Friday, July 24, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

There ain't enough podiums, but why the fuck do you care? Your trophy. Your moment. Why can't you just enjoy running the race? The streets are lined in Poplar trees. The air is thick with birdsong, and small children clog the sidewalk holding signs of encouragement. They aren't trying to decide who has the biggest sign. The best sign. They're happy to have a voice, be alive, and be part of something bigger than themselves.

Money. Food. Security. There could be enough of that too, but it doesn't serve the interests of the few. A lot of those rich fuckers have figured it out. It doesn't matter if you are good or decent. It doesn't matter what your fellow man thinks of you. It doesn't matter what kind of footprint you leave in the sand. If you build a big enough pile of money, the regular people can't touch you and you don't have to hear their cries and laments.

If you're a white man, you've got all the special armor in the game. Already. You can assault powerful women in front of the whole country, go on TV and talk about your wife and kids; everybody is going to be all, "damn straight - shouldn't have to apologize for "passion."

I'm awful sorry the rape happened, your honor. I'll apologize for the actions of my penis, but not my passion.

This is the world we are raising our kids in. I have two daughters who could look at AOC as an inspiration, and I'm not saying they don't. I'm saying they also see a representation of they way white men treat the world through the way she has been treated. They grab everything by the pussy, figuratively or not. At church potlucks. In schools. At work.

They have always been they same; they take what they want.

Like it belongs to them.


  1. It's difficult to critique this as writing since the topic is so raw and personal and enraging, but I love this. I like the disconnect, how it opens expansively and then proceeds to focus down to a white-hot ball of outrage and hurt. I feel it too, brother. And we have a role in this, to call these fuckers out.

    1. There are heroes and heroines, and of course there are villains. And there are always guillotines.

  2. Okay, I have to intro this. It's actually a dream I had this week that needed little embellishment. Now, technically I'm a boomer, and this is definitely a boomer dream, but I'm emotionally more Gen X, and to be honest I don't even like the Grateful Dead! But anyway, here it is, obvious symbolism and everything (my dream mind can be corny sometimes). I even gave it a title.

    Make Elysium Great Again

    We are waiting behind Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana at the gates of the Heaven’s Door festival in the desert. It’s only morning, but already the desert is fierce.

    A security guard cocks an eyebrow and Jerry explains, “Look, man, we lost our passes, but we didn’t wanna just sneak through, so we thought we’d walk through the front door, so to speak.”

    The security guy stares at him and at Carlos, not saying a word and not moving to let them through. He has thick dark eyebrows and a sweat-soaked neck almost the width of his head.

    We are the floating audience, and we’re urging them to tell him who they are, but they won’t. They’ve never pulled that “Do you know who I am?” shit, and they’re not about to start.

    Carlos says something in Spanish the man doesn’t seem to catch. Then in English, Jerry adds, “C’mon, we’re all friends here, amigo.”

    “Speak American,” says the man.

    Carlos rolls his eyes and we, the ghosts of rock and roll, sigh like a sudden desert wind.

    “Okay, could you just get Mr. Dylan,” says Jerry. “He’ll vouch for us. We’re both musicians.”

    “I don’t care if you’re José Gonzalez and the Hot Tamales. No pass, no passage.”

    We’re all thinking the same thing: Mexican standoff. Yet no one thinks the obvious thing, which is to tell the guard who these men are. If they won’t, we can.

    Then out of nowhere, Bob Dylan arrives, asks what the problem is, and hears the story from the blistering desert, from the ranks of saguaros, from the dry mesquite, from the cry of the red-tailed hawk. From the ululations of the coyote.

    “These men are my good friends Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia, and you will let them pass,” he says to the guard, “and not only that, but you are relieved of your duties, and may you never knock on Heaven’s Door again.”

    The man stares for a second or two and then breaks down and begins pleading, “But, Mr. Dylan, I’m too young; how can I be expected to remember every performer? I don’t even like the Grateful Dead! Please, have a heart…”

    “Fool, it wasn’t because you don’t know who Jerry and Carlos are. That’s fine. Artists are men not gods. No. It’s because of your red hat and your bigotry I’m casting you out. Go now, and never return.”

    Then he begins to play “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” and “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Romance in Durango” and “Spanish Harlem Incident” and when he’s done, he turns to the ghosts of the desert, to us all watching and listening, and says, “Tell that to the imaginary line where small men with smaller hearts want to build a fence.” And he goes back through Heaven’s Door, and we sweep in behind him, laughing quietly with Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia.

    1. Aw, that's awesome. Sometimes I think I'd like to spend a day in the brain of David Antrobus, but then I realize that it burns hot in there.

    2. Ha, yes, I don't recommend it, lol.

  3. The fly annoyed him. It reminded him that life was imperfect, and that nothing could be taken for granted. He would die one day and then another fly would be there; not this fly but a descendant perhaps, one of a thousand which would come, their eyes ever-seeing and with a hair-trigger attention which would protect them from his son and the rolled-up newspaper he would brandish. This fly would be dead, of course, long gone and forgotten, its meagre life measured and thrown away.

    But would he be forgotten?

    He pondered that for a moment, thinking of who he’d leave behind. His son, that was a given, but who else? His own parents had already gone, both believing they’d be saved by their god. His father had been comforted by that, his mother not so much. His mother had died second and was less naïve, more fatalistic than her spouse, having seen more of life and its attendant which followed. She known, he’d thought, when he looked her in the eye that last time, seeing another world beyond his shoulder as he kissed her goodbye. His sister had been taken too, snuffed out in an instant, her light gone before he’d even known she’d been in danger.

    There was no reason to it all. No eternal plan. No judge and jury. No oarsman on the Charon, dipping his oars. There was nothing which would follow, only the void, its final silence immeasurably louder than the most deafening metal band of all time. No form and shape to it, no texture or taste, there’d be nothing to relieve the enormity of the endlessness of infinity.

    And so, he was afraid. Dreading his end.

    Of course, he was a man about it. He shoved how he felt about it back into that closet he’d occupied for thirty years and change. It was a magical place, that closet, always full almost to bursting point but still managing to find space for something more. He imagined it would be like one of those seamen’s chests; made of oak or metal or unobtanium, its corners reinforced with brass. It’d be bound with straps too, cinched across and along so everything inside would be compressed, memories and uncertainties together, melding into an indistinguishable cube. There’d be fears and the occasional hope, the darker ones feeding on the softer-bellied until they merged, emerging occasionally as the cobalt-grey nightmares he suffered every night. He knew there’d be no exorcising those, they were a part of him now. He might as well try to reject himself.

    Although, wasn’t that what he was trying to do? Flirting with a death that would be happy to swallow him whole? He’d barely leave a ripple on its otherwise featureless expanse, his life gone without any other proof but his son.

    And that fly. Maybe it would remember him.

    1. Wow. Yeah, this. I get the sense you took extra care with this one, that its existentialism—the macro and the micro—is important to you, and I can see why.

  4. Spick-spack

    It’s in these days awakening,
    The inbetween of simple things,
    A rusted penny flipped on air.
    It winks, sparkling bronze, never
    Landing. A circle closes itself.

    Standing on the penultimate edge
    Of elements suspended in twist,
    It’s some mistranslated finale.
    Sink or swim, a livid eternity
    Speckled with living gold dust.

    An albatross spins overhead
    Steadfast in its grey endurance.
    It will last, and it will last.

    It’s in the offering of hands,
    The sanding down of roughness,
    A spick-spack rethink
    And we return to the ether.

    It isn’t a word or a familiar,
    A play composed in one night.
    We stand on ladders rising,
    Peeking through cirrus wisps.

    This is new. It isn’t new. It is.
    We are here, and we always were.
    Different names, circumstances,
    But it is the same bleating sea,
    The same blue sky staring down.

    1. 'Scuse my French, but I fucking love watching your poetic evolution in real time. Not only the arresting imagery and phrases ("mistranslated finale," "bleating sea," "cirrus wisps"), but the adeptness and confidence of your repetitions: "It will last, and it will last." And "This is new. It isn’t new. It is." These resonate so emotionally for me. Brava!

    2. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it :)

  5. Old Men

    Sometimes he watches the television without his hearing aids. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. The nitwits talk just to hear themselves talk anyway. Not like when he worked at a newspaper in the old days. Just the facts, without commentary. That took skill. You could still make something sensational, just by what you led with.

    This morning, though, the video catches his attention, and he fumbles on the nightstand for the hearing aids.

    “The President’s campaign to restore law and order to…”

    The screen shows in excruciatingly slow motion a bullet entering and exiting the head of a kid as the head exploded. A kid, who looked just like…

    The phone rings. His daughter.

    “Dad, don’t turn on the TV.”

    “Manners, daughter, manners.”

    She sobs. She struggles to breathe. And he knows the words that she is trying to say.

    “It’s Bobby. They’ve killed Bobby.”

    What can he say to the mother of his grandson?

    “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

    “The planes aren’t flying, Dad…”

    “I’m not senile, daughter. I’ll drive.” And he hangs up.

    The TV continues its drone. “The anarchist was killed as he spray painted graffiti on…”

    He clicks the off button on his remote.

    He knows about law and order. He served in World War II and Korea. Real law and order doesn’t come at the end of a rifle. It comes with words, teaching, love, even. You don’t need to throw lead to stop spray paint.

    He packs a couple of shirts, heavily starched and a pair of khakis, into his valise. His red baseball cap with USMC embroidered in gold. His shaving kit. a clean pair of skivvies, and socks.

    Without knowing why, he opens the nightstand drawer, and retrieves his old Colt revolver and a box of ammo. It is more than a hunk of metal. It was his companion, his protector, in Korea.

    Three hours and one pit stop later, he is in Portland. He doesn’t go to his daughter’s house. He aims straight for downtown. Traffic confounds him. Some streets are barricaded, but he knows his way around. He grew up here. A long time ago.

    As a sign of Divine Providence, he finds a parking space. He ignores the meter. He walks toward the noise and congestion. His jacket feels lopsided, lumpy with the pistol in his pocket.

    Another barricade.

    “What are you doing out here, old man?” a man in uniform asks. What happened to a little courtesy? Respecting one’s elders?

    [continued in comments]

    1. [continued]

      He pastes a false smile on. “Just seeing what all the fuss is about, officer.”

      “It’s not safe here, especially not for old men.”

      “Unless the Constitution I fought for has been burned, I assume I’m still allowed to walk where I choose?”

      “Can’t say I didn’t warn you, old man.”

      The air smells wrong. Acrid. Tear gas. He hasn’t smelled it in decades. He walks, head held high, toward the building he saw in the background on the TV.

      The sidewalk is crowded. Strangers jostle him from in front and behind. He keeps his hands in his pockets.

      “This is your final warning,” a tinny voice says over a mobile PA system. Clear this block.”

      No one leaves. They’re shouting back, words he’d never use in front of ladies.

      Black vans and SUVs roll up. Men in black, with gas masks exit quickly and spread out. They fire tear gas into the center of the crowd. They pull out their batons. They beat the youngsters, who are unfazed, though they are coughing and choking.

      Shots are fired into the air. For a moment, the crowd is silent as they check that they and their comrades have not been wounded or killed.

      Thugs with riot shields push everyone back. A news van pulls into the emptied space. Then a whole caravan of vehicles. The cameraman seems to know exactly where to focus.

      He realizes he iis alone on the sidewalk now. Old age has rendered him invisible. More men pile out of the vehicles, with rifles covering the crowd.

      And the son of a bitch exits from one of the center vehicles, not forty feet away. He looks heavier than on television. The coward is probably wearing body armor.

      His hand is sweaty. He uses his peripheral vision to see that there is no one nearby, that his cloak of aged invisibility remains intact.

      The son of a bitch moving his lips, and the camera is focused on him. They’ll probably dub it for the evening news, so the chants and screams don’t drown the asshole out.

      The old man places his finger on the trigger. He is surprised by how steady his hand is as he draws the gun from his pocket.

      He will not see his daughter this night.

      They say the streets of heaven are guarded by United States Marines, and their number grows by one this night.

    2. This has such a heaviness, a wariness, but also a sense of what's right, of genuine duty and watchfulness. It kind of broke my heart, but that means it did its job. Fuck, Leland, this shit is hard to watch, even from a distance.

      Obligatory shoutout to a line or phrase that grabbed me: "You don’t need to throw lead to stop spray paint."

  6. Denver sat on the fence, sucking on a soothe-stick. It’d been a long day and she needed to come down, her head buzzing with the voices and the thoughts of others. There was no way of picking them apart sometimes.

    And that was why she was here, risking a code violation, taking a few minutes out of her duty cycle. She’d been beginning to meander, listening to the dangerous tones of the seductive voices, letting them drive for a while, while she glided, a passenger in her own body. She was always 100% in control, she’d told herself. She’d just relaxed, stood back for a moment in the quieter spaces inside her head. What was the problem in doing that? She was a master, a pro, a natural at doing this. She was born with all the advantages a modified time-sharer paid to have implanted, the duality of mind that enabled her to keep her grip when she’d others residing alongside her. She hadn’t even needed to train before she took in her first passenger, although getting them inside was never a problem she’d had.

    Her first was still there, an ugly mood at the limit of perception. She doubted he even knew he was there: the man himself long gone, training others like her, both the naturals and the augmented, forcing himself into others, stretching their abilities. He’d come into her as a wave; crashing noises, a tearing of her innermost psychological hymen, bruising her inside in ways no-one would ever see. He’d said it would ease with time and further stimulation. And he’d repeated it again and again until she was finally strong enough to force him out.

    She was even stronger now. The Bureau had been quick to recognise her aptitude, tag-teaming instructors onto her so she never knew who she was at times, an ever-changing multitude of minds and emotions tearing at her until she surrendered, wishing for a quiet place where she could be alone.

    That had been the basic training she’d received; Timesharing 101. There were very few who emerged from it who weren’t at the least seriously traumatised or permanently scarred, its graduates being graded on how functional they still were, how pliant they were under control, how easily they could be overcome. Denver had been strong enough to resist most of their tests, faking her acquiescence so she wouldn’t be broken apart when they came back into her, as they always did, when you forced them out. It was her secret, the only thing she could still rely on being hers.

    That was the way of it, being one who was shared. There was little you could take for granted.

  7. “A rose in a bowl, so I can keep everything that falls.”

    Daryl turned. “What’s that,” he said. “Some kind of dumb-ass poetry?”

    “No.” I shook my head. He didn’t get me at all. I often wondered what I saw in him. We’d been close, once. “It’s a meditation; a mantra, of sorts. It helps me disconnect, become whole again.”

    He shook his head now, denying my thoughts in his head. I’d created a dissonance, like the one I was trying to expel. I hoped his was a mild one: I was always careful around him, knowing how vulnerable he was.

    I tried again, this time sub-vocalising the words. I hadn’t realised that I’d spoken them out loud the last time, hadn’t known how close to the surface my thoughts had been. I needed to be become more aware of myself. I had been better than this: I couldn’t afford to fail now.

    The rose appeared, first as a bud, but then it grew, gaining definition, its petals opening until they quivered to be released. I visualised the bowl, saw its maker’s mark on its base. And then I watched the rose die, saw it collapse into itself. Soon, there was nothing of it that could be recognised.

    It was gone.


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