Bite Sized Philosophy, 16 July 2015: Happiness

A subject about which I know very little, but as an American, I’m perfectly comfortable discussing shit I don’t quite understand.

How brief our joy, how long our sorrows. Today I’ll be discussing something I know very little about: celebration and happiness.

Happiness is the moment, or a series of moments, punctuated, for me, by longer, more boring stretches of reality, when there are no story arcs, no great movements or performances, no lasting impact or appreciation. For me, the moments of happiness that I’ve had have been mostly of the chemically induced variety. But I’d like to think I get it. I’ve been happy before. I’m sure of that. We have this abstract idea in our minds that happiness is an insoluable mystery, something that can’t really be quantified or labeled with precision. Maybe it can’t. Maybe it’s like love, and like love it does more to service fountains of bad poetry and song than anything, but we celebrate our happiness because of its brevity, because it strips away the bars of our civilization and lets us return to a more innocent time, a time where we didn’t have a multitude of different threads going on in our heads, when we didn’t have schedules and due dates and deadlines, when the moment was all there was and, for what we knew, the moment was all there’d be. I’m sure I thought that once, that what I felt like in the moment could somehow be preserved, either by continuing in the indulgence that brought the feeling to me, by loving and feeling loved in return, by making music and sharing it with friends, making love and sharing it with friends. By writing stories, a long and arduous process, and sharing it with friends.

To me, the happiest moments of my life have been moments shared, since they, in their rarity, are made more punctuated by that novelty, the novelty of unfamiliarity. What becomes the every day, the common, the grind, whenever something you love to do turns into that, a common drudgery, it loses the spark of the moment, the happy isolation in a self-deceived state of well-being. If you have sorrow in your heart and on your mind, it tends to embue everything you touch. It is a type of muck, a slime that clings to the ink of the stained person whose imagination calls it out. And the words of happy people are trembling and ecstatic, embodying the moments, celebrating their brevity, and when we read of these moments, of any moments of intensity, whether sorrowful or happy, when we reflect on them, when we think about how large they loom in mind after years and years have passed, there is a diminishment of the melancholy they might have held, and a celebration to be sure that, for one moment, we were together, and in that moment together, we were, if briefly, happy, whatever it meant, if it meant nothing, we could say, as Eric Idle sang in The Life of Brian: Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it. Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true. You’ll see it’s all a show, keep ’em laughing as you go, just remember that the last laugh is on you.

Poem: Another Yesterday

Breathe
Awake
A little stroll
another day’s assembly rolled
Off the line for but a time
And La, de, da it goes.

Sunshine
The quilt of day
Under which the children play
Breathe
A walk
A little talk
It cannot last they say
and our tomorrow will become
another yesterday

Sunshine, the quilt of day,
Under which the flowers lay
Breathing, a walk
Nobody’s talk
It will not last they say.
All tomorrow’s in the end
are our dead yesterdays.

Light in strands bejewel the lawn
The birds red morning’s wake up song
The crickets chirp away
Languid sky the clouds sail by
Around a carousel of why

Laughter, someone’s in the room
Flares through the night like fireflies
Amidst the pearl studded sky
The moon in golden fleeces by
For all lived and nothing die

Flowers in the windows bloom
A sonorous song and cheap perfume
The lilac down the wall
Yesterday the sun was read
Today turned opaque purple dead
Stars look through their narrow holes
In the Heaven by the Foal
Another off the line has rolled
Only to roll again, again,
That stone on the back
we beggar’s call sins

Another yesterday appears
A figure in the future reared
The shadows of tomorrow leer.
Vague shapes silhouettes and gray
To like a doll’s face wither fray
There goes another day,
And one more is gone

How long is the song before,
the sojourn life our last detour
The door creaks shut and
there, alone,
Into our silent catacombs
Our Sleeping Chamber just below
To go
The undiscovered country and the row
Turns nothing day is gone
Back where we beings all call home
Those silent dust filled catacombs
Into that category gone
Jump rope and etch a sketch
And songs
Barbershop quartet sing alone’s
Children’s laughter, rum-tum-tum
Daffodils and bubblegum
The flowers fall under the Sun.

The Make-Believe Ballroom – Full Novel (2004)

THE MAKE BELIEVE BALLROOM: A Novel (Full text, from 2004)

_________________________

For those who think, “It has to be better somewhere.
And for those who know it’s not.
Book 1

The book can produce an addiction as fierce as heroin or nicotine, forcing us to spend much of our lives, like junkies, in book shops and libraries, those literary counterparts to the opium den.

—Philip Adams

If all else fails, tell the truth. If that fails, write a book about it.

—Roger Solomon Manwell
Prologue

Of all character traits, emotional and psychological, insanity and a sense of humor are the most human. Few penguins have been observed telling knock-knock jokes. Beavers are likewise humorless creatures, if, of course, you exclude the sinister comedy that is their lives. They’re furry little construction workers with shitty jobs, short life-spans, and their eloquent log homes have little retail value. Raccoons are thieves and lions are lazy, but only a human being can be a maniac and comedian and get paid for it. Crazy lions don’t get shit. No one laughs at Llamas. Except crazy people.
Is that what makes a man a man? The knock-knock jokes and whoopee cushions? Is it those eat the can of donkey spleen and salamander testicles for the grand prize television shows? Is this what it is to be man, grandest creature of all, Homo Sapiens? What would Freud say about that kind of shit? What sets man above the other creatures? Pi, Pies in the face, super soakers, aids, super computers, philosophy and nuclear war? The mind has always been my obsession—the reasons, the why’s, you know, the philosopher’s alibis.
Beavers share a common bond with men. We’re both silly creatures. We’re silly enough to be duped into monogamy, but every now and then our mates catch us being men. That always leads to trouble, for beavers and for men. We’re knotted like a thick blonde braid with these working-class quadrupeds. Makes you want to sing, doesn’t it? Ah, singing. Singing is a beautiful thing, in humans and in nature, but there are few animals capable of playing the piano.
Is that what it is that separates us? Our grand symphonies and operas? Indeed, more to me has been said of God through Ave Maria than the Bible or Koran or Bhagavad-Gita. Surely there is mania, subtle, poetic and graceful mania, in these masterworks of human thought. There is a bit of mania in music, like the Vedas, spiritual chants, Voodoo ritual dances and primitive drums. Insanity can be beautiful. Insanity can be noble.
Insanity is apparent in other areas of nature, of course. There are faint traces of it in other animals, but to a lukewarm degree; it’s rare to find a zebra in a book depository building with a bolt action rifle looking to start some shit. They’ve got those hooves, hard to grip a rifle with a stumped up foot, you see. But a human has the ability and the inclination to do this. They have the beliefs to justify it. It is just as easy for them to justify their beliefs as it is for me to justify mine.
Nothing interests me more than these peculiar bipeds. It’s easy to condemn them as irrational creatures with a penchant for doing incredibly stupid and crazy shit. Exhibit A: Mardi Gras. It sure is fun though. I’ve been arrested at Mardi Gras a couple of times. You might’ve seen me on the episode of cops dedicated to Mardi Gras. The show staggered the imagination. Outlaw bandits ran around with flopping tits, covered with fancy, multi-colored beads. They rolled around on the ground covered in piss, vomit, and alcohol. God bless America.
Swimming pools are hard evidence in support of my argument. Anyone that spends more than ten minutes in a man made puddle should be sent to the corner to think about what they’ve done. They should be removed from their home for their third offence. No soup for them, either. They will learn the error of their ways or die. Murdering someone because they like to go for a swim is a bit extreme, but they have to learn somehow.
What am I trying to say? You could ask. Simple: human beings are wonderfully insane creatures. There’s something fascinating about how the circuitry of a burnt out mind works. I imagine dark rows of bluish diodes shifting about with occasional sparks like lightning bugs in tangled trees. This was my obsession.
This is what brought me to Herman.
I’ve invented a simple test to determine whether or not you’re insane. If you fail this test, you’ll probably enjoy my little story. If you pass it, I don’t like you. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
It’s three o’clock in the morning. You’re hungry, bored, and having trouble getting to sleep. You put on your robe, tie it, and head downstairs to look for some food. You open the fridge. You explore behind milk cartons, jugs of tea, tin-foiled covered bowls from yesterday. You find nothing. You give up and return to your room. This is normal. Food is necessary.
Thirty minutes later, you repeat the process, thinking, “Maybe I missed something.” This is not a reasonable excuse. This is not rational. Congratulations! You are insane.
Ever contemplated the origin of the cosmos while taking a shit? If so, once again, you are insane. Interesting person, perhaps. Insane, definitely.
Put this book down and look around. (You have to pick it back up or you’ll hurt my feelings. Could you live with that on your conscience?) If there are any signs of swimming trunks you must commit yourself immediately for the safety of your family. Do it for the kids man! The kids! Would you want them to turn out like me? For heaven’s sake man, something must be done. It’s a shame that there are people that share my outlook. What do I want to do with my life? Waste it. Waste it and enjoy wasting it. I’m ashamed of being human, and proud of it.
My grandmother is a kind woman. She had five children and, when my grandfather had open heart surgery, she had to support them all by working twelve hours a day and six days a week in a cotton mill just to buy them shoes and keep them fed. She had no concern for herself and wore the same rotted pair of Reebok’s for at least fifteen years before we got her a new pair for Mother’s day.
She was just a wee lass when the Titanic was swallowed whole by the hungry gullet of the sea. In the summer. we walked around in her fenced in yard to look for June bugs. We’d tie their legs to a stick once we found them just to watch ‘em fly around in circles. She collected porcelain angels and did her crossword puzzles every night. Other than that, she played a mean harmonica. I’ve never met a more superstitious person. In twenty seven years, she never missed a day of church. In keeping with the law of the Lord, she never cursed when angry; she spelled the words out. Sometimes my uncle was an ‘a double s.’
She thought a cross could keep her toilet from overflowing. Some quiet nights she stood in front of that American standard porcelain God shouting, with her crucifix held in front of her, “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” I couldn’t make this shit up. Superstition is a pure distillation of insanity.
Sorrow, regret, loneliness, heartache – all wonderful traits for human beings – but apparent in other animals. Regret is hard to see in the lower animals (you know, the animals that are too dumb to wear clothes and work at McDonalds) but it’s there. My grandmother’s cat, Entae, a runt of a black tabby with a gimp leg, had to be Italian. She exhibited a lot of common human characteristics. Other than cat food, she’d only eat ham and lasagna, spaghetti, rigatoni. Baloney was out of the question.
After eating about eight bowls of lasagna one night, I believe she regretted it almost as much as my mother, who had to truck down the stairs at three in the morning with a plastic baggy bought with the sole intention of scooping up cat shit and other less friendly bodily excretions.
There is more insanity at work here than you might notice at first glance. Let’s examine: there is a company, made of men that launched, funded, and marketed a product to be used primarily in dealing with cat vomit. The logic behind this is staggering. Staggering.
How could this come about? Let’s muse. Want to muse with me? Come on, I’ll be nice. One day there are three young business school grads on a train. They see three cats form a small circle and vomit ritualistically all over their patent leather loafers. A day which will forever live in infamy.
“My god!” says Grad I to the other two with a slack jawed gape. Tiny tendrils of drool dangle from his mouth.
“What did he do this time?” Grad II questions.
Grad III just sits there with a blank gaze. He stares at the birds for a while. “Durrr,” he adds emphatically.
“We could make a product designed for dealing with this situation!”
“Out of what?” asks Grad II. Grad III is still staring across the horizon with a doleful look on his face.
“Little trash bags!” he said.
“Brilliant! We could paint little paws and bones on them. It’d make millions. People love buying stupid shit for their pets.”
“Ahh,” the third one nods in agreement. Together, Grad I and Grad II make Grad III the boss. He sits at his desk and just agrees. His employees consider him ideal for upper management.

I have an uncle that believes dogs have the power to talk, but instead use psychic powers to make people think they’re not talking.
After a cursory glance at daytime television, it becomes obvious that people have little concern for the fact that they only have about fifty years to live. But they’re content to use the one life they’re allotted with spray on hair treatment and boots that turn into roller-skates.
This is a massive universe, staggering in size. Some say it’s terrible, some say it’s wonderful, and some just drink beer, play the lottery, and pay little attention to social matters.
Some believe the universe is wonderful because it brought forth life. There are others that believe it’s terrible for this very reason. Any man that spends a significant amount of time in an IRS building will have little humility before the wonder that is life.
Omar Khayyam had it right in The Rubáiyát:
A moment’s halt – a momentary taste
Of being from the well amid the waste
And Lo! the phantom caravan has reached
The nothing it set out from, oh make haste!
This perspective of Miss Milky way seems to be lost on men who spend their days concerned with raking in as much money as possible so they can have nice cars with digital surround sound and a little voice-operated flip-down DVD screen that can’t be watched while driving. They don’t have peacock tails or feathers, but they do have voice-operated flip-down DVD screens and they work just as well and serve the exact same purpose.
I’ve spent most of my life watching and judging others. No, I’m not Christian: I’m just interested in human behavior.
There is nothing as horribly entertaining as insanity at its most terrible and fabulous: dancing. Dancing is a seizure with style. There’s nothing more insane. Dancing has to be the craziest of all human inventions. More terrible than the atom bomb, more insidious than the first pointed stick someone thought would be nice to fling at a rabbit. More ghastly, perverse, and demented than the sequel to Caddyshack. It chills me to the bone just thinking about it. To the bone.
If our culture is ever unearthed, billions of years in the future, after every single car with digital surround and flip down DVD screens has been buried under thousands of pounds of earthen ash, I pray that a vastly superior alien culture never comes to Earth and stumbles upon Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. What would the vastly intelligent alien races with pointed ears, glitter, and rhinestone collars think of us then? They’d be laughing from Sirius to the other side of Andromeda. This haunts my dreams.
If we’re ever to move forward as a species, I think that it’s vital, important, pertinent, imperative, necessary and essential to seek out and eliminate every single VHS recording of Michael Jackson’s Thriller just so we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of the other galactic civilizations. What would they think of us then? All our toupees, plastic forks, glide on deodorant, and little cell phones with catchy ring tones can’t beat away the fact that we’re dying and doing a poor job at it. Dying is a lot easier and less complicated than we make it out to be and a lot more entertaining than most people give it credit for.
I always wanted to think that humans had a higher purpose than the other animals. Because we could use microwaves and laser printers, we must’ve been ordained with some important task in life. I don’t know, something more special and fulfilling than playing checkers or slinging burgers out of plastic windows. Could that be our purpose? Life is temporary; plastic lives forever.
After years of research, I found humans to be the least intelligent of all creatures on the Earth.
Every day after work, paid slave labor really, I walked down the walkway with grime and dirt all over me, covered in dust with blood on my elbows. My cat would be asleep in the grass. Just lounging in the sun without anxiety pills, nerve medication, cigarettes, opium or Dairy Queen. She had no care or worry about paying her light bill or the cat across the street with the great personality and caring eyes. Nothing. The sun, the grass, and the occasional grasshopper is enough for her. She is not cursed with consciousness.
My neighbor’s cat would be stalking mine. A dog would wait for the right moment to surprise attack on the cat too occupied with my cat to know what was about to happen. Of course, there are drawbacks to being forever carefree. Cars. Cats are often hit by cars. Humans are often hit by cars. Cats still come out on top. In lieu of the fact that they just get hit by them and don’t have to pay for them beforehand, they win.
If you didn’t laugh at that, you’re communist.

So, ladies and gentleman, what higher purpose do we have? Working at a fast food joint doesn’t seem to be a divine business venture. Functional, yes. Divine? Far from it. And, for some reason, I don’t believe that popping pimples has much to do with the Glory of God or the penultimate destiny of the universe. Call me crazy, but I don’t see how this really matters in the grand scheme of things.
This talk of insanity reminds me of something a friend used to chant when presented with something he didn’t understand: “Crazy? I went crazy once. They put me in a box. The worms ate through the box. I hate worms. Worms make me crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once. They put me in a box. The worms ate through the box. Worms make me crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once…”

Why lapse into this rambling inanity now, you could ask. Halfway through the story, the necessity of this small squib of a prologue will become apparent. This story is about an old man whom many in our small redneck mill village believed to be crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once…
A cousin of mine once wrote to the senator of our great state of South Carolina. She had a wild theory about why everything, as she put it, was kickin’ up dog shit:
“Dear Mr. Man in Charge,
Ninety-nine percent of children that get involved with drugs, gangs, violence, and small after school republican groups, have ketchup in their system. Coincidence? I think not.”
There has yet to be a reply. Sad sad sad.
She lived alone in a small box-like apartment. The same kind of apartment Herman lived in. Apartments in some parts of the south are ground level, like homes, and have front porches, back porches, and a clothesline divided up between the houses. They’re made of brick and insulated but dank. These are the kind of apartments that always leak when it rains.
Herman Prince was a guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, piano, saxophone, and music theory teacher. He spent a lot of time in front of his house shouting at pigeons, begging them to have some of his bread. I once saw him using tape and cardboard to fix a broken window on his car. The first time I saw him, he was using a lucky rabbit’s foot to scrape ice off his windshield in the winter. He drove around town in a noisy station wagon with rust speckled along the doorway. The muffler always dragged the ground behind him.
Ordinary, maybe not. But what is ordinary? Ordinary is just a kind word for boring.
My dad introduced me to Herman on a long and lazy day in May. My friends had graduated and I was stupid enough to ruin my future on a whim by telling one of my teachers to give a donkey a blowjob for a bucket of baloney. What a waste, but no matter. My life was going nowhere and I was glad. I couldn’t picture myself in a dim grey cubicle pecking around on a keyboard with a tie and a suit. I couldn’t picture myself doing that. I couldn’t picture myself paying thirty grand to go to college just so some pompous blowhard could read to me. And I’d just quit my job. No school, no job, no money, no friends – everything I’d always wanted.
There are certain confessions I’d like to make before I continue. If you’d rather skip to the story than listen to me moan and groan about everything, I welcome you to find the first chapter and start there. Chances are, however, if you do that – something bad will happen to you.
I was born and raised in the American south. For the record, I’m writing this in an outhouse with crayons on the back of a box of cereal. Though we are often stereotyped as insignificant hillbillies, we pride ourselves on being insignificant hillbillies. We have little technology and only a dollop of intelligence amongst us. Yes, it’s true. We’re all crazy ass religious nuts with more shotguns than teeth. We all vote republican and have sex with our relatives. I take offense to this. I have never voted and I could care less about religion.
Yes. Everything you’ve heard is true. Even the things that cancel the other things out, or the things that go on to say that there are a number of reasonably intelligent and sophisticated people running around in the south with clean clothes on.
Yes. It’s all true. We all sit around on the back of pickup trucks with a piece of straw in our mouth, petting a coon dog and plucking a banjo while maw and paw ride horses to the general mills store to get feed fer the chickens. That’s our culture, ain’t it? You’ve seen the movies, read the books, and heard about the absurd backwood odysseys that often crop up in the south where everyone has an outhouse. Want a true shock? Like the kind you have in those dense mystery novels when the harder than stone heroine with the tortured past finds out her brother did it? I’m writing this on a computer in a room with electricity! And by the grace of God, we have indoor plumbing. I don’t even own a banjo.
Our town sits between two big cities. These big cities have a combined population of eight to ten thousand. They have all the fancy eating places like McDonalds and Burger King. We have curb markets and family owned grills that line our littered streets. Main Street consists of three churches, a tennis court, a basketball court, a gym, a family owned drug store, City Hall, a doctor’s office and post office. We’re also proud of our traffic light. Yes, one traffic light.
This town is beyond boring. It’s like an English speaking wasteland where forgotten shadow figures lurch through the barren streets at night, asking for money or cigarettes, just wanting to keep their lives going. We go through robotic motions every day, and that’s our life. We just live and die and disappear. No news reports or memorial services, just cheap caskets and plastic flowers. We live like hungry robots wrapped in skin, burning under sweet Sol, going through the motions ‘til we die or get murdered for twenty dollars.
These gravel roads are dark, packed with rotting houses, heavy with fog and garbage. People around here get on drugs because there’s nothing else to do. Few of us could afford college even if we wanted to go. That’s for folk with fancy high school diplomas and people that go on to do big things with their lives. Going to college has nothing to do with learning. No one goes to learn; they go to get a piece of paper that says they’ve learned. One of our graduates, God how we’re proud, became assistant manager at a cotton mill on the outskirts of town. He even climbed his way to the top of the retail world when he was featured on a billboard. “You’ll be grinnin’ when you try our linen,” the sign read. Pure class.
Everybody knows everybody in this town. Most spend their time walking up and down Main along the littered sidewalks, or filing in and out of churches. There are thirty five churches within ten square miles and one library. This is not a healthy ratio.
As such, Herman was infamous in our little town. Of course everyone said he was crazy. “He never stops talking,” they said. “Good guitar player, though,” they added. “I heard he makes really nice birdhouses,” some gushed. It was true. He made and sold birdhouses of high quality, hand painted, lacquered and varnished. On Saturday’s he had yard sales for his birdhouses. For a couple of dollars extra, he’d even sew a name on a small cloth and hang it from the perch for the name of your bird. Still, rumors buzzed like bees.
I’m guilty of the same thing. I’ve made up rumors myself. “They say that man has the largest…” Why did I do this? For attention? To have someone know that I was alive? I really don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not anything, actually. Just one of those lonely shadow figures that creep along the fog-lined streets at night, watching other strange faces light up in the dark with burning cigarettes, speckled along the streets like fireflies. Just looking for my home, for something to keep me going. For something to make the struggle worth it. And that is what I’m doing now.
Herman was the grandmaster of crazy, my father said. Apparently, continuous talking is enough to make somebody crazy. Spending twelve hours a day in triple digit heat for two hundred dollars a week to pay for TV’s and name brand shoes, however, is completely logical. It’s normal. Of course it is. You’ve got to pay for designer slacks and stylish shoes, paper napkins and nice collections of jewel studded carrying cases with certificates of authenticity at low low prices, priced to own! Get yours now!
There were maybe five or six two star cafes in our town, since Taco Bell and the other high class eateries were too classy for us. The one hotel that graced Main Street was set ablaze by the owner in order to collect the insurance money. He’ll learn, in prison, that in order to collect the insurance money you have to have a policy. If you’re going to be dumb enough to break the law, you should be smart enough to know it. Wal-Mart wouldn’t even be caught dead in our tiny town. Not even the Wal-Marts that dropped out of high school would come about.
So, how did I meet the grandmaster of crazy?

I grew up with my grandparents and didn’t meet my father until I was a grown man. I met him and found out he was a talented guitarist, artist, and pothead. He told me his father played, his father’s father played, and his father’s grandfather played. So I had to play. I had to be better than they were. And of course, I knew Herman was a guitar teacher and I knew how crazy everyone thought he was. There are people around here who think I’m crazy. Especially because of one rumor that suggests I danced around on my front porch in a wedding dress while a strange Hispanic man laid under me and filmed the entire sordid affair with a cigar in his mouth and yellow spandex draped around his exotic shoulders. This isn’t entirely untrue. (The dress wouldn’t fit and the young man stole the camera. You just can’t find good help these days. And plus, I started the rumor.)
So, my dad arranged a meeting for us.
It was sometime after noon when the alarm clock rang. My dad was going to take me to Herman’s house sometime around two. I would drive myself, but I had an unfortunate accident involving my car, a liter of vodka, and a swing set. I’m not proud.
No one was home when I opened my eyes. I threw off the covers and stood at the window for a minute or so yawning. It was too early for me, and I didn’t really feel like showering. Thankfully the heat had dropped under ninety degrees.
Thank God for small favors and favors for small Gods.
The sun drifted wistfully over the mill behind our house and the deck in our backyard. Even Sol had overslept.
“It’s ‘alf past five already,” I imagined Sol saying to the stars when the intergalactic alarm went off. “Oh bugger, better put the kettle on.” And so Sol rolled out of bed. Even stars have to pay the bills or God turns off the light. He has the power to do this. We know it. Sol is a clever girl and knows it too.
Whether or not our sun is male or female, as of yet, is pure speculation. However I refuse to believe that a male sun could keep up such a long commitment. Unfaithful buggers.
It had been a late evening for Sol the day before I met Herman. The moon didn’t show up until sometime after ten. Sol complained to Alpha Centarui A and his twin sister, even Wolf 359 popped in for a bit. His solar system didn’t support life. He always bragged about being able to sleep late. But he always brought Sirius, the biggest prick known to man. “I’ve got a G2V spectral type,” he boasted. “I am the brightest star in the galaxy, you know. It’s cool, you want to have sex with me. I get that a lot.”
“What about Canopus?” Sol asked. “Canopus has certainly put on weight. Vega, now she’s a big girl.”
“Canopus? Vega?” Sirius laughed. “You can’t be serious.”
Sol and the Local Group resisted a ridiculous word pun and went back to their game of poker. Giant solar flares threw mammoth cards.
“No!” he shouted. “You’re not serious, but I am! How terrible that must be for you!”
“Makes you want to go Nova doesn’t it? Sometimes I don’t want to get up in the morning.”
“Well, take your pills,” the neighborhood chimed before they lugged back to their sleeping worlds.
“See you on Thursday,” said Sol. “We’ll play pool.”
I imagined that Sol and the Local Group had an understanding. The first and most important rule: never invite Sirius to parties. The second and not quite as important rule: never let the life that relies on us know that we know it relies on us. “If life knew we were aware and conscious, it’d be devastating,” Sol said. “They would always want us to perform odd jobs and we’d never get any sleep. Not that we do anyway…”
“Some days,” thought Sol as she spun above her blue-green water world, “you just want to pack it in.”
Today was a day like that for Sol and for me. Many months had passed since I was voluntarily fired from my job, and getting up before lunchtime was a chore. My dad tried to get me another job, some sort of volunteer work, but I don’t do volunteer work unless I’m being paid for it.
The money was good enough with the old job to provide all of life’s little necessities: cigarettes, Tylenol, books, hot wings, my nerve medication (some sort of anxiety ailment that causes my chest to hurt all day everyday), a pint of vodka or six. The work didn’t bother me. I just woke up one morning and felt like Sol, sans the billions of dependant life forms. I just had one: a seventeen year old brother. He said I could quit if I wanted to as long as I could still pay his cell phone bill. As long as I paid that, he said, we had no qualms.
If I hadn’t quit my job, I never would have met this aging miser. I would’ve met him sooner, and after we agreed upon a time and location, he stood me up. As an eighteen year old with a large nose and no cash flow, I know what it’s like to be stood up.
The only peculiarity about this: we agreed to meet at his house. The next time we spoke, he told me he forgot how to get there. Then he asked who I was and why I called. He asked me if saw Hank to tell him he was waiting for his call. I told him I’d keep a look out. He forgot how to get to his own house. This struck me as clever, intentional or not, so I went home to play a bit of chess with my brother for a while.
The next day, after another scheduled meeting, he stood me up again. Only this time I figured I could leave a trail of bread crumbs and he’d be able to follow them over the meadow, through the woods, and all of that gibberish. My father didn’t like driving back and forth to the same ground-level apartment complex every day. Gas costs an arm and a leg and grave robbing is illegal. So my father was pissed.
He wasn’t too fond of Herman even though he urged me to take lessons from him and “admitted” his “savant like musical talents.” I didn’t know if he disliked him out of wounded pride, because my father was a one timer failed guitarist. He admitted his “savant like” talents. My father thought a savant was a mix between a genius and a retard. Those are his words.
He admitted that he was a very kind and caring person, but he hated him. Why? How can you hate a kind and loving person? It’s easy, actually. People do it all the time, everywhere. It’s easier than knowing them
My only real worry was that he would eat all of the bread I took such pains to place. I was chased around by a few cats, some pigeons. A strange man in an electric wheelchair even followed me around shaking his crooked finger at me for being wasteful.
“People are starving!” he yelled. He slammed his high-end scooter into over drive and bounded towards me at the blistering speed of five mph.
“So are pigeons!” I responded. “And they don’t have the evolutionary advantage of skipping round to the Fast Stop to pick up a loaf, now do they?”
The man shook his head and trudged on. I knew him, otherwise I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to pretend to be clever with him. He went to the same mental health department as I did some odd months back, and he always complained about the coffee. They never had coffee at our anger management meetings. This, he said, was the main problem. My anger management class really pissed me off. I was glad they were out of coffee. Those people kicked around in bunny slippers with their brains wired together by Thorazine and lithium. Coffee was the last thing they needed.
My old companion on the motorized wheelchair used to work as a forest ranger before his brain collapsed. The police reprimanded him and sentenced him to two months in our wonderful upstate institution.
As the story goes, one day the man saw something that made his brain try to gag itself. In the woods, men are sometimes forced to resort to horrible things in order to survive: eat their friends, wipe with poison ivy, eat at Arby’s. The survival instinct is there, a strange knack we inherited from our tree climbing ancestors. The old man came to the conclusion that deer somehow planned to murder him while he slept. He barricaded his doors, set traps. He realized then that he never wanted to work with deer again.
When the arresting officer found him downtown, butt naked with a pair of antlers in his hand and covered in deer blood, the man jeered, chortled, slapped his hands and sprung to his feet. “They don’t taste good!” he shouted. “They never come to help with the plumbing!” This quip secured him a couple of months in our famous hole in Columbia. Now he’s in an electric wheelchair. Just spends most of his time riding around town, picking up pecans, shouting at strange men that leave curious trails of bread along the roads.

When Herman didn’t show up, my dad took me home and parked his truck. It idled in the driveway, shot off tendrils of smoke from the rusted radiator. My dad jumped from the torn leather seats, littered with empty Tylenol bottles, roaches, and shotgun shells.
“One more time,” he said, “and we’re done with him. Just because he wants to visit the old folk’s home, he thinks we have to wait on him. He can forget that shit.”
My dad dragged my heavyset amplifier out of the back of his truck, set it on the splintered blacktop that ran beneath his feet, and lugged it across the sidewalk to my front porch. He stood there with me for a moment. He took his hat off and rubbed his balding head just to give me the fear of hereditary disease. It always worked.
“Here’s a pack of cigarettes,” he said. “Don’t tell your grandmother I’m buying ‘em for you. She’d tan my hide if she found out I was givin’ you cigarettes. Now practice son, practice and you might be better than me someday.”
“A lofty goal,” I said. “Come by tomorrow. I’ll leave a message on his answering machine about his no-shows. Clever though they may be.”
My dad nodded, flicked his cigarette in the tall grass that lined the porch. It bounced beside my cat, startling her, and she darted across the yard. She hid under one of the run down automobiles my uncle worked on in the yard.
I dragged my amplifier into the living room and, already tired, I dropped it beside the door and kicked off my shoes. My grandmother sat under the lamplight in the family room, inking tiny blurbs into one of her massive crossword puzzle books.
“Where you been?” she asked. She sat her crossword on the stand beside her aged recliner. “I made vegetable stew and you ain’t even wait to finish it. Why you always runnin’ off with that old fool anyway?”
“Because he’s my father,” I replied. My brother walked through the living room with a friend. My grandmother removed her glasses and sat them by her crossword puzzle.
“What’s up, faggot?” my brother asked. He sure did love and respect his big brother. I felt like I was more like a father because I tried to teach him things when he was stolen from his mother.
“Ha,” he said, giving me the finger. “What’s up?”
“My blood pressure,” I shouted. I flung a candle holder at him. It slapped the wall and spilled onto the floor as he darted aside.
“You missed, lefty,” he said. “We still gonna check out your telescope when it gets dark?”
“If it gets dark, sure.” I looked around. “Things are not what they seem.” I vocalized the Twilight Zone theme.
He disappeared out of the room with a slight chuckle. I heard him flip the switch on his video game system as it plugged into him again. My grandmother turned her attention to me.
“I know he’s your father and you want to spend time with him, but he’s a bad man. He ain’t never have anything to do with you and now he’s back actin’ everything is fine. We took you in and raised you when he ain’t want nothin’ to do with you.”
“At least he doesn’t beat me every time I say ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ or even ‘pissed.’ He might not be much of a father, but he’s a good friend and that’s more than Stanley will ever be to me. He doesn’t beat me when he catches me with a cigarette, either.”
“Because he doesn’t care about you,” mother said.
“He had a funny way of showing it. Most people say I love you with flowers or candy, not with drop cords and leather straps across the back.”
“He bought you everything you wanted.”
“And he never gave me the only thing money couldn’t pay for: just a little time. He could’ve at least thrown a baseball with me or watched a movie. Anything would’ve made me happy. Instead he puts me in the back room and fills it full of toys, enough of them to hide me completely so he wouldn’t have to spend any time with me.”
“After he had that open heart surgery, he couldn’t get around like he use’ta. He was always hurtin’ and too sick to get out of bed. You know that, Thomas. He had emphysema.”
These talks happen all the time, but my grandmother is a good old lady. She spends most of her time in the recliner by the lamp in the living room with a word puzzle, like her mother, a glass of tea, her cat Entae, and some country and western music going. She played a damn mean harmonica just like her mother.
At night she watched Wheel of Fortune without fail, then dusted off the collection of porcelain dolls her mother left for her when she died When my mother dies, I’m going to steal all of her dolls and leave them in wicker baskets all over the state. I think that’d be a good gesture about her nature. She was content, but had to have her tea, her crossword puzzles, and her cat. It seemed to me that she needed them as much as I needed cigarettes.
She didn’t much care for my real father, as my grandfather didn’t before he found the bucket and kicked it.
My real mother became pregnant with me at the tender age of fifteen. My father spent most of his time playing guitar and smoking pot, so my grandparents thought him unfit to be a parent. They even went so far as to draw up a restraining order against him.
Since my mother was on heavy doses of cocaine while pregnant with me, my grandparents tried to adopt me when my mother gave birth. They couldn’t then, but after child services came to the house and found me in a baby pool in the living room and my mother in the bedroom asleep, they stuck me in an orphanage as the slow machine of bureaucracy churned. Interestingly enough, the only side effects of being a cocaine baby is never having a heart rate under 160bpm. Fun stuff. I can never relax. It seems like my heart pumps not blood, but cocaine.
After a couple of years in an orphanage in those tiny beds and stark white burgundy floors (all the walls were white and all the floors were a shiny sort of burgundy), my grandparents adopted me. My grandmother is my mother and my great grandmother is my grandmother, the lady that tied strings around the legs of June bugs in the summer.
My surrogate father, after being released from the orphanage, beat me like a rag before he died. If he hadn’t died, I would have killed him myself. He never let me stay out with friends or smoke. And every time I brought home a grade lower than a one hundred, I’d be tied to the same radiator and spanked. He tied me and my brother down because he had emphysema and it was hard for him to chase us. Sometimes, just to fuck with him, we’d run in his room at night and throw water on him just to run around until he tired out.
He didn’t let me stay out later than ten on school nights. This is enough to warrant murder in and of itself. He hated my friends and kept me from them out of spite. He never let me go anywhere, he never let me do anything, and he spent all of his money just to keep me happy in my tiny bedroom full of toys I didn’t want bought by people that didn’t want me to begin with.
“I don’t want to argue with you again, Thomas,” my grandmother/mother said. “There’re some hot wings on the stove if ya hungry. Some mashed potatoes on the table, too. But get out of the way, my stories is on.”
Within minutes, she was wired to the television again, nodding with glassy eyes. Entae dozed on her lap.
After supper, my brother and I played a game of chess, listened to some music, (Chopin, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis) and then went to look through my telescope. I sat on the deck for a while with my brother as he looked through my telescope.
I had just stubbed out a cigarette when my grandmother bumbled down the back steps by the deck. “Telephone,” she shouted. She piddled toward me in a floral muumuu. For people that have never been to the south or been around a really fat man, you may not know what a muumuu is. A muumuu is a towel with delusions of grandeur.
“Thanks,” I said. She handed me the phone and started back for the house. “Bring it in when yer done with it,” she said. “If you leave it off the hook, it’ll go dead.”
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“I was on my way,” Herman’s rapid voice explained. “I got sidetracked when I saw bread all over the road. That bread looked nasty, so I assumed that old man had been tryin’ ta feed the pigeons that dirty stuff. But the pigeons must’a hurt that poor old man’s feelings or something and ran him off. We can’t let the pigeons get sick, buddy. We can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Pigeons are quality birds. That much is true.”
“Pigeons is good birds. After I got all them crumbs up, I went to the grocery store and got some of that San Francisco bread – the fancy stuff. Cost me damn near five dollars, but it was worth it. Them pigeons sure liked it. And no self respecting pigeon could’a ate that other stuff.”
I’d spent days wandering around in the summer heat carrying a guitar case like a bum, but I could at least take solace in the fact that somewhere a group of lucky pigeons enjoyed an evening of fine dining.
“You should come over tomorrow, bud,” he said. “I ain’t got nothin’ planned. Nothin’ special anyway. Just sittin’ round, pickin’ for a while.”
“What happened?” I asked. There’s one problem when it comes to meeting someone that isn’t there: you can’t pretend to forget your wallet when the check comes.
“I would’a called ya yesterday bud, but I had to go to church and God’s only open on Sunday.”
“And the day before?”
“Scooby Doo marathon.”

I despaired, hoping all the while that someone somewhere on Earth at sometime was doing something more fun but enjoying it less than me.
It’s all fine and good to be lazy, though. For one thing, I’m just glad I didn’t have to dig any more ditches for some head honcho construction tycoon. They fired me for not showing up and – this might be important – also for being linked to a small case of arson involving a tractor, a bundle of plywood I was to carry, and a bunch of random janitorial utilities that had cropped up around outside the mill where we were digging the tunnel. The case is still pending because, as my lawyer suggested, I plead insanity. I had certified papers to prove it too. Captain Smug Asshole down at the probate office will have to pine over the lost opportunity to ruin the life of a youth just looking for a good time.
It was an overcast Tuesday afternoon with damp grass from the day before. My dad pulled up in front of our house and honked the horn of his ragged pickup truck. I put away my drawing, and strode toward the truck.
A few little girls with young girl braids jumped rope in the yard in front of Herman’s – a mirror home to his, precise and exact. We pulled into the section B driveway of the Leisure View apartment.
The Leisure View apartments resemble cupboards with small front porches and littered, tiny front yards and low ceilings. The best thing about living in such a neighborhood is everyone is too embarrassed about where they live to come and borrow sugar.
Herman’s apartment looked just like all the others. They looked like small brick Lego blocks connected together. People from up north say they look like houses because of the fact that they’re shaped like them and only have one floor.
A slide with overgrown grass beside it lay in waste behind a rosebush and the water of a small baby pool with a yellow alligator’s face on it bobbed and swayed with the trees as they sang their song of approaching rain. A rusted mailbox drooped beside a birdhouse with a wooden redbird atop it – on which the number 11A stood out in stark black print with white trim.
My dad turned off the truck and it sputtered to a stop. “I’m tellin’ you,” he said, “he’s about five or six shades past crazy.” I looked at his apartment for a moment. For a moment I thought of all the stories we’d been told about him. People treated him like a homeless man even though he never asked for money, and people would hurry to avoid him in a store.
“Crazy?” I asked. “You forget who you’re talking to. I spent a month in the rubber hole.” I lifted my shirt. “See?”
“There’s a difference,” my father said. “You’re that other kind of crazy. The smart-ass-spends-too-much-time-by-himself type crazy. It’s not a destructive, pathological type of mania. Your mother has it, but you just take shit too far. All Herman does is flap his lips.”
“Lips cause nothing but trouble anyway,” I said.
“What about eating?”
“Exactly.”
He turned his head and chuckled, looked across the battered sidewalk.
“You shouldn’t try to cut things out of you anyway, boy,” my father said. “You’re not a qualified surgeon. We don’t want you to get busted for practicing without a license. We’ve seen it before, you know.”
“Wasn’t your brother arrested for something like that?” I tried not too laugh. He knew what I meant.
“Yes, Thomas. My brother, your uncle, was arrested for practicing proctology without a license.”
We looked at each other for a moment. After that moment, we decided it was that funny, but agreed not to talk about it anymore anyway.
An old man stood in sandals and a tank top in one of the other yards, bent over the hood of a broken down Corvette with grease up to his elbows. With a walker, at a steady pace, an old woman combed the streets for cans to recycle. Everything seemed normal, save for a strange group of Janitors that stood smoking cigarettes at the end of the road. They seemed unprofessional to the extreme; their threadbare suits looked like costumes. Same uniform, hat, and yellow glove dangled from their back pockets. Bunch of bums really. My kind of people.
“He’s a nice man,” my father said. He lit a joint and passed it to me. “Try not to have a panic attack this time.”
“No promises.”
“He’s really lost his shit, but he’s as nice as they come. Especially since that wreck. He’ll talk your fuckin’ ear off, man. Don’t pay him any attention. He never makes sense. Just nod and force a smile and take one of your pills.”
“That shit dulls my brain,” I said. “And I’m southern enough as it is.”
“You know, he’s full of almost half enough shit as you.”
“It’s that bad, huh?”
My father laughed, saying, “he’s a good teacher. Ah, somebody should just give him a joint and calm his ass down.” Those little squiggly lines of heat beaded off the sidewalk. “Man it’s hot. I’m going to pick up some more xanax’s for you. You wanna have a few beers later on?”
I passed the joint back to him, inhaling, going, “Ah…”
“You gone drink with me or not, boy?” he asked. He took the joint, put it to his lips. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, saying, “Well?”
“Nah, conflicts with my medicine. Makes my chest hurt.”
“Well, I could use a few. Maybe that would settle me. I’m about to run man, so, just don’t get too personal with him, you know? He’ll never stop calling, coming by whenever he wants. It doesn’t matter to him. Take everything he says with a grain of salt; watch out or you just might step in bullshit. He makes shit up for no reason, man. Just don’t ever feel sorry for him.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said. I got out of my dad’s camouflage truck, amp in one hand, guitar in the other, and headed toward the door.
“See you later,” my father said. “Make sure you give him the ten dollars or he’ll hound you forever. And,” he added, “if it’s at all possible, try to get your head out of your ass long enough to get some sunshine. It’s been too long since you been out of that house anyway.”
“No promises.”
My dad pulled out and turned around in the turnaround at the end of the road. Steep, wooded banks rode up on both sides of the road. I walked along the long brick sidewalk, up to the door, dropped my amp and guitar.
As of this moment, the element of surprise and suspense must be lacking in this little squib of a story. To up the suspense, maybe I could gun down the kids at the playground, take their bikes, hop in the car across the street, kick the old man in the throat, and laugh derisively as I barrel down the back roads with little regard for life or limb as a fiery explosion licks at the charred fender of my smoking muscle car. What will I do? Will I open the door? Will anybody give a shit either way?
Stay tuned. Continue reading

Poem: Living Memory

1
Milo, are you there?
“Hello—“
How have you been old friend?
“You know—“
I saw Diane, again,
“Her ghost?”
Of all the friends that I have lost,
she bothers me the most of all.
“What did you see?”
She waved at me.

2
Through the window,
down the eaves—
She follows me into my dreams.
“She can’t return.”
She never leaves.
“A haunting?”
I guess, possibly.
“What can you do?”
I’ll talk to you.
“God, this feels like déjà vu.”

3
There is no cost to put on loss.
“Life has a price.”
But can’t be bought!
For when one dies,
a sun has set;
We have one life.
“That’s all we get.”
It’s not a lull,
it is a bye.
The sun is swallowed by the night.
To get to live is such a gift.
“It isn’t offered twice.”

4
“Most of you believe the lie,
that life’s in infinite supply.”
Memories are all we have;
“A soul trapped in a photograph.”
Touch her brush, and feel her hair,
“And watch her as she disappears.”
Above she hovers trapped in space,
With a white dress and a glowing face,
“Try to grab her.”
Childish laughter;
She evaporates.
So much I wish I could have told her.
“And now it is too late.”
She’ll live forever on the page.

5

I guess we’re chasing yesterday–
By crisscrossing memory lanes;”
All I think of is her name.
Shelly who I barely knew,
Was as good as me or you;
Giotto’s charity and grace—
“It’s written plainly on her face.”

6

Loss is the name we give to Death,
But we should never use regret.
Nor should we ever so forget,
That’s something we should never do
She lives in me, and lives in you;
“And now upon this paper too.”
A eulogy to me you see—
Are shadows of a slanted beam.

7
Taken young and far too soon,
She died under a paper moon.
I guess I just believed that lie,
That life’s in limitless supply.
“That might sound good.”
It would be nice.
Life is a gift not offered twice.
“The rarest thing—you get to live.”
No words can any comfort give.
She has gone, and hope has flown;
The soul at last has made it home.
Far too many I’ve seen leave
Retired to our memory.

Poem: Necromancy

10 March 2015
Op. 44 (Necromancy)

When reading prose, tall-tales, and poems,
we start not knowing where it’s going,
and yet we know it’s brief.
The beginning, insincerely,
leaves us with just our memories
Guideposts spread among a web
allowing us to find,
the friends we’ve lost,
we’ve left behind
More than childhood, more than time,
A new Sun rises–night expires;
The moving-finger,
fleeing fire–
Trembling, each word looks both ways
then moves onto a newborn page.

That is the madness of our lives,
to know that will fall to time.
Forever gone, for Heaven lost,
we give our life,
That is the cost.
And one by one–it’s true for all
Leaves look their best after they fall
Green is lovely
but the change,
the transformation in the rain
Draws us in because we know,
the scene is finished, yet the show,
Goes on–as it must go.

The past expires in the fire
we must not weep for time;
For conductor, in his bluster,
hath made Despair a crime.
So we arrange our quirky games
to keep felled leaves alive
And the embers we remember
does much as we define:
It pushes us, and focuses
the lens’ to let us see,
that we may stain a windowpane
to frame our fantasies.

When I was nine my father died,
I could have wept;
I could have cried,
Instead I played a game.
I’d say his name, cover my face,
walk in his room and pray,
when I uncover my eyes,
he’d reappear, he’d come alive;
My hands removed, I’d find, instead,
his portrait more the empty bed.
It never happened,
so I imagine,
at least I have my dreams.

Some times I see him while I’m reading,
I put away my book.
It’s just a pattern often scattered
and yet I always look.
And that mirage must give us pause,
to remind ourselves that someone else
looks at the stars through iron bars
with no fantasy to help.
Our memory quite eerily
can resurrect the dead

We know that hope, if truth be told,
is desire in a noble robe;
It’s all inside our head.
Yet to deny these soothing lies,
is yet more painful still,
There are some who come undone
some don’t want to heal.
And our fair Queen, in love with grief,
Would deny love just not to feel.

That is the reason Hope is treason;
and Faith is on the hill.
An overflowing wishing well
Is proof enough there is a hell.
So dedicated to a ghost,
They lose themselves,
they can’t move on;
As all are loyal to the Throne.
The Royalty may give for freed
the price is what they take;
They clean the vase until it breaks.

And all that noise is truly poison
Lost in the past, we’re stranded;
There is magic in this madness,
For it makes us Necromancers.
Who with some spell may defy hell,
From the grave onto the page,
from ashes to the canvas:
defying time line after line
We are the Necromancers
A painting, opera, or poem,
is life in a more lasting form;
And life being one brief season,
snow on the desert’s face
Calls on us who have the touch,
to replace the footprint
and leave in its place
A beacon that the lost may trace,
Through all of time, through history,
and reclaim what we were missing.

And those moments we thought stolen
Defying time and death,
we find them waiting,
Mother Mary,
we do not have to pray;
Though for you it may be noon,
For some a dying day,
In that last second, resurrection;
The end defines the play;
So last call–a pint for all!
The fire fades away.

Poem: Improv op 27

A poem a tale, about a shadow
that crept along the wall
it’s frail silhouettes curtain call
Ta-da, it’s done
the show has stopped
the sun has gone,
the seagulls of the surf had flown.
To a new place one word of black
with light shaped bullets through
criss crossed in pairs so debenair
the sandstorm settled too.

All is calm what a miracle mile
where kids never have problems
only to smile,
to cheris what they did not ask for,
just for a little while.
A little while to learn it all to raise your standards watch them fall as moons above like circling doves pass by and then they’re gone. The only thing left when time and the theft have left us breadcrumbs there, the place in the sky where nobody cries
where people just talk and grow old
sit on a front porch watching the fireflies
thickets full of wilted rose subdued by the eyes
half asleep and half awake
for some whim or fancy take
through the world, a ride, a show
a timid play for virtue sorrow
look at this it’s a smile
look at this such a grin
you’re never going to see it again.
Look through the door
that’s you on the floor
and you’re smiling like nothing is wrong
and in the room you hear faint a tune of a loved one singing along.
the days and nights ha-ha’s and frights
and Eve:
the one that made the monsters leave.

The monsters who in numbers grew and shouted night and day
and bit by bit took all took it took all happy away
miserable lay the sun whose rays at last will lastly blow away
the marbles by the earthen sky forever come and grow
our shouts and calls to god are small
and he’s the star of the show.
Maybe in the encore,
before the act is done,
God himself will come.
He’ll stand before the quiet rows
with no one there to here
and when they’re all gone like nights a faun
turns into dim a show.
Until then a when we wait
for God himself to show himself at last
because all of us who live will die
before we’ve glimpsed those golden eyes
but now we’re dreadfully tired.
The timid kids went out and hid
the fire in the eyes faded
and partly jaded closed the lids
from the light that hides the dark
in it’s bag of mail
a hail, perhaps a chance to rain
today it seems, my hopes and dreams,
did not fit the part.
Other actors stormed the stage
where one I laid upon and stayed
in the lights of fortune fair.
When life was good and when we would
together laugh and snare.
Those were the days when kids when they played
played with a smile on their faces
and the ones who stood apart
singled out right at the start
and gave a path for him to walk
through corridors where often doors
opened and the squawk
decaying wood sometimes it would
would never let me start

Commandetore, le capisce?
Didn’t you say when lonely I paid
just for internal peace
of mind where there I’d find
all the things to me sublime
family there and Christmas night
In the trees electric light
zig zags across the grown.
A ferris will goes up, goes down,
what once was a smile is now a frown
one to take it away
and once what you said while alone in your bed,
lord will you answer today?
Why did she die you saw us cry what alibi
is there for that whose lives you had
and dropped into the sand
swept it up and walked away and feeble gripped the hands
the hands that held the hollow shell
of what was once a man.
A man who thought and with this bought
shame and confusion, contempt
ballet shoes and there the muse
in a locked cage now is kept
so all the tears and all the fears
will not be swept again
so they’ll swell and one day wail
and fall onto the ground.

The death penalty, 29 October 2015

The benefits from the death penalty, in society, are purely psychological. The death of one man on death row contributes nothing to the bereaved; it merely satisfies their need for revenge. With their revenge having been satisfied, what of the man’s family? What of the woman’s family? What if they’re not 100% sure the person is guilty to begin with? Is the thirst for revenge so terrible that life must be taken to satisfy it?

Though the current stance on the death penalty varies from crime to crime, and even passive opposition will remain quiet in certain cases, nothing substantive, or beneficial, ever comes from the death of a human being. If one death makes a wrong, then two deaths make a right, and then the deed is done; what of the family of the executed and their desire to see those that executed their family member avenged? Differing in manner, the death penalty, sanctioned by locks and keys and guards and thousands of tax payer dollars, is the same by lethal injection as it is by gunshot wound to the head. It is the same in a prison as it is in a gang-fight; the means are different but they produce the same ends. They are different roads that go to the same place.

Many countries from around the world have fully abolished death penalty and capital punishment laws, tending to instead find a way by which the criminal can repay his debt to society with something other than his blood. In theocracies around the world, the death penalty is used to satisfy those the crime purportedly offends by creed. To one something is right; to another the same is wrong. It has been said that blasphemy in America, or the act of uttering or acting against god, should be a capital punishment offense. There have been some to take things a bit further and state that anyone that is homosexual should be executed because of blasphemy. From one perspective, those to revenge appeals edaciously, crime thirsts for punishment and its mouth stands agape until its thirst has been abided; to another, this is gross injustice favoring a marginal view of the nature of right and wrong. To one homosexuality is a crime, to another it is a matter of opinion; to someone between them in opinion, it is merely the exercise of free will as ordained by personal nature, carried out by personal freedom.

Facts and figures from web.amnesty.org

Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty

  1. Abolitionist and retentionist countries
    Over half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
    Amnesty International’s latest information shows that:
  • 86 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
  • 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;
  • 25 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions,

making a total of 122 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

  • 74 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller.

  1. Progress towards worldwide abolition

    Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Bhutan. Samoa, Turkmenistan) and Europe and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey).

    3. Moves to reintroduce the death penalty

    Once abolished, the death penalty is seldom reintroduced. Since 1985, over 50 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or, having previously abolished it for ordinary crimes, have gone on to abolish it for all crimes. During the same period only four abolitionist countries reintroduced the death penalty. One of them – Nepal – has since abolished the death penalty again; one, the Philippines, resumed executions but later stopped. There have been no executions in the other two (Gambia, Papua New Guinea).

    4. Death sentences and executions

    During 2004, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 7,395 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries. These were only minimum figures; the true figures were certainly higher.In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.

    Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 3,400 people were executed in China during the year, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People’s Congress said that “nearly 10,000” people are executed per year in China.

    Iran
    executed at least 159 people, and Viet Nam at least 64. There were 59 executions in the USA, down from 65 in 2003.

    5. Methods of execution
    Executions have been carried out by the following methods since 2000:

    Beheading (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq)
    Electrocution (in USA)
    Hanging (in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and other countries)
    Lethal injection (in China, Guatemala, Philippines, Thailand, USA)
    Shooting (in Belarus, China, Somalia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and other countries)
    Stoning (in Afghanistan, Iran)

    6. Use of the death penalty against child offenders

    International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death or executed. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the American Convention on Human Rights all have provisions to this effect. More than 110 countries whose laws still provide for the death penalty for at least some offences have laws specifically excluding the execution of child offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being parties to one or another of the above treaties. A small number of countries, however, continue to execute child offenders.

    Eight
    countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime – China, Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. China, Pakistan and Yemen have raised the minimum age to 18 in law, and Iran is reportedly in the process of doing so. The USA executed more child offenders than any other country (19 between 1990 and 2003).

    Amnesty International recorded four executions of child offenders in 2004 – one in China and three in Iran.

    Eight child offenders were executed in Iran in 2005.

    7. The deterrence argument
    Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: “. . .it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.”

    (Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)

    8. Effect of abolition on crime rates

    Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and homicide rates, a study conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 stated: “The fact that the statistics continue to point in the same direction is persuasive evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty”.

    Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2003, 27 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population, 44 per cent lower than in 1975 and the lowest rate in three decades.

    (Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 214)

    9. International agreements to abolish the death penalty

    One of the most important developments in recent years has been the adoption of international treaties whereby states commit themselves to not having the death penalty. Four such treaties now exist:

  • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 57 states. Seven other states have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to become parties to it at a later date.
  • The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, which has been ratified by eight states and signed by one other in the Americas.
  • Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 45 European states and signed by one other.
  • Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 36 European states and signed by 7 others.

Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement to abolish the death penalty in peacetime. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights provide for the total abolition of the death penalty but allow states wishing to do so to retain the death penalty in wartime as an exception. Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights provides for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

10. Execution of the innocent

As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

Since 1973, 122 prisoners have been released in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. There were six such cases in 2004 and three up to December 2005. Some prisoners had come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defence representation. Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.

The then Governor of the US state of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions in January 2000. His decision followed the exoneration of the 13th death row prisoner found to have been wrongfully convicted in the state since the USA reinstated the death penalty in 1977. During the same period, 12 other Illinois prisoners had been executed. In January 2003 Governor Ryan pardoned four death row prisoners and commuted all 167 other death sentences in Illinois.

11. The death penalty in the USA

  • 60 prisoners were executed in the USA in 2005, bringing the year-end total to 1004 executed since the use of the death penalty was resumed in 1977.
  • Around 3,400 prisoners were under sentence of death as of 1 January 2006.
  • 38 of the 50 US states provide for the death penalty in law. The death penalty is also provided under US federal military and civilian law.

In a story on CNN for Friday, March 24th, 2006, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Muslim clerics demand that a man, who is currently on trial, be executed for converting to Christianity. When asked about the issue, the cleric Abdul Raoulf said, “Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die.”

This is no different in nature than American people of religion urging courts to favor the death penalty for breaking laws put forth by the Bible or other religious sects. Capital punishment, as formal execution, goes far beyond recorded history. Historical information shows that the death penalty in human society has often been a part of a communal justice system. Punishment for a specific crime usually included compensation, corporal punishment, exile, and execution. Within smaller human societies and civilizations, crimes were rare and murder was usually a crime of passion arising from a personal dispute between two people. In these times, execution was rare. Compensation for the victim and exile were tolerable forms of justice.

Elaborations of tribal arbitration of disputes included settlements, done often in a religious context and a system of payment and compensation for the crime. Usually if something was destroyed, other than a life, the thirst of crime could be satisfied by compensation. If life was destroyed, a life had to be destroyed to satisfy the need for justice in most religious circumstances.

In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighboring tribes or nation. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slave emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalised the relation between the different “classes” rather than “tribes”. The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi which set the different punishment and compensation according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Pentateuch (Old Testament) lays down the death penalty for kidnapping, magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare. A further example comes from Ancient Greece, where the Athenian legal system was first written down by Draco in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes. The word draconian derives from Draco’s laws. Similarly, in medieval and early modern Europe, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment. For example, in 18th C. Britain, there were 222 crimes which were punishable by death, including crimes such as cutting down a tree or stealing an animal.

The last several centuries has seen the emergence of modern nation states. Almost fundamental to the concept of nation state is the idea of citizenship. This caused justice to be increasingly associated with equality and universality, which in Europe saw an emergence of the concept of natural right. Another important aspect is that emergence of standing police forces and permanent penitential institutions. The death penalty became an increasingly unnecessary deterrent and prevention of minor crimes such as theft. The 20th century was one of the bloodiest of the human history. Massive killing occurred as the resolution of war between nation states. A large part of execution was summary execution of enemy combatants. Also, modern military organizations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. In the past, cowardice, absence without leave, desertion, insubordination, looting, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death. The method of execution since firearms came into common use has almost invariably been the firing squad. Moreover, various authoritarian states, for example those with fascist or communist governments, or dictatorships, employed the death penalty as a potent means of political oppression. Partly as a response to such excessive punishment, civil organizations have started to place increasing emphasis on the concept of human rights and abolition of the death penalty.

All of the money currently being put forth to house inmates on death row, pay for their three meals a day for the twenty years they spend waiting to die, seems to be a gross squandering of funds that could be better spent improving aspects of American life and the economy. All the money spent housing condemned murderers and rapists could be spent on education, so that some would never have to kill for money, on helping the homeless find low cost housing, so that they would never have to steal; the circulation of proprietary funding could be implemented to stimulate the economy, while transferring all of the condemned into the same sort of jails that lifers reside in. The more educated someone is, the better chance they have at getting a good job. The better their job, the less chance they have of being desperate for money, or food. The better they feel, the less chance there is the person might resort to murder, or rape. Murder is often an act of depravity – and to stop the cause you have to stop first the effect. If a hose pipe is continuing to fill a pool full of water, it is much easier to turn off the hose pipe than it is to drain the pool every time it gets full. The death penalty becomes the solution to a problem that itself should be addressed before life is squandered to appease the need someone has for revenge.

In certain situations, living on death row seems more accommodating than struggling to survive while living on the streets alone. Killing a man might send you to death row for 20 years, but for 20 years you’ll have a place to sleep, 3 meals a day, and that’s much more than many of the homeless people in America have right now. So murder turns into a reasonable alternative because of the hose pipe that continues to fill the pool. The pool is emptied occasionally, by execution, but no one has stopped to consider turning off the hose pipe, or the actual cause that is compelling people to commit the crimes they are eventually to be executed for.

Arguments against the practice of the death penalty is not to be misconstrued as arguing on behalf of the perpetrator, or their crime, but arguing on behalf of the fact that nothing is solved by the reckless shed of human blood. One person’s blood is not worth more than another; and those behind the scenes that wear the masks are as guilty as those they punish; they are both committing murder. The argument is not on behalf of the murderer, or on behalf of the crime; it is on behalf of the statistics suggesting that the death penalty fails as a deterrent for future crimes, on behalf of the families of the innocent who were executed for crimes they did not commit, and on behalf of all the life that is easily thrown away to satisfy a mourners supposed right for revenge. Those on behalf of the death penalty say, “Death does not pay.” But to them it pays, just not to those who they believe they should die. Whether by morality, religious, empathy for the bereaved, it is in our nature to seek revenge, atonement, compensation. But is the only price for blood another’s blood?

Crime should not go without punishment. If the punishment, however, is not corrective of the problem inside of the person responsible for the crime, then there is no reason for the punishment.

The cost for an average lethal injection is $86.08. For every 10 criminals that are executed, the state is spending over $800 for it. Counting the food, the housing, the electricity needed to run death row, the bars, the payroll for the staff, the security, all of the paper work, and the price for burial – death is business. And because of the collective fear of death, it may seem to represent the ultimate punishment; to me, it represents the ultimate nap. The death of a murderer of my own child would I’m certain take away no pain, satisfy only my most base urges, and ultimately rob the Earth of another person. If reverence for life makes me a hippy, a liberal, a pacifist — whatever label the shadow of such thinking casts, I’ll stand in it.

Poem: Willow (from Counterpane)

I
NO SIGNAL

Not far from here, not long ago,
an old man heard the voice of God—
through his old radio.
He lived with Willow,
his son—the Mute,
who never spoke a word.
His father did not care, he knew,
that when he prayed God heard.
All was well until the day,
the signal seemed to fade.
where once was the voice of God,
a tawdry ballad played.

He stayed awake all night and tried,
through the darkness light to find,
and could not tune back in.
His digital dials attempted forever
though deep down he knew he’d never
hear God’s sweet voice again
The holy frequency was gone,
and that old man, now scared, alone,
to the basement did descend.
His saddened son above remained,
while his father went insane,
yet all he did was pray.
“Don’t leave him in the dark, like that,
why have you left, will you come back?”
and yet the silence stayed.
“Bring him back to grace, and home.
Don’t leave him in the dark, alone.”

He paced about the basement dark,
oft lit by radiator sparks.
A sick God seemed to rise;
In the twisted shape of his dad, late,
were tired and bloodshot eyes.
“The child must go,” the sick God said.
“There are devils in his head.
The child—the Mute—must die.

“I’ll give you the frequency,
so you can tune back into me;
you know just what to dial.
The sick God in his father’s skin,
faded into black again,
and ‘lone the old man cried.
It goes on now, to never end,
like that which did not begin.

II
FOR YESTERDAY

The silence stayed for several days,
on antique speakers never played,
the sublime songs of God delayed;
Just echoes of a man who screamed,
and tufts of smoke in slanting beams,
the day was sickly gray.
The old man with his knives in hand,
walked the quiet stairs to stand,
in Willow’s gold doorway.

And on the pillow,
lay there, Willow,
who silent cried for help.
He prayed for his father, and,
his lovely long lost mother Anne
but never for himself.
destiny weaves spider webs—
the tide comes in, the water ebbs,
leaving shells upon the shelf.

The disconnected loved ones mourn,
their life upon the shore forlorn,
where once they went to play.
The sunshine and the ocean breeze,
they made sandcastles by the sea.
When they were done—
down went the sun,
and then they tired lay.
The sun went down,
when Willow frowned—
a lament for the day.
That which never did begin
like a circle will not end.

III
ANGEL IN THE DESERT

The crazed old man sat by his son,
on a ragged racecar bed.
He said, “We have to talk, my son.”
Yet Willow turned his head.
He tucked him in, and sang his song
until his son had safely gone
to the dream world Gilead.

And while there, the pale blue air,
in dancing circles did not care,
and words passed through the sky.
Amidst the endless wheatfield stalks,
above he heard a lost crow squawk,
and his lost mother’s cry.

He ran blind into the field,
his hands before him grasped to feel,
and Willow came to find:
A radio and crying tape,
he knew at once he was too late;
the digital crying died.
It hacked and coughed,
and then shut off;
young saddened Willow sighed.

Willow in the wheatfield heard,
the sound of something like a bird;
he stood and looked around.
All he saw was trees, and quiet,
twisted trees their shapes beside it,
and the shrouds of silken clouds
looked just like his mother’s gown—
he chased it through the night.
Through the rows of stalks,
he heard his mother call.
He walked amongst the dying leaves
as they around him fall.

He found her on a quiet hill,
a breathing mannequin lying still—
he then walked up the slope.
He knelt and tried to hold her hand—
it slipped away like grains of sand,
and then turned into smoke.

Don’t cry for me,
my sweet, you’ll see,
at rest in El Dorado.
The wind picked up,
the voice was gone,
and he was on the hill alone,
until, at last, he thought:
How could what did not begin,
ever stop or ever end?

IV
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR

Beside him when he woke, there lay,
a hundred knives lay by his face.
as chalk around a corpse and facing in.
Outside his door his father wept—
and then with bloodshot eyes he crept,
from the basement to the den.
Willow wished to call his name—
he tried “I love you”—nothing came,
then silent Willow sighed again.

Underground his father watched,
the man in the mirror he forgot,
his mind was white noise now.
The ticking clock above had stopped,
like crumpled paper Roger dropped,
again he heard the sound.

The sun came up—to his surprise;
The radiator shrieked, and cried,
and static seemed to drown:
Roger stumbled to his feet,
and his eyes tired seemed the greet:
his father’s pictures spread around.

The more he stared—the wall,
which bore,
His father’s pictures smeared with
WHORE
written in blood,
like caked on mud,
he tore the pictures from the wall,
shouts his son heard down the hall—
with vertigo he stood.
The tempest of the moment gone,
he remained there, cold alone;
he tacked his father’s
blood stained pictures,
on the wall again:
only to take them off once more:
the circle never ends.

V
THE TREE THAT SEED BECAME TO BE

Willow had his mother’s eyes,
as blue as springtime azure skies;
his hair was tasseled, black.
He got his name from an old tree,
where his father asked his mother,
“Will you marry me?”
She said yes and they both sat,
together in one silhouette,
when love and life was free.

Five months later they were wed—
the newlyweds played in their bed,
and planted the seed.
over the months it steady grew,
until the seed itself had bloomed,
when Willow came to be.

And all the wond’rous years that followed—
one after another ‘morrow,
were joyful times for all;
They ate together, smiled, and laughed,
as hour after hour passed,
as an apple from a tree to fall.

VII
LIFE IN ONE STANZA GONE

All was well, and life was bright,
until wandered in that night,
when they played lost and found.
Willow splashed in pools of rain,
when a car passed in the lane,
and lifeless Anna hit the ground.
Her young son,
now frightened, stunned,
heard but a ringing sound.

Willow by his mother lay,
unable, as he wished to say,
mother I love you so.
He watched her life drain,
as she died,
he saw that frightened look,
her eyes,
and she dissolved like smoke.

Silent Willow, by the grave,
stood by as the reverend prayed:
“Let Anna find her rest.”
Even as hard as Willow tried—
he couldn’t hold back as he cried,
and Willow did his best.
They buried her beneath the tree,
the weeping willow in the spring—
in the orchard where they loved:
The sad and listless loves one lost,
in tears they stood above.

VII
IN FALL WHEN FALL THE LEAVES

Later on when he got home—
he stood in his room alone,
and wistful held his breath.
That poem, he thought,
that poem of old—
in lyricism quaint yet bold:
You are what you become, no less.

He could not live without his Anne,
but Willow did his best.
He met a lawyer late that night,
and found his mother’s locket white—
it dangled on his chest.
On each side, when open pried,
a picture of himself.

One of them, a child who cried,
the other—Willow smiling wide:
“You were the world to me, my son,
And now that you are gone—
I only want to tell you now,
I heard your every song.”

He did his best all of his life,
when terrified awake at night,
his mother’s ghost appeared:
Don’t you love me?
Can you say it?
The forlorn loved one leered.
Willow tried to speak again,
just silence with his mouth open:
his mother disappeared.

He lay there in the bed, at night—
his hands clenching the covers tight,
hoping his mother would appear.
And sobbing Willow on his pillow,
thought that he could hear:
the love and comfort in his mother,
be replaced by fear.

VIII
THE LIGHTHOUSE GONE

In the years that after passed,
Willow seldom—if all—laughed,
instead in silence moped;
his father waited in the hall—
with his back against the wall,
that his son would see the light—
the light of God at night to strike,
that he might hear the good Lord call—
though all he heard was silence, all;
the shadows danced the night.
Amidst the shadows that he saw—
the ones that up his wall had crawled,
his mother— his dead lighthouse bright.

Anna’s ghost transparent white,
came to Roger in the night:
I guess you’ve left me, nothing new,
my father and your father too.
I guess you’re gone,
and I have grown;
that’s what we always do.
We all leave, and in the end—
return to whence we came again,
and so the circle goes.

IX
THE NEVER ENDING VALLEY

The tragedy of those days gone,
his father underground, alone:
tacked pictures on the wall.
Where once was his father’s face,
his own sadness had replaced:
and above it, as with all:
he scrawled above his pictures, that,
what once was red was written black.
BASTARD in his blood he scrawled,
in his despair he heard a call—
the sickly God of old was back.
“If you wish to save your son,
I’m sure you know what must be done.”
and the voice slipped through the cracks.

Roger made the preparations,
for the junkie constellations.
The needle sighed, Roger, relieved,
Thought about his son and then,
saw the valley by the bend,
and felt the ocean breathe.
It was the song, that sing along,
the Earth’s soliloquy.
Roger was so close to drowning,
in a numb opiate sea

There amidst the rich green grass—
under a blue sky made of glass,
Roger was at peace.
Paradise was within sight—
where grew a never dying light:
the never-ending valley of the free.
And then he saw behind his eyes—
that far flung long gone night:
when laughing Willow, in the rain,
skipped through puddles as he sang,
his mother’s smile so bright.
And when she faded like a flame,
Roger had himself to blame;
he thought of Humpty Dumpty,
and saw it was his life:
and he thought that he was not
put back together right.

The quiet children, pale, naive,
lay in their beds in far off dreams—
of velvet skies and golden streams,
and watch the good Sol die by eve.
to lose it is not high a price,
and no one has to grieve.
Just a flicker of the eye,
Another pilgrim passes by,
as yet another leaves,
That which never did begin,
in no way could come to end.

IX
AUTUMN

Roger walked the stairs with care,
Looked through doorway, Willow there,
On his side and legs withdrawn.
For a moment Roger watched,
And all the moments he forgot,
Drowned him as the dawn.
He took the needle from his pocket,
and his mother Anna’s locket,
and then he shot the faun.

Willow woke and saw his dad,
in the chair beside his bed
with tear stains in his eyes—
What’s wrong daddy? Willow wrote
“I’m sorry,” Roger penned a note.
And nervous turned to leave.
But Willow drowsy wrote, to ask,
“Will you read to me?”

His father Roger turned around,
went by the bed and sat back down,
“Of course I can,” his father, pleased.
“What do you think that I should read?”
“On the bookshelf by the door—”
He wrote it down just like before.
“—was a book my mommy read to me.”
Before she died on Blossom St.

Roger pushed the chair and stood,
and walked across old planks of wood—
to his son’s bookshelf.
Sitting on top of clothes and socks,
Was an old book dog-eared at the top,
a book he’d bought himself.
A Child’s Garden of Verses,
he found the favorite verse of his;
and read it to himself:

When I was sick and lay in bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy through the day.

Sometimes for an hour or so,
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed clothes through the hills

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets,
All up and down amongst the sheets,
Or bright my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow hill,
And sees before him, dull and plain,
The pleasant land of Counterpane.

He took a pillow from the bed,
and put it over Willow’s head:
Willow gasped but could not call,
His father pressed down on his nose,
that stained the pillow like a rose.
A minute passed, with his last gasp,
a silent child named Willow passed.

X
THE MURAL IN THE CLOSET

He took his body to the basement,
were he kept Willow’s replacement:
a gaudy harlot mannequin.
He unlocked the closet door,
and drug his son across the floor—
and the white noise came again.

He propped it up as Willow sat—
in Willow’s clothes and baseball hat,
and Roger grabbed the bin.
The pictures of young Willow spread
across the wall and down the halls.
The white noise came again.

Above the pictures lined in rows,
He wrote in thick white paint
WILLOW
he closed the closet door behind,
and tried to keep it from his mind,
he walked in an unsteady line;
to the sofa apropos.
The sound of static hissing, cracked,
it seemed the sick God had came back.

He tried to trace the source,
the sound,
and on the radio he found—
such an old song playing slow.
It reminded him of that lost day,
just him and Willow on the lake,
they climbed into the boat.

They made their way to deeper water,
and Willow smiled beside his father—
the winds of Spring began to blow.
They sang together in the breeze,
the thought made Roger hit his knees:
he changed the channel on the old,
radio he wish he’d sold;
tears were streaming down his face—
his heart had quickened in its pace:
and then he heard the Ghost.

He changed the channel, yet he heard,
a string of disconnected words,
all soft as they came in.
Behind the songs and sing-a-longs,
“Daddy what did I do wrong?”
As he had done all of his life,
Roger ran again.
As he passed a pane of glass,
Roger turned and saw, at last:
the sick God in the frame was him.

He hurried up the creaking stairs,
and opened up his dresser, where,
lay the only gun he had.
He ran back to the basement, and,
his wife and son stood hand to hand;
he put the magnum to his head.
After a flash he hit the ground,
slurring words he twitched around—
and Roger lay there dead.

Roger passed by in a dream,
as he unraveled at the seams:
trapped in his mind alone.
Frozen in a chair beside,
the ghost of Willow which replied:
“Daddy what did I do wrong?”
He repeated the question,
over and over,
The question went unheard,
and Roger could not reply.
There he was inside his mind,
and trapped he could not cry.

With silent Willow standing by him,
in vain he often tried:
to say those words, Will wished to hear:
just a simple, “Daddy’s here.”
Their souls are stuck—
between two worlds,
a silent circle not to end:
like that which did not begin.
And they came like water,
and as wind they go:
they’re all buried underneath,
that old and weeping Willow.

Chameleon Mirror – The Lie of Morning

I woke in the early morning, my phone glowing with the numbers: 2:55 – it was morning, I’d been awake for a moment only, missing by ten minutes the cliché of Witching Hour. I was assured in the knowledge that only a hundred kilometers east, a train of demons was seating and on its way from limbo into the past I was apathetic to have woken in. My clock I thought must be wrong, as the colors between my blinds were the distinct blue of a coming dawn, the first hint on those long days and nights alone. I noticed that it was just a trick, dawn still many hours away: the false dawn was a set-up, deliberate or otherwise, by Lain.

He was sitting by my bed across the room, laptop on his lap and writing away. I was at my desk, laptop on hand and writing away. He asked if I could close the blinds, being annoyed by the beam of light cast across his face. I said I couldn’t, as the blinds were raised so allow the air conditioner to be used. He put his laptop down, took off his shirt, a ratty, green away that one would assume to have a checkered past, and pushed it between the blinds to blot out the shaft of light the impolite sun was casting. He returned to his seat and sat down again, finding the light not properly curtailed, and rose again. He went through my bureau until he found a black, long-sleeved shirt. He squeezed it between the curtain rods and stuffed the rest behind the other shirt and smiled as he watched the beam of light bow out and fall away from where he sat.

And now with the only light in my bedroom a digital candle, a unique present to say the least, the black and green in the low light somehow mixed to impersonate the dim but dark blue of a coming dawn. I like it, the way such opposites mixed enough to make me fall for the idea of a rising sun. I kept it, often waking with the same feeling, falling happily for the same trick, to think of dawn being sooner, to think of Lain.

The Leaving Song

5qt

The time-traveler’s wife was one of my favorites, one of the first productions I ever staged. Less a wife and more a friend, but it didn’t matter. Love doesn’t change based on what name it’s given.
The room is dark, some buzzing sounds, some lights. The Professor is humming a song, preparing the machine, ‘We’re going to see Prometheus,’ he says. ‘Unless you had something else in mind?’
Let’s stay here.
He shrugs. He busies himself about glowing panels meaning nothing. Humming his song,
La la laaaaaa, la la laaaaaaaaaaa.
Who do you love, hm? Who do you love?
You know, I say, the boring bits are the best. That’s what you don’t get to see. Each day a new place, new people shining lights, but here. Here. It’s quiet and there’s music and just you and me. We can stay here, light candles, and you can tell me what professors tell.
‘Like what?’
‘What was it like when you were young?’
That song. La la la la la.
‘The leaving song,’ he says. ‘My mother hummed it.’
I see the problem.
My mother hummed it,’ he says. ‘When she woke me up. I woke up that song. Getting ready for school, La la la la la. She dressed me, half asleep. I woke up to that. My clothes would already be on. She’d be feeding me cereal while I tried to stay asleep.
Tell me a normal day.
A normal day?
A boring day. Where nothing happens. Something boring. That’s what I think is most exciting.
A normal day.
I wake up. Look for my glasses. Check my messages.
Who leaves you messages?
My mother sometimes. She did. I saved some she left, the ones I didn’t want to listen to and now. It’s silly. I listen to old recordings, you know. I was too busy to listen to those long messages then, when she was here. But now that she’s gone, when she says, I’m just calling to see if you’re okay. I’m coming to see you soon. I know she won’t, she can’t come see me. You know. A normal day, I’d get up, go to school.
What’s a boring day that you remember? A memorable regular day.
An interesting boring day?
Sure.
Well, hm. I had a cat. A stupid thing.
Alright, that’s boring. Go on.
I liked the cat. I got him from a flea market, in one of those little chicken pens. Two other kittens were in there, I could only afford him. I’d move into a house with a girlfriend, she was nice, but her mother never wanted me there. Not unless I married her. So I asked her to marry me, couldn’t say it. I never said it. I wrote a questionairre and handed it to her along with the expensive box. If you’ll be my wife, look at the writer and smile and open the box. She smiled and nodded, and we got engaged. It didn’t last long. I worked too much. I worked too long. She wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t happy she wasn’t happy. So I got our cat, Walter. Walter was a long-haired cat. She loved him. She loved me for a while.
I moved out, she stayed. I took the cat, the cats. Walter and Elton. But I moved to a new area, an area they didn’t know, so I had to keep them in a pen, to protect them, to make sure they had food. But they had a cage. And it reminded me of that chicken pen they had them in at the flea market. I talked to a friend and he agreed to take them in. I remember walking in the sun. It was hot, carrying that pet-carrier with my cat in it. I took him to the guy’s door. And a little girl ran out and said hello and started looking at the kitten. What’s his name? Walter. I like it. And the other one? The other one was loose, an experiment for freedom. I figured if Elton could survive outside, Walter might be able to. So I left Walter with them. He seemed fine and I said goodbye.
You said goodbye to a cat.
Yeah?
No, what did you actually say? Saying goodbye doesn’t say what you said. What were the words?
Well, it was years ago. I said, You’re going to be safe and healthy. They’re going to take care of you. I patted his head and kissed his head. And I said goodbye. Goodbye Walter. I talked to the father. I told him what he ate how he acted, everything he needed to know. Gave him advice. I hoped I’d never hear from him again. I did though. About a week went by. Elton stuck around the house and I thought he was safe. He’d come in and sit on my lap. And he’d go out during the day. He seemed safe. A week later, I got a call. Walter had escaped, afraid of the rain. He was always afraid of the rain. So he ran out into it. I drove over. It was night-time. I looked for trailers. He’d hide under my couch, so I thought he might hide under a trailer. And he wasn’t far away, wet and under a trailer. I got a towel. Took him home, dried him. And let him stay inside with me. He shit all over the place. The house smelled terrible. So I let him out during the day at first, brought him in at night. But he wanted to go out. To do what he wanted to do. So I let him out… He came and went and he was safe for a while. He disappeared a year or so later. I don’t know what happened. Whether he found a new family, whether he met another cat and found a new house, somewhere to eat.
If only he had left you messages. You could listen to them.
The professor laughed. Well, he says. I don’t have messages. I have a recording of me trying to prod him into talking to a cat of a friend of mine, over the internet. And he meows and meows, the rolling r sound like the Russian roll. Brrow! And I do listen to it. Stupid.
How long ago was that? The professor … I didn’t know how old he was. He could have been an extremely old-looking middle-aged man, or a younger-looking old man. In his forties, for sure. How long ago? 19 years. And I thought, the best case scenario is he died.
What did you do, then, the last time you did see him? How ridiculous. Do you remember the last time you talked to him?
He laughed. That’s 20 years ago, he said. As though he were embarrassed, to speak with warmth instead of hurried humming, a lullaby that deadens the present by deflating the past. The story he told me was different than he told it.
His version:
I got a cup full of food to get him in at night, at least to come in at night and be safe from the night. From other cats. He got in fights. So I fed him and he went to the bathroom, I emptied his box and got ready for bed. I sat down at my desk to listen to my messages. He jumped onto my lap and settled, purring while I went through my answering machine.
Your mother called?
He didn’t remember. I pressed him.
Think! I say. Nobody just knows shit automatically. Thinking leads to knowing. Sometimes that can lead to understanding. Think. What did she say?
She didn’t say anything. It was a long tape, she didn’t know it was being recorded. So I just listened to hear breathe, and sip her tea, changing channels. I heard her laughing, I don’t remember what she was watching. Then my dad came in or my older brother, I don’t know. They found her asleep and turned off the phone and hung it up.
Have you listened to it again?
The silence? I knew he had. He had. He lay in his bed, I could see it. The last night laying there listening to the actions in the background. His mother would laugh, some stupid show would play on TV. She’d change the channels, settle in on an old favorite. And by the time she started snoring so was he as it played in the background, he imagined his cat there because of that recording, a reflection really, and he could hear his mother in his sleep still humming the leaving song and he trails away, dreaming of waking up ready for school.
Good-night, professor.
Good-night, Renette.

The Artist’s Garden, short – 12 June 2015

Once there was an artist who lived on his own by the bay. He painted and played piano, the violin and wrote poetry, plays and novels. Yet none were good, or so he thought, and so everyone seemed to think. And, frustrated, he gave it up and went to war. After many years away from home, the war ended and he was discharged. Returning home by boat, with friends, they found a strange man on a lifeboat. His accent was peculiar and his manner of dress out of fashion by some hundred years. Gradually he gained their trust and friendship and revealed himself to be a genie. His story was most interesting, as they had all heard the story of a genie’s lamp, or some variation, and as the self-proclaimed genie pointed out, in all those tales, what did they ever really know about the genie, the magician who granted them fortune and fame? Continue reading

Release date for The Chameleon Mirror set: 24 August 2015

From chapter 17, A Pocket-Sized Mirage

That’s the conceit, that to put on costumes put on make-up put on masks remember your lines and it’ll mean something, someone may love and maybe you, and maybe it’s more, more than a group of costumed men reciting words of men and women now long dead. It’s just how characters without character become great if for a moment, Alain may at his best be some Iago or a Lear, but strove I felt to be the King’s fool. And I guess he was, I’d give him that, perhaps more Edward though, and his bastard’s revolt, to be sincere, a director like Pinocchio had Gepetto loved him. And it’s easy! so much easier; isn’t it? To play Proust’s goddess Mme. de Guermants or the enchantress Albertine or perhaps Bovary, because it meant something, somehow, someone cared. Because they meant something to so many, and through osmosis this makes us mean something, at best, if not to ourselves but someone. So we say the things they say and wear their clothes, what do those without talent do but play some better written part? Continue reading

Backwards

Of all things that would behave differently if time ran backward
one thing would stay the same:
Waking up and going to sleep.
In time rolling forward, you wake up and put on clothes.
At night, you take off your clothes and go to sleep.
In time rolling backward, you take of your clothes and get back into bed.
You stay asleep for a while, then wake up rise from bed
and put your clothes back on.

No Nobility: Poetry dump 8 June 2015

There was a tale about a Queen–
Whose regal name was Kathryn
She was a broken flower,
Unable to be picked, or helped,
And by her dead king lay;
And one day, walking,
Came a talking,
Peasant and he said:
“I could take your pain away.”
Queen Kathryn turned her head.
By her King’s old grave,
chained like a slave,
she wished to wake the dead,
though restless silent as she lay. Continue reading

Individual and Individuation

It is clear that it was known more than a hundred years ago that the fusion of the spermatozoa and the oocyte begins the life of a new individual human being. In embryology, the terms understood are integral. In the common sense there is human, being, persona, individual, human being, life and human life. It is unfortunate that every one of these terms have been corrupted, by scientists and the lay audience alike, to mean something that it does not. This is made evident in the corruption of the term individual into individuation. There are other problems, that is, when the early embryo split, does the ‘soul’ also split? And, if until that time, how could there be, then, a person. By soul, in the scientific context, one refers to the ‘animated essence.’ This is not an issue for theology alone, but theologians always muddle the waters of this very issue when it comes to abortion… Continue reading