BLOOD CREEK - Random Excerpt

Danny swerved. “Goddamn!”

My head slammed against the window. The ass-end of the Avalanche slewed off the road, smashed down into a stone culvert, and jackknifed across the two-lane road. Danny mashed the brakes; we skidded to rest.

“What the fuck, Danny!”

“Son of bitch forced me off the road.”

Craning my neck, I looked back.

“What kind of car.”

“Some goddamned Ford rig. Came right at me. Fuckin’ son of a bitch!”

“You don’t know the truck?”

“Never seen it. Light silver. Lifted. Coulda’ been some college kids. Also coulda’ been some dealers.”

“Goddamn.”

Danny got out. I did too. Walked around the Chevy. All four wheels sat square on the pavement. Nothing looked twisted or broke. “Fuck it. We’ll know soon enough if we should be driving it.”

“Yep.”

We cleared off a clump of mud that got dug out and whipped out onto the road. The back bumper dug into the near frozen dirt next to the culvert. Danny whistled when we saw how close we were to tearin’ off his rear right axle. “Goddamn.”

 

***

 

“Are you gonna tell me why exactly we are headin’ to the bank?”

“Can’t say.”

“Oh hell. I’m guessin’ you could say, you just ain’t.”

“Yep. I told you I ain’t robbing it.”

“No shit. We already covered that what you wasn’t doin’. Now I’m interested in the what, are you doin’, part.”

“I haven’t gotten any further than right where we sit.”

“You swear?”

“Nope.”

“Hell, Danny.”

“It’s cool, Nickie.”

I sighed. “All right.”

The Dollar General was packed. We drove passed the Exxon station. I caught a glimpse of Bruce standin’ behind the counter. Time seemed to hitch and I could swear his hand started to come up, like he was gonna wave, then stalled and dropped away and wiped across the counter. Maybe he saw me riding inside and decided against it. I don’t know. Don’t care. I got my answer. He didn’t know anything. Just the very part of me askin’ hurt him. I told myself I should raise my hand in his direction the next time I pass through. Ease his mind. I figure it’s worth doing that for a man when you could. Cruel not to. Which worked when that’s what you wanted to be. I was angry. But I wasn’t cruel. I prayed I’d stay that way.

Danny pulled to the curb in front of the Weaver bank. A semi shuddered behind us. I had a clear view to Mom and Pen’s building just up the road.

I looked across at Danny. The way he was settin’ was the same way he set when I come up on him this mornin’. He wasn’t cruel neither. In fact, it could be he never done a cruel thing to a person in his life. I leave huntin’ out of that whole deal though. Plenty of people might call deer huntin’ cruel. But it wasn’t. Not the way we run chases. Here it’s part of life, and it’s not life wasted. Yep, he wasn’t cruel. But right now, I wasn’t sure what he was.

“Danny, you sure us comin’ down here is a good idea?” I asked, but I already knew it wasn’t.

He reached for the door handle. “Nope.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“You all right?”

“Long ways from it.”

He got out, shoved the door shut.

“Aw hell then.” I pulled the Colt from my waist and shoved it under the seat and went inside. I really don’t think Danny had any idea of what he was wantin’ when he walked in that bank. That’s probably what got underneath my skin the most. I come in. He just stood there in the middle of the bank. I took a seat in a fancy waiting chair. Wasn’t nobody in line in front of him.

Marlene Paulson stood behind the teller desk. “Hi Danny? Can I help you?” She asked it again.

He didn’t budge. Jesus hell is what I thought about how things were going so far.

Marlene looked at me. “What’s wrong with your brother?”

That’s what he looks like when he’s thinkin’ is all I thought of sayin’. But I said nothin’.

Marlene’s eyes went big and she stepped back from her window. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her arrange some stacks of whatever’s in front of her. Same manner that Bruce had when I went to see him at the Exxon station. Something about standin’ behind a counter for years on end must fuck with your head and give you a narrow-focus god complex and you end up needin’ every last thing in the exact place you think it ought to be. Or maybe you just get bored. I don’t know. I ain’t never done it. Too much time was passin’. Maybe Marlene thought the same thing. Her mouth opened. I thought she was startin’ to say Danny’s name. Instead she backed away, walked real slow like maybe she thought we wouldn’t see her go. I don’t even know if Danny saw her in the first place. He still ain’t moved. Or said nothin’.

“What in the hell, Danny?” I said.

Hallelujah

“Hell, it ain’t right to bring you here.” I tuck Strongland under my coat, rain soaked, lit neon blue from an overhead train hurtling passed. Wet bags cling to my feet, disintegrating into nothing but brown dirt, waiting for the slugs to inhabit their remaining usefulness. This world, this city, wastes away to nothing much more than gray slush, once pure white snow, splashed  along the side of the concrete swaths, broken chunks of cinder and rebar; we used to hold you up they seem to say, now we lay in ruins.

                Strongland don’t seem to mind, tucked into me like a bird clutched to a branch, slick and pale, and rough, but still, a refuge. I thought about the men I used to see as a boy, walkin’ down Route 4, headphones on, god damn, I know they ain’t even got the money for batteries to make them things play. Let alone money for food, or even a drop of booze.

                I don’t have a choice now, but to walk. “You hold on to me, real close, okay?”

                “Dada.”

                That’s his answer; he will. He can walk now, still unsteady, but I ain’t settin’ him down. Not here. Not tonight. The leather of my boots squishes like seal skin, just skinned, slick with blood. Busted street lights overhead, loom, dead seal eyes, blunt faded, orbs, no more light. The city don’t care. To hell with this street. To hell with you. Go on now, scurry in the darkness. Oh, it’s alright, you are out of sight.

                Cold drops of rain come as hard as ball bearings whipped across a close distance from a boy’s slingshot. Welts swelled up like wasp stings on the back of my hands and the nape of my neck. It don’t matter. Cover me with them, it don’t matter. Just as long as Strongland don’t get a single one.

                Strongland’s broad hands pull him tighter. I know he’s cold. I bawl. He don’t know, all he sees is the inside of my coat. Another train breaks the world apart above us. Pebbles and poisoned water arc off the platform and join the fray of desperation below. Down with us. Down with us. Down with us.

                “It ain’t right to bring you here. To the city. Ever. You hear me? There ain’t no life here. Don’t you ever confuse being alive with life.”

                “Dada.”

               He understands. I don’t know how he does, I only know that he does, like the few words that he says that cover all of what he knows. I feel like bawling. I gotta do something to stop it. I sing, halted and ashamed. “You don’t really care for music do ya?” I forget the opening lines of the song.  And most of the ones after. I pick up where I can. “Your faith is strong but you needed proof…” I bawl. “Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya.”

                Strongland tugs at my jacket collar, tries to push his head out. “Moon.” He looks for it.

                “Not tonight baby. No moonlight.” I bawl. “Just you… Hallelujah—Hallelujah—Hallelujah.” I’ll walk forever holding Strongland this close. You can have the moonlight. “Hallelujah.”

                I keep walking. Cars go by, fewer now. Faces hidden behind streaking wiper blades and selfishness. I know he fell asleep. He knows I’ve got him. It will take some time to clear this place, to where I can set Strongland down to walk beside me. But for now, it’s on me. Hallelelujah. I got you. Hallelujah.

Do You Remember Me?

“Do you remember me?”

“Yes. Of course, I remember you mom.”

Tears, welled from pain and heartbreak, seeped from her eyes, catching a pale, robin egg blue, a chalk smear of low South Carolina early winter morning light, drawn by a delicate child’s hands beyond the window blinds, forever out of reach.

“You are still, right here, mom.”       

I stand on her left side. My hand lays on her shoulder, I feel sweat and heat from her body, stuck too long in that same position. Her tears continue to drain from her heart, water separated from her very blood. They do not fall away uselessly down onto the thin cotton sheet tucked around her waist. I know with each darkening spot on her clothing, her heart has deteriorated, just as fluidly as her mind is leaving. I cannot fathom the pain in each of those tears.

I remember, when I was young and angry and disloyal, a bastard on most accounts, facing off with my mother at the top of the stairway of our house.  I hate you she said. I know she meant it. I was not my mother’s son. I told her that I was much stronger than her and then pushed her to the floor and walked away.

Now, I am older and angry, and facing off with my mother at the side of her bed, our eyes locked, I am worried and attempting to remove all layers of past disloyalty, but I am no bastard. I am my mother’s son. I love you she said. I know she meant it. I wanted desperately to pick her up from this bed, and carry her away, instead, it was not my place to do so. Instead, it was almost time for me to walk away.

Between my mother and I lay a giraffe that my mother made for my sister’s oldest child. It then went to my sister’s youngest; my son is next in line to inherit it. About three feet tall, covered in fuzzy fabric, colored in bold geometric patterns, faded now.  “Giraffe,” is my mother’s closest companion now, her steadfast guardian and silent confidant that listens to her cry herself to sleep during the stretches of time between visits by my father. It waits with her through the spaces of horror and loneliness between each tick of the clock and each shift of growing and fading light pushing or disappearing between the slates of the blinds covering her one window.  I envy the giraffe, and its loyalty to her. My Mom’s hands, unsteady, quivering, reach for it, her fingers find split seams, white polyester filler bulging out.

“Giraffe, you have holes Giraffe.” She says. New tears cascade from another tear of her heart.

My hand, still placed against her shoulder, rises and falls with the sobs coming from within her chest. My hand, filled with guilt, waits for the moment to pass. My hand scarred and healed, and scared and healed again, offers only a passing shadow of comfort. Her body, loose inside slackening skin, a vessel for despair to thrive, already knows everything within her, and outside of her is passing.

            Again she pleads, “Do you remember me?”

            “Yes mom.” I pray you have forgotten how I was sometimes.

            Just outside the doorway, open to the wide sanitized hallway, brightly lit with florescent bulbs, my wife, stooped forwards, grasping Strong Land’s hands in hers, stabilizing him as he wavered on two feet, offered me compassion with her eyes.

            “Is it okay if I go to sleep?” my mother asks. This is her way now; we all understand. When it is too much to bear, sleep, her last protective barrier against the pain, is a godsend.

            “Yes mom.”

            My mother’s eyes close, her jaw drops closer to her pillow, towards my hand on her shoulder.

             “I love you mom.” I draw my hand back. Her skin has dried. Her tears have vanished. It is my turn now. I leave the room.

            I want to pick my son up and carry him. Just fourteen months old, he is damned sure determined he is gonna walk out of there. Two months ago, that’s all it would have taken my mom to get out of this place, if she could just make her legs work. But they don’t. And we know now, they will not, ever again. And that was too simple anyways. Nothing will be simple about this anymore. Well, the heartbreak is simple. It’s real simple. And devastating.

            My wife and I make our way through the facility; black nurses and white patients, all women as far as I can see. We say hello to the nurses, avoid a patient who seems way too interested in our boy. The only thing that stops him is a live bird display just inside the main hallway. He squeals with delight, watching the birds flit from bar to bird house. He squeals when the birds chirp. He squeals when they disappear into cover. He doesn’t understand. All they have to do is fly away and return to where they belong; they do not belong here—my mother does not belong here—just leave... But it ain’t that simple. God dammit. Tomorrow is Christmas. Fuck Santa Claus; God, what will you bring for my mother?

            Opening the door, stepping outside, I know my mom is in her bed, clutching Giraffe and weeping. I can hear her ask, “Giraffe, do you remember me?”

Outskirts of Living

Besides the markers of those gone I will follow

I won’t question you

You know the streets and hiding places

On the outskirts besides the shallows

 

Tall like looming angels

Fading robes in silence casting shadows

My heart resides in the beats between the city limits and the light years I cannot travel

Besides I wouldn’t anyway I pay them no matter

Cast aside my faded coat to adjust my bones, broken and hanging on by torn flesh and sorrow

 

What would I know had I never questioned the laws of some lonely fortitude?

Fortunes wasted and unsaved and tossed aside like faulty pride

I won’t leave your side even though I ain’t beside you

I was in your eyes

A shelter after them million miles through never-mind and blindness

Peace they say to those that seek it

Power they taunt to the powerless and meek

Freedom they cry to them that release them

Wealth they offer for those who stole it

Warmth they promise for those cold and alone

Water they pour for the desperate and the weary

Time they count for those on the run

Dreams set forth into the minds of the sleeping

Coyotes and hummingbirds

Colors and blindness

And I follow behind without question

Besides the markers of those gone I will follow

You know the streets and hiding places

On the outskirts besides the shallows

 

Tall like looming angels

Fading robes in silence casting shadows

My heart resides in the beats between the city limits and the light years I cannot travel

Besides I wouldn’t anyway I pay them no matter

I exist now in my mind along the outskirts besides the shallows

BLOOD CREEK - Close! And, dang!

Just wanted to share a glimpse into my world of seeking representation for my manuscript, Blood Creek to literary agents. On July, 25, 2018 I queried Elizabeth Kracht with Kimberley Cameron & Associates, and today I heard back from them. In the realm of submitting manuscripts to literary agents, any feedback is useful, and this very kind and encouraging rejection letter is very good news. Well, an offer would be really great news, but to have the agency describe Blood Creek as “a quality piece of work” means a whole heck of a lot! I will email them today and thank them for reaching out to me!

I took a break from querying agents to launch both Strong Land and Civil Words Not Civil war on Facebook, and am in the process of identifying my next selection of agents to contact. And, I feel hopeful.

I’ll tell Strongland about this tonight when I feed him mashed pear and wheat bread.

Anyways!

Dear Andy,

I hope this email finds you well.  As an assistant for Elizabeth Kracht, I am responding to your submission.

I wanted you to know that Elizabeth and I considered your work. Last year was an extremely busy year for Elizabeth causing her to fall behind on her submissions. Because we receive more than two hundred submissions per week, it is necessary to be extremely selective on a very subjective basis. Unfortunately, we have to pass on this project. It's a quality piece of work and I am sure you will find an agent to represent you. 

I wish you all the best in your future publishing endeavors and feel free to submit any future projects.


Brittle, Wind Dancer

I watch my mother as she waits for her legs to work. I watch my mother, waiting for the world to reorganize into some proper meaning. She contains intelligence that cannot be quantified, but now, shoved along in gusts of confusion cannot process how she once could. We are not machines. Whether that makes us goddamned or unbound I cannot say. 

Her thoughts flitter and twist and get swept away from the course of road that lay before her. On their ballet shoe pointes they scrape and claw at the surface of what was, tenuously spin and slide, silent aside from her accompanying breath. 

Her memories, these Brittle, Wind Dancers, vivid colors, sharp creases, unattached stems, individual parts of some disintegrating whole, blurring, a shifting organism, not a machine, but a life I could never qualify. 

We sit, side by side, heart by heart. You are still stronger than me, sharing your tears. I am too weak to show mine. ” I have always loved you,” she repeated. “When you were bad, you were so bad. When you were good, you were so good” she said. Now, mom, I am good, and you always, you always did your best.

I cannot lose you. And you cannot lose me. Or your daughter. Or your husband. We will all grasp tightly the unquantifiable that is still your life. We, the four of us will weave it together, twisting the short and delicate fibers of life into a fabric that will not tear no matter how many times we wrap ourselves within it when we are cold, or use it to shield us from the glaring light of unbearable truths.

When there come times when we feel pain and loss and have no fibers at hand to bind together, we will return to our memories, shear them like the wool from a young ewe, gently work our wire brushes through the strands, imperfect, delicate on their own, tough, when bound together. Again, and again. Lamb after lamb. Season after season. Age after age. Love compounds love. Memory is restored, vivid, still part of this one whole cloth that you yourself have woven. It becomes you, this gift of all ages. I understand love. This, mom, is your greatest gift to me.

Let us hold this woven cloth around you. Grant you some respite from these gusting winds. Let us protect your thoughts, as they push and fade, bringing with them fear and despair. Let us set ourselves as baskets on the ground about you, collecting your precious thoughts to be held sacred within us. Be to the damned, and glory, these vivid and fading colors—they, like you —are the most true of the Brittle, Wind Dancers.

Hazards

Can’t help but see a thing like that, even from miles out. Nothing between us, and the growing light from the fire, nothing at all but shoving wind, and hard pack, ground down into low folds of pale ocher sediment like a dust-caked floor mat shoved up behind an open door.

Strongland looked at me. I knew he was wondering what I was going to do. I pulled over. In a situation like this, you cover ground, try not to make mistakes, watch for things that will catch you up, make damn sure your intentions aren’t something you have to backtrack on your way out of some trouble you didn’t see layin right there in front of you, some issue that only gets in your way when you get careless. If it was just me, maybe I could afford to be just a hair careless. But, I felt Strongland, all brown eyes, looking across at me. Can’t be careless. Even if you don’t have the answer for what might need to get answered when you come up on it.

Another car loomed and wavered and disappeared altogether behind us. I hadn’t seen another car in either direction, hell, maybe in the last two hours. When we came to a spot that wouldn’t get us any closer I flicked on the hazards, eased off the gas, and pulled off the highway, just as far as I could from the outside of the white line. A fence ran along the road, parallel to it, as far as I could see towards the horizon. It just disappeared way out somewhere in front of me. Just ended like a phone call, a line going dead at the end of some long conversation. How much longer would a man try and catch the end of that thing? Or a long ago ended phone call. I don’t know.  Perhaps a great distance.

We got out. Strongland stepped to my hip. Not a word passed between us. I taught him to approach most things like a fly-fisher would a creek. You come up quiet, no use in just barreling in. Wait, and see what the shadows and the rocks, tucked in beneath the surface tension, tell you about the things you cannot see at first.  Then if you get to a place you believe you have learned a way to approach what’s in front of you, without ruining it, then you make your move.

Wasn’t much we could say about what we saw. Maybe a mile out, add another half-mile and you’d be on it. I wasn’t sure if it was a barn, or a house, but it was sure as hell not surviving the fire that swallowed it. No way.

Strongland took my hand. I saw his feet dig against the dust that piled up along the fence line. He had been like that since he was born. You could always tell that boy’s brain was working away in direct correlation to his feet digging in. He was nervous about it. Scared even. “There’s nothing to be done. It’s gone. Or, will be if we tried to get there.”

That car pulled up. An old timer got out. Dressed in a suit. Polyester? I really didn’t know. But it was well looked after.  “That your boy?”

“Yessir.”

He looked Strongland over. “He’s got the same eyes.”

“Yessir.”

His hands, paper thin skin, gold wedding ring, dingy yellow fingernails, wrapped easily around the barbwire fence. Wind rocked us. Strongland leaned into me. His head at my belt.

“You from around here, sir?”

The old man’s eyes lit up like the fires. Then a shadow swept through them just as real as submerging your body into a bathtub full of ice.

“I used to be… hell, yes. I used to be.  I don’t belong to no place now.”

“Sir?”

All three of us watched that thing burn. Smoke curled away from it, long drags twisted like a dragon kite bucking to break off its string. 

Tears welled in the old man’s eyes. I watched two versions of the world emerge on the skin of the tears as they slid and broke down the man’s face, the man’s skin that was exactly like the hard pack laid out from our feet into all directions. He wiped them away with his shirtsleeve.  “That place is mine.” Nodding toward the fire.  “Was mine anyways.”

I was going to ask the man what happened. Maybe he knew it. His eyes betrayed that he had slipped past reasoning. I didn’t ask him. I knew what happened and could imagine his ancient thumb rolling the spark on a forty-nine cent Bic.

Strongland reached out, put his tiny hand on the old man’s hand, clasped around the barbwire.  I didn’t stop him.  “Do you need help mister?”

The old man smiled. “Only if you are God.”

Strongland looked up at me. How’s a young boy supposed to answer a question like that?

“No ‘sir.”

The old man patted Strongland’s hand. “Oh hell, I’m an old fool.” His eyes shifted, he stared at me. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean anything by it.”

I nodded. Grit wedged between my boots, Strongland’s were covered.  It was the first time I realized the old man wasn’t wearing shoes. Just crow-black socks.  There were questions I wanted to ask the old man. But Strongland wasn’t ready for questions like that. Not yet. There would be nothing to prove by asking them. Nothing to gain. Whatever brought that old man to the spot he was in to decide to burn his house down was a long time in the making. A long time I guessed.  “You have any place to go?”

“Well…” the old man laughed, dry and harsh, like splintering wood, “I don’t think so. Not anymore… Like I said, some things, too many things, just don’t make sense to me anymore. They just goddamned don’t.”

I reached out my hand. His own clamped around mine like it was the only blessed thing holding him to the earth. “There’s a lot of the world feels like that these days, sir.”

He nodded. Got back in his car. Pulled back onto the highway and drove away.

Strongland and I stood, together. Wind pushing hard. Already the fire lost its anger. We waited until there were no flames. Who knows where that old man was going. Who knows why the ways of the world were shifting into some unmanageable course. I couldn’t. I stared into Strongland’s brown eyes. Yes, they were like mine. I prayed he would be smarter than I am.  ”Are you ready?”

Strongland looked out at the highway, then back across to the scorched ruin. “There’s nothing to be done here.” He took my hand in his, and led me from the barbwire fence towards the car.

I knelt down onto the hard pack and wrapped my arms tight around the boy. By god I hate to ever release him from them, not now, not in forever. But there was no sense in waiting anything out, no use wasting the time that wasn’t even ours. Strongland studied me again. He has his mom’s eyelashes. I swear he nodded.

Alright, I thought. “Let’s get home.”

We buckled in. I turned the hazards off, reached across to him, put my hand on his chest then wheeled onto the highway. Strongland never looked back at that fire. He never asked why. He had already come to some conclusion that squared it up in his mind. I knew he was already smarter than I ever was. Someday, down the line, I’ll ask him what conclusion it was he came to. Maybe then, I might understand.

 

Funeral

Summer has died.

Strongland insisted on sitting on the ground. I sat him on the walkway. It was the first morning the temperature had fallen this October. I wonder how the chilled, rough concrete felt on his skin. He turned back, grinned. He’s okay. He’s oblivious. We’ll see what he does a month from now.

We sat quietly. Sometimes owls call to each other, back and forth across the street, hidden among the pine and maple branches. A slowly opening eye, night pulled itself to sleep as the sun awoke, first leaching pale madder red, warming slightly to watercolor-wash scarlet, then opaque salmon pinks, quiet traces of shuffling light as if God was unfurling colored parchment paper across the sky.

Autumn is born.

My mind rumbled clumsily. How do you explain a funeral to a boy? How do you tell him that the men that have held him on their laps in one place or another, have dropped by to see him, or he has seen at family events, will never see him again? Strongland won’t remember. A great sorrow in me envies the forgetting.

The men of this town are dying. I named four men to Strongland, his small version of my hand, minus the scars and broken but healed bone, gripped a fallen leaf, tightly between his fingers. I can’t tell if to him the leaf was just a thing, or a treasure to behold. He tore it apart into jagged pieces. One he handed to me and grinned. Another dropped away. He held the last piece.

Is this how God holds us? We fall away, or are clutched tightly, or given up to another hand to care for? How does a father or a mother tell a boy these things?

I met the son of one of the four men that died during this transition of seasons.  A gaunt man, a younger version of Robert Duvall, offered his hand. His understanding was that I had just moved here. “You came at a bad time,” he said, a trace of a smile, as if he was channeling the words his deceased father might have spoken had he been the one to greet me. No, I wanted to tell him, as I thought about fathers and their sons, my own father, and my own son. I came at the only time it could matter.

At the funerals of their fathers, the daughters and granddaughters rose, and drawing from some deep well of courage and grace that men, other than preachers, seem to find hard to come by in these situations, choked back tears, clutched lined white paper and shared beautiful passages that can only be written by daughters. We, the still living, listened, and prayed, and pushed back against our own timelines of mortality.

Strongland’s mother and I decided his birthday will be our official announcement that the season has changed. And so it has, just. And his small hand will grow, and his skin will weather and become scarred and his bones will break and heal and I will pass on.

Autumn will fade and die—but we are here at the only time it could matter—in all our glorious heartbreak.

 

Civil Words

On October 21, 2018 I launched a Facebook page “Civil Words Not Civil War”; here’s why. My instinct, for whatever number of reasons, is to fight, lash out, and smash things. I don’t admit this with pride, these instincts have cost me, but I have reveled in the sensation of my hand, balled into a fist, punching something, feeling the object shatter with my will and force. It’s been a long time since I hit another person. Decades ago. High school years. As with drugs and alcohol, when I was seventeen I left violence, and my engagement with it, in my shadow. But the thing about a shadow is the only time you can’t step away from it is in the dark. Many things in our world are dark. In the light of day the shadows bleed themselves into places that deserve the light; civility is one of those precious realms becoming overwhelmed by shadow. And within that shadow, I have become angry. I have wanted to lash out, curl my hand into a fist and throw it, welcoming new scars and the satisfaction of a fight. And so, as shadows creep across us, I have to fight myself first of all. I have to be civil.

I wasn’t sure where or how or what to do. My voice is but one and with it most of the time I sing in a congregation of like-minded people. I feel the anger and despair of this congregation. I belong to no church, but the world, and the world is angry. I can accept the anger, and vocalize my opinions, and do so with respect for others that, though they feel differently about the world than I do, has beliefs that lead them.

Several weeks ago I began to notice posts on Facebook that claimed fact, or portrayed themselves as true, or contained images with captions that I could not believe were accurate. It seemed that these posts originated from one Facebook page in particular. I sought the page out, and requested to join. The administrators required that an allegiance to one particular group be made as a condition of being accepted as a member. I submitted a message with my request to join and stated that I did not support that particular group in the majority of their causes, but wished to join the group so I could respectfully contribute counter information when I felt it was important to do so.

To my surprise, I was allowed to join the group. What I found there terrified me. So, I withdrew. Then I thought about it some more, and joined again. During my second stint I had some productive conversations from individuals in all corners of the United States, and even Europe. The last string of conversations was not productive. It kept me up at night. My wife asked me to take our address off our website. I know now, that there are people out there that are literally preparing for war. Civil War.

The last person I engaged with, as civilly as I could, (who I suspect was attempting to engage me in the same manner) wrote, “if we can’t express our views here, where can we?” The truth is, this person is right. The next day I was banned from the group. Maybe there were complaints to the administration? I don’t have an answer.

I became so angry. And I still am. And with that anger I decided I needed to take action. For me, yelling won’t do anything, yelling and screaming and cussing at others only increases division between us, causes others to scream back, lessens my ability to listen and in the end, only I will get hurt.

As I reflected on the shadows that have pushed their way across our human landscape I decided that I would lay my wager down on civility. But I won’t throw a punch. I will encourage. I will be respectful. I will attempt to offer civil words in exchange for the same. And I will vote, although civil words need to be cultivated, nourished and given light to flourish, long beyond elections, long beyond my lifetime. Long beyond my son’s lifetime. I will teach him to offer the civil word.

All of these decisions weigh on me, as there are others out there that will fight and punch and scream. I have chosen sides. I hate to think I am diminishing the fire that my like-minded friends have. I understand that my actions might increase divides with unforeseen consequences. But, my friends, I know we need you. I need you. The human landscape needs you. And I hope we are victorious.

And still, civil words will be my path. Civil Words Not Civil War.

Hurricane

I remember it as if I was still in the moment. But it was last year, September of 2017. We were waiting on Strongland, he was almost here.

  It was my request, and she obliged. Skin tight around her round belly she stepped off the brick porch, pulled her shirt up, stomach exposed like a polished boulder, to the coming hurricane. I watched, fascinated. Rain streaked across her skin. Faint, living light, a wash of pewter and sepia swallowed what was the sky. And the wind. Across the street the tall pines bent and bucked and fought and twisted. Branches snapped and crashed onto the slick concrete street.

  God how I loved those moments. I wonder, even protected inside his mama’s womb, how much of that hurricane got inside him that day, into his veins, heart and mind. I wish I could have been her, Strongland's mama; she got to know him a lifetime before I even met him.

  But I know him better now. I'm learning. I was gone all the night before. We agreed that it just didn't make sense to drive back and forth. Where I was, and what I was doing is not important. Only a handful of things are to me now. But where I was meant I was hours from home. They said the hurricane was heading straight for our home. I left as soon as I could.

  Now, tonight, it's just me and Strongland. His mama is working. 

I can't say what's coming, I won’t know till it’s gone. Pewter and sepia light has swallowed what was the sky. And I stepped off the brick porch. Rain has streaked across my hands, wrapped tightly around him. Rain has streaked across his forehead, darkening his late autumn corn stalk blond hair.

  And the wind. Across the street those tall pines bent and arced and shook and groaned and yielded and stood straight again. Branches gave up and snapped off and crashed to the wet concrete street. 

  God how I love those moments. I know him better now. Even still I wonder how much of that hurricane became a part of his veins and heart and mind. I've seen him rage. Just like me. Just flashes. I know him better now. I've seen him alight and aware. I know him better now.

Strongland fell asleep in my arms. I carried him to the bed. His quick and shallow breaths are lost to the rotating storm. Lashing rain streaks across the bedroom windows. I can’t say what will become of tonight until it is gone. I'll just hold him. Just like this. And we'll wait on his mama. I'll know him better then, even if it's just Strongland's quick breaths in a hurricane. 

Counting Up, Counting Down...

My first born son is about to turn one year old. What an overwhelming, and wonderful occurrence. I want to write for him, something mythical and true, like his very existence. But nothing, nothing could ever come close to what he brings to me... What can I say? How to begin?

Do I write about the moments, both the lingering and the quick, and all the moments in between, that he will never remember, and I will never forget? Would I try to calculate a range of beats his heart has pounded from his very first since his mom and I touched him?

Will I write about how his body has grown, tiny bit, by tiny bit, his broadening hands, his eyelashes, his clapping and gurgling and righteous laughter, and his shallow, rapid breaths when he sleeps, tucked up between his mom and me.

Will I write about how he has gotten so dang strong, and his names; Swinging Bear Fists, Ro- Ro, Rollo, Chunk, sweetie, Strong Land.

What will I write?

I have twelve days; I will let you know.

The Last Cicada

The Last Cicada

 

Near the end of every summer

Just when you get ready to go back to school

And put your grass stained sneakers

away away away

The Last Cicada waits

 

During all those summer days

There were millions and a million more than that

But not as many as there are stars

And certainly not as many as all the love I have for you in my heart

 

Remember how they could keep you awake

All those hollering cicadas singing

Calling out to each other

Their screeches and creaking music coming through your open window

Just because you couldn’t understand them doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning

But now their songs husssh

away away away

 

And those green trees you and the cicadas spent your days of summer under

Begin to turn yellow

And orange

And red

Until all their colors have faded

Away away away

 

 

And then there was just one

You never know which one it will be

But it could have been one of the cicadas you have been lucky enough to see

The last cicada goes

Looking at the world through eyes unlike yours but they have seen the same things as you

Flitting from branch to branch

Singing a lonely solo

 

Sometimes you might be lonely too

But come every sunrise and every summer

With new green and your old pair of sneakers

You will no longer be lonely

And the world will be filled

With millions and millions of hollering cicadas

And endless things you can do

 

But always remember the last cicada

Singing a lonely solo

Until their final song has faded

Away away away

 

Blood Creek to Roanoke

To them that it ever mattered

They gave up keeping count

Of the storms that followed the spine of the eastern divide

Raised up by God and underlying pressure

The forces of nature and the battles they wage against each other

All the while

Storms and sunlight rotated  

And them men

All that ever mattered 

Traced the curves of her and laid their tracks

From Blood River to Roanoke

Stitched along the wild places between ‘em

Blowing through granite and limestone

Clearing cotton and hard pine 

Spanning chasms of twisting spring silver

 

 Released from their places between the fields and the heavens

Who knows what side they’d fall

Seeping into the sandstone and washing away layers of silt

Dispersed back into the waters

They burn back by the sun to the sky above them

And all that counted the storms came and went

Between Blood Creek and Roanoke 

Them trains run hauling steel and cotton 

No living things just the inert and stacked and stored away

Incapable of being anything other than a set of plans and some other structure not of their own design

With no hearts to mind or thoughts to tend

Those things graced or doomed to roll heavy down the line

Between Blood Creek and Roanoke 

Got no choice in the matter

 

Its done been decided

Like the course of the storms and the anchored sun

Set alight by the forces of convection and gravity

Universal predetermination

And them unnatural scars the men that came and went constructed between Blood Creek and Roanoke

Some things there just can’t be no way of telling

History books and their purposeful misrepresentations

Lies and misdirection’s

Sleight of hand and the despair and isolation

And the losing count of the storms and the track of the sun

The calculations of things that never mattered

Courses set and timelines determined

Preordained to lay side by side and silent

You carry your weight

I’ll carry mine 

Laying here just the same 

Between Blood Creek and Roanoke

 

It wasn’t any choice I made

Just the curve of the earth

Storms I lost track of

Rain falling by happenstance on one side of the continental divide or the other

Ain’t no way of tellin

I swear there ain’t no way of knowin it’d be that way

And I’d end my runnin

Laying here just the same 

It wasn’t any choice I made

Just the curve of the earth

Storms I lost track of

Rain falling by happenstance on one side of the continental divide or the other

Between Blood Creek and Roanoke

 

And you know

As you grow older

Maybe 

Developing storms

And heavy freight trains

Run off path and off their tracks

And maybe

In the dark of the coming fall mornings

You find the things you kept in line

Broke south of Blood Creek

Just east of Roanoke

Ain’t no way of tellin

I swear there ain’t no way of knowin

Just losing your bearings of the storms

And the tracks

Laid long ago

Side by side

You carry your weight

I’ll carry mine 

Laying here just the same 

Between Blood Creek and Roanoke

Night Shutters

Go ahead and lay myself down

Take your hand in mine

Small as a bird’s heart

Big as the world 

 

I'm not afraid of the darkness 

Or of the sounds I could not describe 

But I'm afraid of the heat of your skin

And things that you don't know about that wash across your dreams

And I'm afraid of the hurtling metal that’s barreling across the flesh of the earth 

So I lay myself down 

At your wavering 

Unsteady

Sleeping

Strong Land

Just learning to stand 

Steady

In the dark

You'll understand your dreamin 

Your twitching hand wrapped up in mine

In the dark

 

Reach out pull the rope

Like pulling yourself outta rough waters onto safe ground

So you see my young Strong Land it’s just the waking moon casting silver behind the shutters

Leaving paths for the owls and the wolves

We'll wait for them here it’s your time to rest

I'll keep track of your breathing 

So none can steal it from you 

 

I lay myself down until you are ready to stand on your own

Even the kings of trees and beasts waver from time to time

Drawn by the shadows to themselves and to Strong Land

Within them I have your hand in mine and wait for your fever to go running away like history passed 

Until it's just you standing steady unafraid of the dark