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Arlington

Battles won and lost
Shining sabers lay broken
Upon fallow ground.

Beneath the pale sky
Muddy, red-stained fields fade to
Shades of blue and gray.

Hills of emerald green
Early morning rain falls upon
Gardens of stone flowers.

Gleaming mosaic
Polished marble set in jade,
Glimmering like jewels.

Pristine white crosses,
One after another,
Stand at attention.

Tell me, Spirits of the Dead,
why you remain here, like silent sentinels,
watching over your fathers, and your brothers,
and your children -- newly born of love, and sorrow and restless dreams.

Tell me how you stand here, robbed of your voices,
shaking your fists at the madness,
cursing your own daring and fools' courage,
wanting to shout, wanting to laugh again,
wanting to breathe fresh springtime air just once more.

Your widows come, offering you flowers and tears,
refusing to be comforted, gazing at all the brightly colored flags
that flutter in the breeze of bittersweet remembrance.

Your horses, freed by death, untethered by time,
race through endless open countryside.

Your favorite dogs, too old and tired to run,
lie sleeping beside the door,
missing their masters.

Tell me how you stand there so calmly,
surrounded by infinite stillness, deprived of your lives,
quietly remembering.

Is it pride you feel, or dread as you hear the thunder building,
knowing you are doomed to stand and watch as your children play war games,
as you see new clouds gather on the horizon ...
as you await the coming storm,
and listen for the rumble of distant canons.

Christmas Spirits

T’was the night before Christmas; content was the Mose,
Leaning back from his table, in quiet repose.

The Ambrosia was bustling with gamblers galore –
All tossing back whiskies and calling for more.

Amanda was coy, watching ex-Sheriff Peale
With a smile on her face that was hard to conceal.

Austin fumed. He was flat broke from losing at poker.
He couldn’t decide, should he kiss her or choke her?

She didn’t mind flirting, or appearing half-dressed.
Any normal man’s patience would be sorely stressed.

For now, he’d indulge her most frivolous whim.
There was always a chance her schemes might include him.

Josiah was poised for another long speech,
But the words that he searched for were just out of reach.

Thank goodness, Clay thought, the poor man can’t see straight.
Perhaps, for tonight, "Armageddon" could wait.

At one table Newt Call entertained a young wench.
How surprising, Clay thought, that he’d dared leave his bench.

For Miss Mattie Shaw, he revealed not a care.
Like a scruffy old wolf, still asleep in his lair.

Her back room was often Call’s only safe harbor.
By the looks of them, they also shared the same barber.

A close match, Clay thought, just like brother and sister.
They appeared to have come through a wild prairie twister.

Still, he had to admit, they looked perfect together –
Call in rawhide and fringe, she in smooth, skin-tight leather.

At the bar Luther Root was the first one in line.
From his own vantage point, those pants fit her just fine.

He’d trapped lots of critters – wild, wooly and feral,
Even tried out his charms on Miss Claudia Harrell.

Luther sipped on his drink, trying hard not to drool
As Enona watched closely. The girl was no fool.

Less he stuck close to her, t’was a pretty safe bet,
That she’d give him a haircut he’d never forget.

Another good pair, Mosby mused with a glance.
In a contest with her, Luther hadn’t a chance.

In a dark corner sat an "up tight" Dr. Cleese.
A trip to Mizz Twyla’s might offer "release."

Yes, Twyla was open – no doubt about that –
With a room for each cowboy, and shy alley cat.

With Zeke and the boys keeping watch at their station
The crowd settled in, mostly for the duration.

Clay watched the beer foam and the cheap whisky flow.
With this crowd there was no need to hang mistletoe.

Just a few sprigs of pine and some red winterberries,
Forget all the candy and sugarplum fairies.

He thought of the Christmases many years passed.
Their joys and contentment were doomed not to last.

And that cold winter day, he and Hannah had kissed.
How ironic it seemed – every fate had its twist.

More folks from the wet, muddy street hurried in.
It would be a good night, he thought, forcing a grin.

A lot of his "guests" would be leaving in pairs.
He watched for a moment, then headed upstairs.

As he stood on his balcony one floor above,
He looked down on the rough, muddy street toward the Dove.

He gazed at the town he controlled with his will.
The laughter and noise were now pleasantly still.

Through the cold, clouded skies it was starting to snow.
His last Christmas with Mary seemed so long ago.

Her voice was like silver when carols they’d sung.
In the distance the sweet chimes at midnight had rung.

The winter wind blew as he puffed his cigar.
Through the dark streamed the light of a single bright star.

He glanced at his watch and the picture within.
The image was faded, the paper worn thin.

Their last days together seemed so far away.
There were so many things he’d had no chance to say.

He looked at the picture he held in his hand.
She was gone now, and so was the life they had planned.

No one could replace all the time they had lost,
Like so many before, on Fate’s winds they’d been tossed.

He couldn’t be with her, but she understood.
Their love had endured, and forever it would.

"I’ve missed you," he whispered, "much more than you know."
Her gentle smile shone in the starlight’s warm glow.

Of all that he’d cherished, t’was her smile he most missed.
Past his cheek snowflakes brushed, almost like he’d been kissed.

"I just came to tell you, my thoughts are of you,
Of the dreams we once shared, and the love we both knew."

The bells from the church softly echoed their song.
The wind seemed less chilly; the night, not so long.

"My dearest, sweet Mary, my soul you must keep,
While angels surround you and sing you to sleep.

The single star poured down its Heavenly light.
"Merry Christmas, my Darling. Sweet dreams now … Good night."

Now and Then

Dressing up in a red coat and soft, fur-trimmed hat,
Eating fresh, home-made candy and getting too fat.

Finding just the right tree – tall and straight from each angle,
Stringing popcorn and lights that end up in a tangle.

Singing songs, wrapping gifts, sending cards to old friends,
Racing all over town, fighting traffic and crowds, tearing your hair out

Trying to find the perfect present for those last few people on an ever-
Increasingly long shopping list that never ends…!

Wait, what if this whole thing were less of a riot?
What if Christmas was calmer … and pleasant and quiet?

Imagine what Christmas was like – way back when,
How simple and true all the joys would have been

In a small western town, round about ’82,
With its snowy, white mountains and skies of pure blue.

Where the woods hid her creatures in safe winter slumber
"Neath shimmering frost, forest green and deep umber.

Where meadows and fields formed wide seas of fine snow,
Where moonlight and stars set the heavens aglow.

Inside the Ambrosia, the usual crowd
Would be friendly, for once, and not nearly so loud.

There Call and the Colonel would meet for a drink,
Maybe share a few laughs without having to think….

Amanda and Austin, Josiah and Cleese
Relax as they savor a few moments’ peace.

Twyla, the ladies, Ike, Zeke and the boys
Would enjoy simple pleasures without all the noise.

Imagine a Christmas Eve in Curtis Wells,
With Old Curtis himself proudly ringing the bells.

The town folk would gather in chill midnight air,
Many people with only their friendship to share.

They’d offer their thanks for their blessings in song,
For their homes and their families, and a place to belong.

The stars twinkle down on fresh crystalline snow,
The same stars that lit Wise Men’s way, long ago.

There are some things this spirit just seems to transcend.
It’s the same for us now as it was for them then.

The music, the laughter, the pleasure of giving,
The madness, the stillness, the pure joy of living.

Each of us has many more than one reason
To celebrate all the great joys of this season.

May the gifts of true happiness, friendship and love
Come to you on the wings of your own lonesome dove.

(Christmas, 2003)

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