Ruminations by Jim Heynen

Lawn Rabbit

The rabbit has not told me what her schedule is, but there she is on the backyard lawn every time I step out the door.  Nothing remarkable about her.  If you’ve seen one cottontail, you’ve seen them all.  I don’t have a regular schedule for going out, but she knows when I’m coming and plants herself about twenty feet from the back door.  She’s usually lounging out there.  I’d say spread-eagle if it didn’t sound silly to describe one animal with the image of another, especially since one of the animals in this comparison is all too willing to eat the other.  I step down the back steps and our eyes meet.  She recognizes me.  That doesn’t mean she trusts me.  Even when she’s lying there spread-eagle, her alert eyes follow my every move.  She points her nose at me and does her quiver-sniffing.  Even her ears twitch.  All of her alarm systems are turned on.  She’d be quick as a grasshopper if I threatened her.  She has made me her project.  She knows I don’t have a dog or a cat, but she is still not convinced that my grass neighborhood is safe territory.  I’m willing to concede that she has done a thorough appraisal of me.  But I’ve studied her too.  I did notice the large bulge in her midsection last month.  That bulge is gone.  I’m not stupid.  I know she is trying to decide whether to bring her kids out here.  I make a quick move towards her and she grasshoppers away.  That should do it.  I don’t need more than one backyard cottontail studying me.


I was sitting in my favorite writing coffee shop—Amore—next to the window, looking out on Milton Street and the Super America gas station across the street, when the strangest tiny insect crossed my line of vision on the windowsill next to me.  I mean, it was tiny—like the size of a pinhead, only oval.  I might have tapped it out of existence with my index finger if it weren’t for the fact that it looked like such an oddball in the world.  It was bristly, or so I thought at first glance, and had an odd shape—sort of like an armadillo, or even a porcupine.  I was in awe of it, I think because it looked so foreign, different from any other earth-inhabitant I have looked upon in my several decades on earth.  I sat and watched it bristle across the windowsill.  I leaned closer, using the full power of my trifocals, which give me far better than 20/20 vision.  The closer I looked the more I realized that its bristling impression was due entirely to its busy legs.  Its arched back was quite smooth and glistening.  Then, without warning, it fluttered a little, and I realized for the first time that it had wings, flax-colored tiny wings, that fluttered up, opened above its terribly tiny back, and I was reminded of the tiny flax husks I rolled across my palm as a farm kid.  It fluttered its flax-wings once or twice, then rolled over on its back and scrambled nonsensically with its tiny legs pedaling air, and died.  I had this terrible feeling that it died because of my intense admiration of it.  It was as if it could not endure this much attention and awe.

Self-Portrait as a Big Mack

Today he sees himself as a huge semi, a Big Mack, an eighteen-wheeler, growling along down a busy city street.  He signals his turns and keeps his distance from all the impatient cars around him.  They’re all shiny and a dazzling mixture of foreign and domestic models.  He casually looks into the eyes of all the motorists.  They are not threatened.  They look tolerant of his presence but not very interested.  They obviously think the huge white trailer that he’s pulling along down the street is empty, that there is nothing suspended above all those wheels but a huge hollow chamber.   Little do they know that he is pulling 20 tons of cargo behind him.  All that weight makes him drive slowly.  The last thing he wants to do is burden them with his heavy load.

A Life of Wrinkles

After the glassy slope of adolescence and the tight sheets of teenage love-making and the mundane level plane of middle age and now the smooth list of regrets for things done and not done, his life is a life of wrinkles, from the ripples of his unmade bed to the ripples in the mirror of his face to his rippling brow of contemplation to his resolute rippling grin.  So this is the dramatic chapter in the world of bump and grind, the natural consequence of disheveling Time!  What gentle breeze today makes the sea of his life undulate, even now as he holds out his hand to his young friends as the shimmer of their lives begins?

Jim Heynen is best known for his short-short stories (The Man Who Kept Cigars in His Cap, Graywolf Press; You Know What is Right, North Point Press; The One-room Schoolhouse, Knopf/Vintage Contemporaries; The Boys’ House, Minnesota Historical Society Press; and Ordinary Sins, Milkweed Editions). Many of these stories have been broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered, and Minnesota astronaut George Pinky Nelson took a recording of Heynen’s stories for bedtime listening on his last space mission.  Heynen has also published three novels (The Fall of Alice K., Milkweed Editions; Cosmos Coyote and William the Nice, YA, Henry Holt; and Being Youngest, YA, Henry Holt) and several collections of poetry, including A Suitable Church, Copper Canyon Press and Standing Naked: New and Selected Poems, Confluence Press. He wrote prose vignettes for two photography books published by the University of Iowa Press, Harker’s Barns and Sunday Afternoon on the Porch. His major nonfiction book, One Hundred Over 100, Fulcrum Publishers, featured 100 American centenarians. He has been awarded National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in both poetry and fiction. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

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