Pony Rides

The signs out on the county road and on the side of his barn say Pony Rides, but they’re not really ponies. What you have here are donkeys. Most of the kids don’t know the difference. The grown-ups don’t care, so long as the kids are happy. So he can stand on the porch overlooking the barnyard, watching the sun glint off his old windmill, knowing the distinction is pertinent only to God. He is a man without pride, in the midst of humble beasts.

Today he feels tired and sore, like the hot shower wasn’t enough to wake him up and warm his bones. The mug of coffee he grips in both hands is warming them, but as he drinks it in loud slurps, the rest of him aches for the sun to get up and get busy. The damned thing is dawdling in the tops of the cottonwoods, no help at all to a man with things to do.

In the kitchen, he rinses his cup and sets it in the sink. He takes the teaspoon from the counter near the coffeemaker and drops it in the cup, so that it won’t slide down into the disposal and get beat all to hell. These little things matter now. His wife ordered their silverware years ago, from a catalog. Now that she is gone and he is old, he means the set to last the rest of his life. He will buy no more spoons or dishes, towels, sheets, doormats, wallpaper. He is finished with the replacement of things that have any hope of lasting; he buys nothing for the sake of something new.

The radio on the shelf above his spice rack – salt and pepper, basil and thyme – says the day will be sunny with wind soft from the east. The radio was hers as well, redeemed from the Green Stamp Store, years and years ago. It’s held up better than any of their cars. Some things do.

Out in the barn he follows his shadow as it falls ahead of him — cast by sunrise slanting through the big doors — down between the stalls where a dozen animals are awake and waiting. They’re hungry and he feeds them. He always wonders why they are happy with the same food every day. They’re happy to see him too, as he speaks to them, calls each one by name, and rubs their ears as they bend to eat.

In the last two stalls are Sweetpea and Louie, a mare and her colt. Sweetpea has carried the children for years, turning in her circle slow and patient, with love for her burden. Laughter settles on her back like sunlight. But at night she dreams of a field. The grass is green and the man is not there.

He needs to train Louie to walk in a circle steady and calm, to carry children carefully. These animals are bred for the work, but no one has ridden this colt yet. Louie is the only thing new on his place, the one concession to legacy and the years that roll on beyond the trees that border his land.

He opens the gates to the paddock and corral, and lets the animals out of the barn to play in the sun and drink from their trough. He mucks their stalls, spreads fresh hay, and takes the long training lead out to tether the colt to the center pole.

“You and this pole might as well get acquainted now as later. Don’t let it spook you, boy. Soon enough, it’s like the whole world turns in this barnyard. But it’s not a bad life, I think.”

He fills again the cup he left waiting in the sink. He stands drinking his coffee, with cream and sugar, watching Louie test the limits of the rope. Then two men come walking through the gate and up the path from the road. He sets the cup on the porch rail and hurries down from the house, as they enter the corral and untie Louie from the post.

“Hey now, what do you men suppose you’re doing with my donkey there?”

They look up at him. The sun is fully in the barnyard now and one man says, “The Lord has need of him.”

Soon the sun is full and bright, and the man and his animals are warm in the spring air. Sweetpea takes some consolation in his petting of her long ears and stroking of her neck.

“He’ll be back,” he tells her, and the old windmill shudders and turns in the breeze that was promised.


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Pony Rides by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Painting The Barn


When he notices the change of light, he puts down his brush and looks up. He spent all afternoon painting, and the sun is setting fast. He is finished finally, just in time. His hand is getting numb and there’s an ache down his back, along the left shoulder blade. So he rinses his brushes in warm water, and watches how the light plans to go on without him.

The sun falls beyond the river, so that shadows move up the side of the gray barn. The last rays hit the eves from which he knocked an empty swallow’s nest with a pole. The building looks angry at his going, sad for his weakness.

The threadbare jacaranda in the field beyond the barn takes the dying light into its inner branches, becomes a skeleton. Before he can start the truck and drive away, it is haunted, beyond all hope.

*   *   *

Some nights, it just takes too long to get home. No matter where you start from, how clear the roads and whether, you just can’t get there fast enough. He stops at the market, buys a frozen chicken pie and creamed corn. He waits in line behind a woman writing a check, like she was transcribing Sanskrit from weathered stones.

He loves the night, when the world is drained of its color. All the heavy gradients, brush strokes, vast pallets of green and blue and brown recede to a diffusion of rippled pen and ink. He keeps the lights dim and settles in to watch old movies, surrounded by his walls of quiet swiss coffee.

At two past midnight, the angry gray barn with blue trim and languid shadows, appears in a dream and demands to be red again. Deep brick red, white trim, hinges and hardware stoveiron black.  It wants to stand on the hill in the sleeping hay all night, then command the sun to rise, compel the threadbare jacaranda to leaf out for full summer, put on purple flowers and clash with the cobalt sky. A barn to make the crows wish for clothes like orioles and cardinals and jays.  A barn to fade with happiness – tomato soup with too much milk – in time to lean against its many rust-red parts, and die on the hill.  Gaps between the sagging boards will give the wind a place to sing.

*   *   *

He leans against the fender of his truck at dawn, drinking black coffee, watching the gray barn and the tree as the sun comes up and washes over them. This is what the customer wanted: a barn to atone with the landscape, make peace with the hill. “I want it to blend in, look smaller, farther away,” the farmer said. “My wife thinks it’s ugly. Paint it gray.”

Now he leans against the truck and thinks this may have been a sin, though not his first and maybe not his alone to bear, this time. An ugly decision, a thing not itself.  But why should a barn get to be what it wants if he can’t?  What he wouldn’t give for a proud brightness, a rich red rightness, and a solid hill, room for animals and a tractor, nails driven in posts for hanging tack and tools.

Dammit, it was four days honest work and money earned. There’s half a gallon left of Driftwood Gray. He leaves the can on the farmer’s yellow porch, along with his bill for the job.

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Painting The Barn by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Between Storms

We had weather here this week that was fierce by the standards of the Santa Barbara coast. It put me in mind of this poem, which I decided to post.

There are two audio options for the reading. The first is with music fore and aft by JS Bach (Ah, Bach), at about one minute, twenty seconds.

The second without music, just me, at 46 seconds.

I would very much appreciate knowing which you think is preferable. If music (public domain source, by the way) doesn’t add value to the presentation, I’ll stop doing it.

Between Storms

Sad, how the clouds gather again
against the small hills
for reasons I cannot comprehend,
and how I stand here watching
the last boat carrying men
from oil rigs in the cast iron sea.

Sad, how all the gulls are home
asleep, having eaten all day,
how I see the shadow of the clock
on the water, its hands turning
from island to harbor
to the tender sand beneath my feet.

So sad, how finally I am rising up,
falling in a long arc
into the mountains of darkness.


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Between Storms by Kyle Kimberlin
is licensed: Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

A Decent Interval

A flash fiction piece.

Listen to an audio podcast of this story, as you read.

Today I slept until I was sure that the sun was on the house and it was warm. Even then I stayed in bed, staring up at the white ceiling. I stared at the frosted dome light etched with peacocks, gray with dust. Then I read for a while from The Book Of Untroubling Thoughts, which I keep in a drawer beside the bed. Then I was not troubled, even by the men feeding branches to a chipper down the road, so I got up and made tea. While it steeped, getting darker and stronger in the heavy brown mug, I sat by the window in a maple chair, and listened to the birds. It occurred to me that birds have a lot to sing about, so much that I could never understand. But I was not troubled by this.

I have never been easily troubled; in fact, some people are amazed at how steadily I take things in stride. My husband went out one day to play golf and had a heart attack, and never did come home. I just kept on going. My friends expected me to fall apart, to resolve into a dew as it were, perhaps because I’m rather small. And we were very close. We did so many things together. We always went to church, and the traveling, art classes, swing dancing. He loved to dance. So when the insurance came through, I just stood up and went away. There was a cruise to Alaska, then one to Italy. I know what people thought. They whispered about a decent interval of grief. But he wasn’t getting any deader while I sat around. He would have wanted me to go, and I loved to watch them paint Venetian masks.

My husband died on a day like this, bright and dry and still. But he comes to me mostly at night when the moon is dark behind clouds, or dim in its first sliver, so that he is hard to see. Then I think that he is standing in the yard, where he would often pause after setting out the trash cans for the truck. He liked to stand and simply listen to the night.

The birds sang a long time; long enough for me to drink the tea, and have a dish of applesauce and peaches. My husband was fond of peach ice cream, you know. He would microwave a slice of pie and have it a la mode. He was a man of simple pleasures, brief, uncluttered thoughts. He said there’s no good way to die but many fine ways to live. He lived to play golf in the sunshine and eat as well as possible. I think one or both – golf or food – may have betrayed him, but I try not to be troubled about that.

There is a path from here that runs across a weedy field and through a copse of trees — sycamores, he told me once, I think — then breaks through a cleft in a rocky bluff and drops to the edge of the river. I like to walk that pathway when I can. But the trail is steep and he rarely walked that way with me. He was afraid of the current, that it would sweep him off a slippery rock and carry him away, fast and furious, and grind his bones for parts of rocky banks and gravel beds. Or worse, he said, that the river would do this to me. But I like the trail to the river from our house. The neighbors ride their horses, the animals nervous and wide-eyed for the way the trail begins to drop through the oaks and deadfall firs. But I can walk it pretty well. I take my time to come back up. If I were naming things I’d call the best, most wooded part The Mushroom Glen, for all the yellow fungus on the stumps and fallen logs. It’s peaceful, cool and green, and I can lose my sense of passing time.

My husband was a man with focused fears of death. So we walked up the hill, to where the conifer shade gives way to a field that’s often in the sun, with wildflowers growing there. He would always pick some for me to carry home. And I would stand next to him, watching as year to year his back grew narrower in a light blue or gray checked shirt – he would wear nothing else outside of church – as he aged and shrank. And then there came that day when he completely disappeared.

My mother left a set of alabaster vases that I love, but I don’t need to use them anymore. I wrapped them all but one in felt, and put them in the closet down the hall, behind the light bulbs and her box of recipes. Just one I keep in the center of my table in the kitchen here, with two silk poppies. They don’t require water, or a walk up the hill to pick them, and I’m much too busy now for picking flowers anyway. You know how it is.

I found myself, one evening clear and warm and flooded with northern summer light, on the deck of the Statendam, off the coast of Alaska. But in that moment, I had no idea where I was. Suddenly, the world went blank. Even my name was gone, and everything – the ship, the coast, the sea – was overwhelming, huge. I froze in place and couldn’t even cry or scream or ask for help. But finally they took me to my room. The doctor came with valium and said it was my nerves. Anxiety. I needed rest, he said, and he was right. I slept and everything was fine. I slept all night and I was right as rain, as my husband used to say. Except that the day, the several hours before my episode, were gone. My memory of Hubbard Glacier never did return. I have the photos though.

My friends come by from time to time. We sit and talk over coffee, and watch the breeze in the tree by the bay window there. It has pale yellow blossoms and long seed pods. A strange tree; Australian, I think. Or we meet for lunch at the café in town. The place with the old exposed brick walls, and framed sepia photos of dead settlers. Families on buckboard wagons, men in large hats. I like the spinach quiche and raspberry iced tea. They serve those little sourdough rolls in baskets lined with linen towels. My friends talk about their grandchildren. It’s all so nice and very calm, with the clink of silverware and the murmur of a friendly day. Impossible to be in such a place and still feel troubled over anything at all. I know you understand.

And you see why I have to go down to the river, through The Mushroom Glen and down and down, with half a dozen switchbacks and glimpses of the river below through the brush. Finally, the grassy bank, the rocks along the edge, and water rushing fast and cold. I hope that the river will take him now, carry him out to the headlands and the sea. It’s for the best. I have to go because of what I heard in church, that an angel went down into the pool and troubled the waters, and whoever went in next was healed. And that’s all I want, to be healed, set free, sent home. To go and tell no one. Go and sin no more.

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A Decent Interval by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Listen to an audio recording of this poem, while you read.


I wish that someone would take
photos at funerals, someone
professional who knows what not
to miss and not to capture.

Maybe we should all be clicking
and flashing away. Like at a wedding.
The parting slips from memory
as moments always do, and I’m left
with vital colors forgotten.

The colors of caskets fade, the stands
of carnation and lily, and the hearse.
I remember only bronze in kind
sunlight, the green lawn stretching
to a rusty wall, and gray stones.

I remember the motion of leaves
but not the depth of green shade
cast by an awning on the catafalque
and mounded earth.

If I had pictures I could see that you
were there with us: bright shirt, black
tie and the dull blue of sky that framed
your head. And the dead already resting,
hardly even listening anymore.


A new feature on Metaphor:  Hear an audio reading of this poem.

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Shutters by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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