the window. He looked around at the others, there were a couple of people he hadn’t recognized and always made it a habit to welcome those he didn’t know whom might be new, however the moderator begun and we began to write. As he listened to those whom chose to read he was enjoying each word, each transitional phrase, he enjoyed each person’s individual method of sharing the secrets they held closely outside of this group. He was fascinated by their personal narratives and their anecdotes.

Then he heard her voice, and he turned to watch her as she read aloud. There was something different about her, different then the idea he had of her when he saw her initially. She read with a bold honesty and integrity, but there was more than that, as he watched her read she periodically looked up over her book at him, he began to hear something else in her tone, there was a parallel dialogue between them that no one else was privy to and he hung onto every word. She read from a place somewhere no one else was allowed to be, someplace she kept herself safe, a place in the shadows between her hurt and her struggle to stay alive. And he recognized it; he felt the coolness of the darker recesses. He saw the isolation and seclusion behind her eyes.

He would introduce himself to her during the break, flustered and flushed, he awkwardly spit out something incoherently, but she understood him and felt a draw from somewhere he was protecting but wouldn’t yet let her see. They shook hands and exchanged numbers and in the feel of her soft, delicate palm inside his strong, calloused grip there was something shared, something they would continue to feed and watch grow. Two people who felt lost in a world of darkness, found a light in a place they felt drawn to be. They would find a way to invite each other into their world, into their shadows and battle the cold with united warmth, warmth derived from an assembly of what is left of the embers that have continued to burn deep inside each of them. Together, hand in hand they would lean into the cool fall air, and build new fires, new dreams and go on wild and fantastic adventures.