ADVANCED RV-ING

Also known as the “stay-cation.”  Many RV’s in town, including our own, appear to be permanently parked in the driveway or on the lawn.  The owners might say otherwise, but according to Winnebago’s Law of RV Inertia, if a camper sits idle for more than one season, there is a 97.5% chance that it will never move again.

It’s an insidious process.  When we bought our motorhome, we figured it would be a perfect hybrid vacation-mobile, a home-away-from-home that would allow us to travel with our pets.  Five years and numerous disasters later, I am forced to admit I have no synchronicity whatsoever with this double-axled house of horrors.  The outside dimensions are huge, constantly banging into tree limbs and garbage dumpsters, while the inner ones are far too small to afford a comfortable living for two adults, two dogs, and a cat.  Here are some of the things I don’t miss:  Packing and unpacking the equivalent of a small house.  Downsizing to a short queen bed, fourteen inches of closet space, and three kitchen cabinets accessible only by step-stool or on hands and knees.  Getting lost.  Blowing tires.  Freezing when the propane furnace futzes on cold nights.  Dealing with a 12-volt battery system that dependably powers the lighting and water pump but won’t extend the retractable stairs– the distance to the ground might be one small step for an overexcited dog with a full bladder, but it’s one giant leap for the klutzy human at the other end of his leash!  Using a toilet that cannot digest Charmin Ultra.  Dumping.  Tripping the breaker if I microwave something while the air conditioner is running.  Making do without a garbage disposal, washer and dryer, fenced-in yard, reliable high-speed internet, and a static address for postal and Amazon.com deliveries.  Then, of course, there is living up to people’s expectations that when we travel, I will actually leave my tiny house-on-wheels to see the sights and do stuff.

Despite all this, I can’t quite bring myself to hang a FOR SALE sign on her.  Within her walls, she holds so many memories–the good, the bad, the completely unexpected.  And even permanently parked, she has proven herself to be quite useful:

Emergency bathroom
Quiet place to sleep if spouse is snoring
Generator during power outages
Extra storage space
Quarters for overnight guests
Possibly a cozy writing studio
Or Air B&B in our touristy village
Without it, I would no longer be “the cool aunt”

So stop by anytime and you can camp out right next door.
Here at Motel 666, we’ll leave the light on for ya!
And watch that first step–it’s a doozie.

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INTERMEDIATE RV-ING

My merit badge apparently got lost in the mail, and no fellow RVer has ever divulged the secret handshake.  These setbacks notwithstanding, we did eventually discover the sweet spot of RV travel:  those fleeting years when you know enough but not too much, you’ve mastered the art of planning ahead without overscheduling, the novelty of your tiny living space still outweighs your desire for the comforts of home, and rather than pushing to cover more miles in a day, you relax your pace and allow yourself to take in all the amazing things around you:

FREEWHEELING

Twenty-seven feet of comfort
Rolling over miles of asphalt ribbon, no destination in mind
No atlas or GPS
Seeking collision with serendipity

Be mindful and pay attention
If something interesting presents itself, stop for a closer look
Let magic happen
Who knows what you will find?

A beach beyond a tunnel of trees
Grilled cheese at twilight amid a rabble of monarch butterflies
New Yorkers let us in
On the George Washington bridge

Wine samples from local vineyards
Pocket parks and green spaces and vast expanses of sunflowers
Camping in driveways
Of surprised and gracious friends

Quaint shops in the middle of nowhere
Friendly conversation with one owner nets a potluck invitation
Another’s secret project
A VW Bus clad in a mosaic of sea glass

Lobster dinner and bonus boat ride
Old Lab paddles proudly in the ocean, completes his Bucket List
Cream cheese melting
On toasty house-made garlic bagels

Twenty-seven feet of comfort
Rolling over miles of asphalt ribbon, no destination in mind
Eyes open, heart open
Who knows what you will find?

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APRIL SHOWERS WITH POWER

horizontal rain

When I was a kid, a weather alert meant grabbing the flashlights and transistor radio and hunkering down together in the basement until it passed.  Nowadays, I love watching storms.  Especially the fast-moving ones whose character changes every time you turn your back.  Skies morphing from eerie yellow-green to smoke and pitch, lightning zig-zagging in random flashes, winds blowing vertical downpours into gravity-defying horizontal ones, cold fronts flash-freezing raindrops into hail or even oversized snowflakes that spin out and splat against the windowpanes.  Below is one of my first published poems, about a real-life, five-minute April rainstorm.  It made its debut in issue 11 of Mock Turtle Zine.

STROBE LIGHT STORM

A gray horizon met my sleepy eyes
as I let the dog out;
smells like rain, I thought.

She was back in a minute…
The sky had grown three shades darker,
angry clouds pushing and shoving in the wind.

The other dog demanded his turn,
the atmosphere now roiling, the air electric.
He hesitated, then made his move,

hovering in mid-squat when it hit.
No warning sprinkles,
a vertical deluge, like a beaded curtain.

He hastily concluded his “business”
ducking my towel and shaking water everywhere
before curling himself back into bed.

I gave him a pat and put the kettle on.
The storm had passed, the day brightened before me
Spring in Ohio, I thought, and smiled.

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BLOWN AWAY… AND GRATEFUL!

blog award
My very first blogging award–an auspicious occasion that deserves its own post!  I’ll chuck the boring, longwinded speech and instead, share
a fun anecdote, some inside info, and links to my favorite stuff.  Enjoy!

I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Aston Kamunde, whose ethereal poems express his unique perspective on life.  If you’re a poetry lover (or even if you’re not) check out Aston’s blog.  Always,
a line or phrase will jump out and speak to me in a very personal way.

I’m excited beyond words (almost) to have been chosen.  “Versatile” is the perfect description of my blog, a true hodge-podge-collage of memoir and poetry.  Per the rules, I am to share seven things about myself, then pass the torch to other deserving blogs.  So here goes:

1.  For me, the only thing better than a writing prompt is a dictation straight from the Muse, who usually finds her voice around 4 AM.

2.  For exercise and inspiration, I walk two miles a day.  Incidentally, that’s exactly the distance to the public library and back.

3.  I have a cat and two pound pups.  The cat can camouflage anywhere.  One dog loves to lick the exhaust pipe of my Honda more than he likes to lick himself (for the record, a lot).  The other dog shifted our motor-home into gear and drove it into a ditch at a rest area.  No, not kidding.  Bonus:  Hubby was inside the RV at the time.  Double Bonus:  He was in the bathroom, terrified that Armageddon had caught him with his pants down.  Fortunately, the motorhome and all involved parties escaped serious injury and went on to live happily ever after.

rv tow

4.  I love every kind of ethnic food, own a wok, and can cook Thai.

5.  I almost threw up from nerves at my first open mike night.

6.  I cannot play practical jokes or poker; my face is a dead giveaway.

7.  My writing heroes are Erma Bombeck and Weird Al Yankovic.  They recently joined forces on a new book:  At Wit’s End Over Word Crimes(JK!  Erma is deceased and Weird Al is probably hunkered down in his basement working out the rhymes for his next parody masterpiece.)

For additional bio, see my introductory post, Just Joan in a Nutshell.

* * * * * * *

And now, for my nominees.  I have hand-picked a JJ42 post for each of you and ask that, in addition to sharing seven fun facts and passing on the torch, you respond in the comment area with a link to a post from your own archives that you think I will enjoy.  Without further ado:

1.  Elan Mudrow of http://tricksterchase.com is a true wordsmith.  His blog features intriguing vintage photos paired with thought-provoking poetry.  He treats every subject with care, from the light and humorous to the serious and melancholy.  For you, Elan, an assortment of seasonal tree poems, A Year of Sap and Branches.

2.  Bitter Ben of http://bensbitterblog.com.  Who knew bitterness could be so delicious?  Ben recently celebrated a huge milestone — 700 blog posts!  So he has a massive archive of bitter selections to sample.  For you, Ben, I have chosen The Twelve Banes of Christmas, a short list of the Super-Villains that fill my holiday season with bitterness.

3.  Marissa of https://rockandrollsupermom.wordpress.com.  This Queen of Rhythm and Rhyme gives ol’ Dr. Seuss a run for his money!  And her wry humor and surprise endings are the icing on the cake.
If you like rhymes, come take a peek.
Some here are common, some unique.
And of course, my favorite kind: oblique!
Marissa rocks some fine technique
on her WordPress site; that’s my critique.
For you, Marissa, backstage pass to the Secret Universe of the Purse.

4.  Professor Julez of https://professorjulez.wordpress.com.  Zany, offbeat, and full of energy, this stand-up-comedian-trapped-inside-of-a-math-teacher is a class act.  For you, Julez, Things Worth a Double Take, a collection of life equations that don’t quite add up.

5.  Trek of https://circumstance227.wordpress.com.  Infused with subtle humor and unfailing honesty, her blog is nothing short of addictive.  As I scrolled through the archives, I was amazed that two totally unrelated brains could think so much alike.  For you Trek, and your elderly Dog #3, I have selected a bittersweet canine tale, Earnest and True to the End.

Honorable Mention:  TippyGnu of https://unicorniks.wordpress.com, a fellow introvert whose wit and imagination flow effortlessly through his stories, both fiction and non-fiction.  He proclaims his blog to be an “Award-Free Zone” but I want to recognize him anyway.  TippyGnu, meet King Kong-Cinderella, the hapless heroine of Halloween 1977.

Thank you again, Aston, and congratulations to all.  Happy blogging!

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU MUD…

pink polka dots

It’s mid-March and puddle season is off to a running start.  Which always reminds me of my years in Catholic grade school.  After one morning of non-stop drizzle, the principal cancelled lunch recess on the playground because too many students “could not tell the difference between dry land and puddles.”  Au contraire, Sister Josetta!  We were actually quite discerning.  Our squeaky, wet shoes did not get that way by accident!

During my college years, I and other “auto-challenged” students carried our umbrellas in our backpacks from February to June.  They not only sheltered us from Ohio’s random spring rain showers, but also shielded us from those evil drivers who would gleefully swerve into deep road puddles, then laugh as the resulting spray power-washed our pant legs.

Nowadays, my canine children seek out every rain-filled pothole in the long gravel lane where we take our midday walk.  For years, I recoiled, keeping my distance from their antics.  Then my sister gave me a pair of Wellies — girlie pink ones sprinkled with polka-dots.  These thick-soled rain boots weigh a ton but strangely, when I slide them on, my feet feel light and happy, like I could skip for a mile, strategically stomping and splashing in every puddle along the way.  When life gives you mud, you can wallow in it or you can dance.  I’m gonna dance.  Welcome, Spring!

ROMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE

Life yawns and stirs as the sun waxes
Birds twitter and chirp from budding branches
Bulbs push up their green leaves
Early crocus cheer on daffodil and tulip

Bracing breezes sail through open windows
Freshening the stagnant breath of hibernation
Furnace in the morning, AC by afternoon
Or simply embrace spring’s chills and fever

The cat plaintively meows for liberation
To canvass our neighborhood and others
Reacquaint herself with the woods and fields
Equinox renders her curfew irrelevant

Morning air is smoky gray and electric
Transporting the promise of rain
Soft, steady, comforting, hypnotic drops
That melt away Jack Frost’s icy sting

The snow vanishes without a trace
Percolating into the thawing ground
Leaving mud, glorious mud
For me and my Wellies to romp in

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IF YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT…

42.42

After a recent dinner out, the waiter dropped off our check.  The total?  $42.42.  I know, right?  What a bizarre coincidence!  In addition to our wondrous Mediterranean meal, we had each consumed the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  If you are what you eat, I’d rather be a Guru than a Shawarma or a Fried Kibbi.  The kicker?  If my dog were to chew up this receipt, as he does so many other things, he too could be all-knowing.  What kind of dog eats receipts?  This one, a four-legged mobile landfill with an iron stomach and a penchant for crop-dusting:

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

If you are what you eat
Then it logically follows
My dog is, in part,
Everything that he swallows

His kibble is organic
High-quality, the best
To balance out the “junk food”
I know he’ll ingest

Tidbits from our plates
Coffee sloshed from our cups
Water slurped from the toilet
When he finds the lid up

Bites of garbage and compost
Panties filched from the laundry
Used Q-tip or Kleenex?
His morning snack quandary

Green fuzz peeled from tennis balls
Bits of rawhide and toys
Tons of small plastic squeakers
That no longer make noise

A piece of a seatbelt
Chomp-chomped from my Honda
And a turn signal knob
I was also quite fond of

Weeds, grasses, and dirt
Maybe snowballs, in season
Nips of charcoal and applewood
With their flavors so pleasing

Couch cushions and afghans
Pillows and blankets
All so toothsome and comforting
When he’s sleepy or anxious

His tummy churns as it mixes
Meals and “treats” al a carte
Forming gas he will pass
With each SBD fart

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MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER…

valentine 3

On Valentine’s Day, I find myself thinking about couples who have been married for fifty, sixty, even seventy years; folks who have lived through every conceivable hardship and somehow managed to make things work.  When I ask what their secret is, most say they “just knew” their spouse was “the one” the moment they met.  These amazingly spot-on judgments would have occurred decades before dating websites and compatibility surveys became the norm.  In today’s world, we vet out potential candidates online and dismiss anyone who doesn’t meet our criteria or possess a large overlap of common interests.  Despite all the electronic fuss, computerized matches often lack the “spark” necessary to kindle a romance or fail to reveal some fatal flaw.  Like this vivacious vixen, who is almost everything a guy could want:

NEARLY PERFECT

Her gaze melts my heart,
those deep butterscotch eyes!
Just one look and I’m hers;
we go back to my place.

Content to ride shotgun,
she leans out the window,
her honey hair rippling,
carefree, in the breeze.

She’s eager to please
and jumps into my bed.
Her kisses mean business;
her body warms mine.

The stuff of dreams, she
loves camping and fishing,
and Monday night football,
while sharing a beer.

But her steadfast devotion
surpasses impassioned;
the possessive bitch growls
at my human girlfriends.

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PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL’S SECRET LOVE CHILD?

Groundhog Day is drawing near, a reminder that the mammalian family is comprised of two distinct groups:  those who hibernate, and those who don’t.  Although the groundhog is perhaps the most well-known Hibernator, the group also includes more obscure breeds:  hermits, introverts, invalids, homebodies, man-cave dwellers, and video-gamers, to name but a few.  I am a proud member of this sect, reciting daily our pledge of allegiance, which ends with these words: “one Hiber-Nation, underground, with coziness and solitude for all.”

Non-hibernators are commonly known as Cabin Fever-ites.  Last week,
it was minus two degrees with the wind chill, but a plethora of these creatures were out and about:  deer crossing the road, procrastinator squirrels looking for nuts, and intrepid shoppers gathering essentials like celery, Lotto tickets, and new magnets for the refrigerator.  They do not seem to understand the joys of hibernation:

1.  you advance directly from autumn to spring
2.  sleeping for as long as you want
3.  in flannel pajamas, burrowed under a toasty quilt
4.  losing winter weight instead of gaining it
5.  and waking (ta-da!) without bags under your eyes

At our house, a daily snoozing contest keeps us in practice year-round.  I normally abstain from participating because I am a simple homebody-introvert with little aptitude for sleeping in; the coffee pot calls to me and it’s all over.  My high-strung pup Callie is likewise handicapped; she bounds out of bed when I do, eager to stand on the sofa and bark at the neighbors as they warm up their cars and head off to work.  Her laid-back brother Tailor, however, could be Punxsutawney Phil’s love child.  He can remain in bed indefinitely, engaged in fierce competition with his day-sleeping Daddy for the coveted title of Nesquatch.  The word
is a loose derivative of “nesh-squawk,” the derogatory nickname my grandmother pinned on whichever lazybones kid was the last to roll
out of bed.  “Hurry and get up,” she’d say, “You don’t want to be the nesh-squawk!”  My husband and son countered this admonition with a resounding, “Why not?”  So we changed the rules a bit:  if you manage to stay in bed the longest, you are declared the winner.  Getting up for any reason (except to pee) is grounds for immediate disqualification.  The margin between victory and defeat can be slim, so every second counts.  Despite the skill and determination of his worthy opponent, Tailor nearly always prevails.

If I happen to awaken before the day’s first bluish light peeks around the blinds, I love to observe my little champion at work.  Often, my breathing falls in step with his and off I go, back to the Land of Nod:

CONTENTMENT

Just before dawn, I awaken next to my still-sleeping pup.
The white of his tuxedo glows faintly against the black.
His chest rises and falls, softly and silently.

Suddenly, he erupts in a series of muffled snorts and barks.
His feet twitch in unison as they carry him
to and from the farthest reaches of dreamland.

Then they go quiet and he relaxes into his sleeping self,
arching his back in a sustained full-body stretch
that would be the envy of any yogi.

His warm head settles comfortably onto my legs.
I cannot bear to disturb him and savor instead
the look of perfect contentment on his face.

Soon the hypnotic cadence of his breathing beckons,
bidding my return to the parallel universe that lies
behind closed eyelids.  I drift, unable to resist.

This blog post is lovingly dedicated to my father, Victor.
Happy Birthday, Dad!  Hope you don’t see your shadow.

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EARNEST AND TRUE TO THE END

earnie swim

A tiny paw tapped my pant leg.  It belonged to one of the Puppies For Sale, a round-bodied Lab whose sleek black coat was dotted with curly cowlicks.  Two soulful brown eyes gazed up at me from his irresistibly earnest little face and within minutes, Earnest and True had an official name on his “papers” and a window seat in our car.  Our resident Alpha was thrilled with her new role as big sister, alternately mothering and bossing around her little charge.  Easygoing Earnie was the yin to her yang and her most devoted follower.  Although she patiently taught him everything she knew, he never learned to give dog kisses.  And my attempts at tutoring him, however heroic, were entirely unsuccessful.  Charming and gregarious, Earnie was the star of Puppy Kindergarten; the classes were held in the vet’s office and at every appointment for the next fifteen years, he searched under the waiting room chairs for his playmates.  He wasn’t given to mischief unless it involved food.  Or balls.  Or keeping his gnarly toenails as far away from the clippers as possible.  Until his final year, when he inexplicably melted into skin and bones, Earnie was overweight and usually on a diet.  That said, he never missed a meal, and sometimes ate two if his sister took her eyes off her dish.  He raided the garbage can.  He ate stale bread we threw out for the birds.  He talked sympathetic dog sitters out of extra food and treats by pretending he was starving.  His other passion was collecting balls; some he came by honestly, others he “creatively acquired” from neighbors’ yards, the park, or on walks.  Over a lifetime, his cache filled a laundry basket.  In fact, he learned to swim when he chased a tennis ball into our garden pond.  Swimming was another talent he pursued with vigor, constantly seeking out bigger and better venues.  If the local public pond wasn’t frozen, he considered it fair game and jumped in.  When the creek ran high and fast from the spring rains, he rode down it like a water slide.  He could barely contain his excitement the first time he laid eyes on Lake Erie, a body of water so expansive that it touched the sky.  He chased his dreams and stayed ahead of old age for a long time, but it gained a foothold when he lost his sister, his lifelong BFF. To help fill the void, we adopted two young pound pups who doted on him, snuggled with him, groomed him, and kept him entertained with their antics.  As his clock wound down, we concentrated on filling each moment with the things he loved most, from the simplest of pleasures to the craziest of dreams:

EARNIE’S BUCKET LIST

1.  Go for walks with the family, on his own power, at his own pace.  He flatly refused to ride in a wagon; we tried, and he tipped it over.

2.  Run.  His hips were riddled with arthritis, so I’d often lift up his back legs and run along beside him while he sprinted on the front ones.

3.  Roll in the snow.  In his opinion, it was the best part of winter.

4.  Get his butt rubbed.  Ears?  Flanks?  Belly?  Meh!  He was a tush guy.

5.  Sunbathe.  He had a favorite spot on the sofa where he stretched out to soak up the late morning rays, a daily rendezvous he never missed.

6.  Eat whatever and whenever he pleased.  A dream-come-true for a perpetually hungry dog who had spent most of his adult life on a diet.

7.  Swim in the ocean.  So we fired up the RV for an eleventh hour road trip to the coast of Maine.  That’s him, above, paddling in the Atlantic.

8.  Collect more balls.  He acquired his last one, an orange and green tennis ball, just two weeks before he passed.  It was wedged against a mailbox post and half-hidden in the snow, but that did not deter him.

9.  Own a plush pink Kong football.  It was the only thing he wanted for Christmas.  Santa brought one, and Earnie never let it out of his sight.

10.  Go peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.  Dr. Brett Ellis, our beloved vet, obliged, and made a housecall when the time came.

Earnie was true blue to the end, but my final memories will forever be:

PINK

THE decision could be delayed no longer.
Come, I begged the vet, but
not quite yet… wait until
tomorrow.

The day of reckoning refused to be blue
or a somber shade of gray
to match my mood.
Instead,

Each detail was tinged with contradiction,
shades of pink so cheerful,
I longed to smack them.
Senseless.

The fuzzy pink football hugged tight to his chest,
the one he held close day and night

The eager pink tongue that gulped treats laced with dope,
then lolled from his lazy grin

The velvet pink belly that wiggled with glee
as he rolled on his back in the snow

The juicy pink core of a steak grilled mid-rare,
the last he would eat in this world

The sparkling pink bottle we uncorked and shared,
toasting with goblets raised high

The caustic pink bubbles that fizzled and burned
past the obstinate lump in my throat

The pale pink solution that filled us with dread
before peacefully stopping his heart

The gracious pink sky that embraced his pure soul
as it soared to the heavens above

Whenever a four-legged shadow cavorts
across a striking roseate sunset,
I am certain that he
is behind it.

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PILGRIMAGES AND REFLECTIONS

As Winter Solstice approaches, the darker days are a powerful reminder that each of us must forge his own path into the light:

THREE WICKS, ONE CANDLE

I generally avoid the Mall, but in early December I make my annual pilgrimage to Bath and Body Works for a triple-wick jar candle called “Winter.”  Its scent is a pleasing combination of wood smoke and tangy spices.  This year’s has already been burned a few times; the wicks are charred and there is a smudge of grey soot inside of the glass.  The candle itself is off-white, a color perhaps better described as ecru or eggshell or vanilla, but I am not one to split hairs over such trivialities.  The lid is missing and a fine layer of dust has accumulated on the top.
I blow into the jar to dislodge it and it swirls back around, hitting me squarely in the eyes, a reminder that dust is best left alone.  I touch
my lighter to each of the three wicks.  Tiny round balls of fire slowly elongate into teardrops, their bases a hazy blue fading into ultraviolet.  An orange halo glows around each wick and struggles to balance the ever-moving amber flame atop it.  I lose myself as I watch them dance.  Perfectly synchronized, they bobble in circles in response to the air current from the ceiling fan.  The scent intensifies as the wax melts
and pools, a comforting fragrance reminiscent of the incense used at Catholic High Masses like Christmas and Easter.  The spicy undertone might be frankincense or myrrh.  As I consider this possibility, I can almost smell the Wise Men opening their coffers and offering their
gifts to the Babe in the manger.  My mind shifts, and suddenly the jar becomes a microcosm for a much larger concept.  Three wicks, one candle.  Three colors, one flame.  Three small pools of wax slowly morphing into one.  It is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, explained.

 

THE DARKEST DAY

Curls of cinnamon and clove
escape from the teapot and
collide with winter’s gloom
under the nose of an old Lab
who hibernates contentedly
in his worn dent in the sofa.

Fingers of midday sun
poke through the overcast
solstice sky and tap gently
on his still-brawny shoulder,
calling to him on a frequency
known to canines alone.

A dappled rectangle parks
on the ottoman and triggers
his daily pilgrimage; pulling
on elbow, he twists and shifts
bulky body and creaking hips
into its soothing warmth.

His grizzled black muzzle
snores on borrowed time,
so Christmas comes early.
I slip a plush football into
his arms; he sighs and hugs
the treasure to his chest.

He frolics not in the snow
of yesterday or tomorrow,
but simply basks in the glow
of this moment, absorbing its
energy, his black flank on fire
as the pot of tea goes cold.

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