Cave Paintings — By Dawne Leiker

She painted the monkey on the wall
years before I was born. But there’s
something in its eyes that makes me
think of me. The way it glances
up and to the right. The way I do
when I don’t know the answer,
but don’t want to say.

Only rarely over the years
did we drive the weeded lane,
to the gray stucco home place,
empty since my birth and Dad’s town job.
We’d survey the outbuildings’ decay,
bending to collect rusted implements
from the patches of dirt and buffalo grass,
gathering fragrant lilacs and pink rhubarb stalks
from the overgrown garden.

One summer night, we lingered at the farm
past sunset. My brother lifted
a torn mattress from the back porch
and pushed it onto the brown dirt.
We flopped down on our backs,
wishing for tiny white stars
to sail across the blanket of night.
I closed my eyes just for an instant,
weary from breathing country air.
“See the shooting star?”
he asked, pointing into the darkness,
to where I had just missed it.

Missed, too, the farm that wasn’t my home.
Vacant now more than five decades,
but for two dead coyotes in its basement,
an assortment of snakes, birds, and rats.
And Mom’s crude murals on the walls. Curious,
fading traces of her dream to be an artist.
To be a mother. To be a decorator,
without money to do it tidy.

Down the dank, ancient stairway, cowboys
cling to the block foundation.
One is masked, a Lone Ranger, pink pistol
on his hip. He rides a curly yellow horse.
Across the room, another cowboy
shoots a pistol into the air,
thrusting high its crooked barrel.

Upstairs, red cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall,
framed by a mosaic of cracked ivory paint,
forever strikes seven. Beneath it,
a metal oven, filled with debris,
is now cold to the touch.

Teddy bear and wolf murals
tend the children’s room.
The little ones would have been tucked in
by seven. My brother’s spanking finished moments ago.
My sister’s brown curls laid across
a feather pillow.

And me, alien to the memories
stored here. I touch the paw of
the monkey on the wall, who
fixes his eyes up and to the right.
He does not know. He cannot say
If the light that shot across the night
Was ever really there.

~ Dawne Leiker

Dawne Leiker is a former journalist, now working in academia. Her news/feature stories have appeared in The Hays Daily News, Lawrence Journal World, and several online publications. Her poetry and short stories have garnered awards in regional and statewide literary competitions. Ms. Leiker’s fiction and poetry often are influenced by her past news story interviews, as she develops and re-imagines fictional characters and situations loosely based on local individuals and events.

Guest Editor Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita, is the author of 23 books, including Miriam’s Well, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; and a forthcoming book of poetry, How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems. Founder of Transformative Language Arts, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely, coaches people on writing and right livelihood through the arts, and consults with businesses and organizations on creativity


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