Thursday, July 25, 2019

2 Minutes. Go!

The edge of the hedgerow was the edge of everything; I gave you safe passage, invited you to come and dance as the honeybees toiled. You told me that your Dad was a bad man, and I believed you. I picked you flowers while you cried and said you couldn't say anymore. Smell of BBQ from down the shore. Lawnmowers and cut grass. Everything smelled vaguely of kerosene. I wanted to punch your Dad to death for making you cry, but I didn't. I just picked flowers and told stupid jokes and that was enough. Summer turned to fall and we met by the hedgerow, shyly.

My Dad didn't do anything bad. He didn't have it in him. My Dad was like freshly starched laundry smelling liniment. I asked what he did that was so bad, but you only cried harder. For the sin of men.

Teachers feared us, flip and arrogant. I was the jester and you, the heir apparent. You spit your light like a gasoline fire, arrogant. You were dangerous, but no one knew or suspected shit. They never realized that you would grow up to be the kind of person who serves on committees and boards. A person with influence.

And now that I think about it, rainbows and beaches, crooked joints pulled from tubular sweatshirt pockets. Yeah, it's all there. Nitrous flashes be damned, I'm telling you that I heard something with my eyes and you're straight fucked. You might as well never breathe again. No one can help with your problems unless you talk about them. Sitting and crying don't do shit, Slim.

I can taste electric citrus. You are just the devil's mistress. I caught the shit, but the fan just missed us. Dissed us, kissed us, sunshine blissed us. And yeah, of course I love it when you call me Big Poppa. Now pop a couple more because we're headed for the dance floor. All you suburban kids. Hands in the air, life on the line, pop another Percocet and have a good time.

And you age and grey and get old if you're lucky. Look, you're a mom, and you're a point of civic pride and nobody knows about the fucked up games that get played in your basement. How you make the poor folks dance and prod each other. Anything for your amusement. It's just money. They're just bums and drug addicts. This is life. This is fucking theater. I saw a drunk junkie, and I threw a TV at her.

The smoke climbs the wind and the evening fawns over all of us. Degenerates rejoice. Paranoids shut their blinds. Saints keep right on dying. Me and your mom are done trying. But you can still call me Daddy and not be lying.


  1. He awakened to an odd quality of light. What had been stars and moon and indigo changed in the predawn hour, thicker somehow, acid warmed with tarnished gold and caramel and bilious green. He blinked and rolled over; reaching blindly for the water cup he kept on a bedside table, thinking he must be dreaming still as the restless wind threw strange purple shadows over the walls from a row of cypress trees outside. Struggling to sit up, eyes half closed, he rose and palmed his way along the walls to the kitchen, where a western window still showed full dark, and guided by the reassuring tick of toenails on the linoleum as God, so named because it was dog spelled backward, guided him to the bathroom in the back.
    Eyes closed again, he aimed and peed and flushed by memory, never seeing the horror that rested in the toilet bowl until he flushed it away; only dimly aware of a stink that was not his own. Still following God, he made his way back to the kitchen. The strange atmosphere seemed to have thickened even further, warm and child at once, settling over his bare shoulders and neck in a viscous sort of sensation as though the air itself were made of solid stuff or some ectoplasm that could only be felt but not touched. He went to sink; reached for a glass from the drainer at his elbow and irritably wiped at the back of his neck, opening the taps and seeing the water run black as blood, then blinking again until it ran clear—sure that he was still unconscious, dreaming in his sleep.
    The water finally woke him fully, tasting of metal and sulfur and stone, and he reminded himself to check the pump in the morning as he poured the remainder from his glass into God’s bowl on the floor. Five steps to his left, he turned a knob and the back door swung inward. The wind had risen to a rattlesnake’s warning, shaking the dry leaves in the yard as the sluggish air closed around, again soft as a fever chill. He grabbed a leash from a hook on the wall.
    “C’mon God!” He said aloud. “You comin’ boy? Wanna go outside? Go for a walk?”
    God padded up, and shook his head. The man watched in wonder as the creature sent up a shower of rainbow colored sparks out of its aura and into the smothering dark, leaving little comet trails of energy that lingered and died. God settled on his front paws and gazed at his master with a kind of pity, as though he wanted to explain, but couldn’t quite summon the words.
    The man reached down and patted his head. “C’mon God. You okay? Not quite ready?”
    And God offered him a paw to show him his fealty as they sleepily crouched together in front of the screen door, trying to make sense of the light and the taste that lingered in the water and the change that hung in the wind.
    It was only then that the man heard the screaming…

    1. I love it! Nice descriptive writing, and the slow dread is pitch perfect.

    2. Excellent Dan, smooth and edgy all at the same time with a sort of back beat of desperation.

    3. I love the slow dread, and the dog named God, and...just some great lines here.

    4. Wonderful! And Angelo and Maggie liked it, too!

  2. Part 1

    They shepherd us into identical rooms, boxes of stacked cinderblock daubed a failed sort of white, like something long since beached and never dealt with. Plastic molded chairs bolted to concrete. A rounded table and a recording device. Two elongated bulbs in the ceiling buzzing intermittent. Insectile. Almost nothing to snag your attention, no edges on which to catch, might as well be one more casket in waiting.

    “I hear you have a story for us,” says the stocky man with the alarming mole on his face. I wonder for a second if his use of the plural means he speaks for it too.

    “You might have heard wrong,” I say, deciding to be nice.

    “My hearing’s impeccable, friend.”

    “Good for you. This story died before it got started.”

    “Something died. That much I know.”

    “Yeah.” Boredom enfolds me now, like a threadbare thriftstore coat. Bought for a good price, but so was Manhattan, allegedly, and look where that got us. I think I prefer beads.

    “The question is whether you know more than that.”

    “A better question is whether I’d tell you.”

    “That’s not a better question. Just a more immediate one.” His eyebrows, toothbrush bristles dusted with cornstarch, are a neutral hirsute line, like a prairie winter highway.

    I feel like writing a poem about Saskatchewan. “I could almost like you, pal.”

    “Let’s see if you’re still saying that in an hour.”

    Although I wasn’t there, my life almost blew up on a stretch of road outside of Summerland. Three covert feet of silent black ice can obliterate you and all those you love. Try not to forget that. If you’ve ever driven up in the aftermath—phone dropped, heart arrhythmic, skin voltaic—to meet your hollow-eyed family in some box store parking lot, you’ll know what I mean. Maybe no one cried, not then, but maybe they did when they thought it was over, once it became a Thanksgiving story not some awful marker separating the heartbreak chapters of our lives. Some unpunctual thing meant to come later. Or before. Or maybe that was the dream version sweated out into laundry loads of spectral grey sheets, the bullet not dodged, or maybe dodged, like we’re Neo and we took the wrong pill. Or the right one.

    Loss steals in where it wants. Nod assent when it bypasses us. It’s a fluke.

  3. Part 2

    “You’re saying you never knew the woman?”

    “The woman?”

    “Of whom we speak.”

    “I’m not.”

    “So you knew her.”


    “Allow me to apprise you of something, hoss. Riddles are dull and stupid things. Meant for children. And evasiveness makes me vindictive. Not a direction you want this to go, trust me. Now tell me how it is you knew her yet you didn’t know her. And do it in plain Canadian.”

    Since I like a man who calls another man hoss, I decide he deserves something en route to the truth. “I knew she existed, I met her a time or two, drank with her, but I didn’t know her. Not in any real sense. Not even in what they used to call the biblical one.”

    “Yet, speaking of, she’s dead as Lazarus.”

    “Not the best way to illustrate your point, detective. I might even be the Jesus in that version.”

    “You’re not, so hush your mouth. So where’d you meet her?”

    “Why do you ask when you know the answer?”

    He and his damn mole stare at me. On the outside I’m still as a lizard on a boulder at noon. Inside, my heart is pizza dough.

    I stare back until I don’t. “Alright, fuckhead. You win. I did it. I closed her account. Called in her number. It was me. Now take me away…” I offer my wrists, yoked like veiny ghosts, the abject godless bones already singing songs of the dead.

    He keeps looking at me like he can’t decide whether to tousle my hair or kill me himself.

    He doesn’t say a word, but the brisk violent arc of his thumb in the stagnant air says, “The fuck outta here, punk.”

    Alone beneath the cold fire of stars, my friends are gone, some into caskets they won’t claw out of. The merciful cloak of night has dropped. I no longer know how to say no to anyone at all. Rake my strained face; tell me which one’s the right pill. And dig a shallow grave. I can’t even and I won’t ever. It’s over. Lukewarm and lacklustre. You know full well what I’m trying not to say.

    1. Oh, this is so great. It's about the eyebrows, hoss. And the damn mole. Love it.

    2. You had me at the eyebrows, too! I got some of those...I call'em my Andy Rooneys...

    3. Eerie and dark, and of course I love it. The last paragraph speaks well to a desolation I fear we all know.

  4. He presses his lips against hers. She resists. He reaches around behind her, cupping her, squeezing her buttock. She stiffens and turns her face away. He nuzzles at her right earlobe, taking it between his teeth, probing at the smallest part of it with the tip of his tongue. She raises her hands to push him away, refusing to respond as he wishes she would.

    "No," She feels the wall at her back. He's too much for her now. She wonders what it was that she did. She'd said nothing that she thought could be interpreted that way. No flirtatious banter. Nothing that could taken as an invitation. Just a even toned request for him to walk back with her. She lived in a low-rent part of the town and it was late. Too late for public transport. Too late for her to be walking alone. She was familiar with some of her neighbours; not in a way that would encourage them to knock at her door, but through her seeing what they did in the street before the lights turned themselves out, hiding the things they did. Leaving her to focus on the deep shadows and the cat calls and the low physical sounds, many of them requiring little explanation. It was a bad place for her to live but the rent was good; her money buying her a room with a bathroom of her own. A lockable door and a window. But she'd never been outside here as late as this. She'd already begun to regret this night.

    1. It's terrible the things men can do to women. Ominous little vignette.

    2. Ominous, and I want to know more.

    3. Right here...She wonders what it was that she did. Nailed it!

    4. Yep... how on earth do we undo the belief that it is the victim's fault?

  5. How many more need to die? How many more will have to be tidied away, their remains still moving as they wait for their last breath? There's a finality to it all - the cycle from conception to death has only one result - but it's the callous regard some people have for most of the people travelling this route. Out of sight is out of mind; that's the popular saw that many voice, but there's more to it than that. Many people are removed so they can't be seen, swept away like the used cartons outside the fast food emporiums, mostly emptied and discarded by the people whose hands they passed through once. Even when they are seen, they're immediately dismissed, citizens turning their faces away so as to not recognise them as the people they could have been, or the children they undoubtedly were at one time. Fresh-faced and alive, taking life on their own terms. The now dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the disease which sucks away at the lives of the successful, the worthy and the popular; those people we choose to regard as our kin. The affluent and the powerful; the influential few. The people who grace the posters and our TV screens.

    And yet they are so few. Unlike the countless ones who will never be numbered.

  6. It was near the end of summer, and the dragonflies ruled the day as the fireflies ruled the night. There was a sort of magic in the air, or it might have been testosterone. When you’re eighteen it’s easy to confuse the two.

    When the rodeo came to town, I begged my father to let me come in out of the field early to watch. We were farmers, and I loved horses. Watching them, anyway. We didn’t have money for me to have my own. He took my place on the tractor, and I ran home to wash the dust off my face and change into my town clothes.

    I got to the fairgrounds just in time to hear them call bronc riding. The announcer was my science teacher, Mr. Mead. In another world, he might have been a radio deejay. In this one, he called just about every sport our county had to offer.

    “And next up, from Centennial, Wyoming, is Buster Randall. Buster’s new to the circuit this year and is looking forward to making some college money.”

    I saw the cowboy in the pen. His white hat, mostly, and his red shirt. He wasn’t looking at anything but the mane of the horse that in a few seconds was gonna do its best to throw him off.

    I held my breath, and the gate opened. The horse reared up, gave an angry whinny, and ran into the arena. The hat was the first casualty as the horse bucked up and down with a fury. The cowboy’s hand, the one that wasn’t tied to the horse, flew up and down like half a scarecrow.

    The buzzer sounded and a second later, the horse bucked him off. He ran for the edge of the arena, slowing only to retrieve his hat, and pulled himself over the fence and fell into my lap.

    “Sorry, sorry about that.” His cheeks were as red as his hair.

    “It’s all right,” I meant to say, but my throat was dry as a country road and I think I just squeaked.

    He flashed me a smile as he settled his hat back on his head, and he winked at me with eyes as blue as the Nebraska sky.

    I didn’t really notice the other contestants after that. The announcer’s voice, the roar of the crowd, all mixed together.

    Finally, I gave up. I’d seen enough cowboys after I’d seen him, and my imagination kept replaying not his ride, but him falling on me. My face flushed, and, well, we don’t need to get into other reactions.

    I walked out of the arena, and headed toward my rusty old pickup. The sounds of the carnival midway floated across the heavy air.

    “Hey,” I heard over my shoulder.

    It was him.

    “I was gonna see if I can get a ride on the Ferris wheel, and I wouldn’t mind some company.”

    I let my smile answer for me, since my tongue seemed to be tied in a knot.

    And that’s how a farm boy and a cowboy came to kiss, way up in a Nebraska sky, as the stars came out, and a red moon smiled down on young love.

  7. If I asked you the color of grass, you’d probably say green. And if I asked the same of the sky, you’d offer blue. But nowhere do you see all heaven or earth in just green or blue. Each is made of different hues, homogeneously stirred into something, that at a distance or a squint, we call one color or the other. Is the ocean off Cape Cod blue? Then what is it surrounding Tahiti? Do we call the sky over Raleigh a Carolina Blue? Then what of the firmament above Copenhagen, or looking down on Dresden? Is sand colored Sand? Then what of the landscape of the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Sonora, Sydney’s Bondi Beach? Look closely at all of these scoops of Earth, these swaths and swatches of land, sea and air. No, even closer. There is brown and yellow on the greens of Augusta and St. Andrew’s and Schenectady Muni. There are shades of gray, white and purple in the 360-degree frame of the sun. The agua off Málaga is aqua, but a French blue is more than just un bleu. And I celebrate this panoply mixed together into a single great One. Each has its own way of reflecting the same sun under which we all exist. Together and apart. But the magic of turning primaries into secondaries into tertiaries into a prism’s wet dream makes this world so much better. Mere red, yellow and blue makes for as weak a brand of poetry as a world. The Spectrum makes us so much better. Makes for better writing, too.

    E pluribus unum.

    1. Wow. I love how you pull this off, a kind of misdirection. And I agree with it too, which is neither here nor there. :)

    2. As something of a color freak (the only thing I have a photographic memory for) I have to say I was enraptured...

    3. A brilliant paean to color and to words.

  8. What Are Friends For?

    If I needed you,
    would you respond to my call?
    If I called to you,
    would you even care at all?
    If you asked me to,
    would I have the gall
    to stand back
    and just watch you fall?

    These are questions
    whose answers are moot,
    the responses academic,
    since I gave myself the boot,
    a swift kick in the teeth
    or, more likely, the glute.
    But what more can you expect
    from a depressed old coot?

    So forget all these questions,
    I should’ve just kept quiet.
    I’ll just bury this feeling,
    lest it incite a cry-it riot.
    I’m pretty sure the moral --
    unspoken but clear -- don’t deny it,
    is if I really wanted a friend,
    I'd find a dog and buy it.

  9. Oh, and I couldn't find a place to comment on Dan's piece, so I'll write it here. Love it all, but especially this: "The smoke climbs the wind and the evening fawns over all of us." That's so creepily visceral it made my jaw hang open! Bravo, brother.

  10. My brothers have it all wrong. I’ve heard them wax philosophic over gin and tonics at their preppie bars, or on their fancy boats, or at their backyard barbecues when the guests had gone home and it was just family and the old days and a fifth of something passed between them. They blame it on Dad, on “that one time” when he refused to take me fishing.

    But their memories are faulty. Or convenient. It was more than “that one time.” The fishing trip was their yearly ritual. Dad took my two older, athletic brothers to his lakeside cabin and they did manly things like bait hooks and piss in the woods and avoid bears. Mostly, I didn’t mind not being included. I liked the silence of the house when those two rough-and-tumble goons were gone. When they weren’t stealing the remote and punching me in the shoulder for wanting to watch anything other than sports or cop shows. I liked hanging with Mom and the twins, even though that meant making sure they didn’t break stuff or fall down the stairs or scribble all over my sketchpad with crayons.

    No, it looked to my brothers like it was “that one time” because it was the only time I really wanted to go. Foolishly, at fourteen, I thought myself old enough, able enough, my father’s son enough to be included in the yearly testosterone exhibition.

    Maybe I’d even learn how to build a fire.

    “Are you sure?” Dad had said. “You’ve never been interested before.”

    I confirmed that yes, I wanted to bait hooks and piss on a tree and try not to step on a rattlesnake.

    “All right then.” Before he walked away he gave me an odd, pained smile. Looking back, I wonder if he was already casting around for an excuse to tell me I couldn’t come with them.

    Then that excuse came. A minor offense, a stupid attempt to get the attention of a person who barely knew I existed. Something that would have gotten my older brothers a “boys will be boys” shrug earned me a rigorous grounding.

    I hear my brothers doing the “remember whens” now, after a weekend cookout at John’s house. They’re on the patio and I’m hanging in the kitchen. I like it. It’s peaceful. And it’s adjacent to the nursery where my youngest niece is sleeping. Sometimes I come only to check in on her.

    John, the older of the two by eighteen months, tips whiskey into Thomas’s glass. They both look like Dad in different ways.

    “Really, we should sell it,” John says. “When was the last time any of us went up there, anyway?”

    The backyard goes quiet except for the drone of the cicadas. They damn well know when the last time was. I can see it weighing more heavily on Thomas than John.

    He sighs. “I suppose you’re right.”

    “We could divvy it up,” John says. “Put it in the kids’ college funds.”

    “Dad should have let him come anyway,” Thomas says.

    “You think it would have made a difference?”

    “I don’t know.” Thomas shrugs, studies his drink. “Probably not.”

    John smirks. “Can you imagine him in the woods? Shrieking like a little girl if he found a spider in the outhouse?”

    Thomas slams his glass down. “God, you can be such an asshole.”

    “Oh, don’t get all high and mighty. Like you haven’t said the same thing dozens of times.”

    “Not like that.”

    “You think if we dragged him along he wouldn’t have—”

    “Shut up. Okay? Just…shut up.”

    I want to and don’t want to see their pain. What I did had nothing to do with them. It wasn’t the person who barely knew I existed. It wasn’t even my dad, who had no use for a boy who didn’t want to play sports and bait hooks and piss in the woods. I back away from the window. I touch my niece’s soft, perfect cheek and dearly miss my sketchpads and pencils. Maybe I shouldn’t come around here anymore. Maybe it’s finally time to move on.

    1. Wow, Laurie there are so many layers to this, I can't even start! Well done!

    2. Uh, yeah, this is excellent. And without being didactic it gets across how damaging gender expectations can be. So good.

    3. Gorgeous story telling, filled with pain and reality. Thank you for telling this story.

  11. Dark glitters

    She carries her laughter lines in her hands,
    Water sliding as skeletal doors open anew;
    Treasured memories of silken water lilies
    Create a fragile raft of green and pink-white.

    All the days shuffled, spread out for play,
    Monitored and watched, conversations
    Recorded, the listening-in still and sombre.

    He watches life unfold, interpreting colour
    Into grey, scratching, erasing what he despises,
    Kicking it to the gutter where it will die.

    She carries the watch-bug in her eyes,
    It fickers brown and blue, bleeding out,
    Each undeveloped film burning to dust.

    As a snake caresses its owner, waiting
    While they sleep, he loiters. The hours
    Tick through the bug, the cat restless.

    And warm rain courses down, washing,
    Bringing the elfin smell of green to
    Everything… yet it cannot hope to dispel
    Or erase the things already known.

    1. I love the symmetry and all the word choices. And this is my favourite stanza:

      "She carries the watch-bug in her eyes,
      It flickers brown and blue, bleeding out,
      Each undeveloped film burning to dust."

    2. Thanks, David. I wrote before going out & it’s late here so will read/comment tomorrow :)

    3. I love all the colors, a lovely word painting.


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