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…well half way through the year of writing poems and as the title of it suggests it’s more of a harnessing if anything else

 

A YEAR UNDER A RESTRAINING ORDER

 

 

 

Whispering Hope

 

we’ve all prayed

we don’t call it that

not with fingers crossed

but we talk with ourselves

sometimes in tears alone

in laughter to savor the

moment and is there an in-

box to all those prayers how

full would it be and

we sing songs and it helps

a troubled soul with the mystery

we all feel at once

 

 

 

 

 

untitled

 

I’m doing something wrong right now

I just don’t know it

sometimes I know and I

still do it wrong but to who

am I accountable if the mistake is

premeditated and really all the countless

things I do that could be right

or could be wrong it is my knowledge

which makes it so… and yours too

but it doesn’t add up that way

in fact put enough people together

and no one’s wrong except

the person who says they’re right

so in a way this really isn’t

a bad poem–at least not

that I’m aware of

 

 

 

a picture’s worth…

 

she was sitting on the floor

when I dropped off the girls

from school on my way to work

her legs out in front of her

looking at pictures from our marriage.

Delilah quickly undressed and ate

a Jonathon apple on the new couch

while Bell found the DVD slideshow

she made of our wedding photos

set to an instrumental of Pink Floyd’s

“wish you were here”. I put it in

the PlayStation for her it didn’t take long

to watch laughter and comments

to the pictures as they passed

on the screen… In some of the

photos we looked happy

the children at various ages

in our arms different places–

Montana Texas New Orleans

her hair always different.

I’m pretty much always

holding a beer or a cigarette

or both. sometimes I wish

my eyes were on a different face…

I went to work what else

could I do the DVD ready again

for Bell to press play and tonight

when I go home the pictures

won’t be there but they gave me

a moment and they say a moment

of realization is worth a thousand

prayers

 

 

 

sempre libera

 

I used to like overtures to operas

in high school I’d go to the mall

to the music store and buy 99 cent

tapes the popular ones at first like

Tannhauser but I didn’t go for

German opera much not Wagner

not Beethoven not Mozart (Austrian really but

who cares) I liked the Italian opera

Verdi and Rossini and it followed

in college in New Orleans they offered

an evening intro to opera class

where you just sat in the theatre

the lights out a full movie screen with

sub-titles surround sound and we watched

The Magic Flute by Ingmar Bergman–

it sounded like God… it was on Wednesdays

and I called it Wednesday wino night because

I walked up to the corner of Broadway

and Claiborne and bought cheap wine–

Night Train, Ripple, Thunderbird–the kinda

wine that works good as a paint-thinner

but anyway I digress the fact of

the matter I listen to opera now

as much as I play golf so Bukowski

can shove his Shostakovich up

his ass I know the fucker wouldn’t know

what to do on a back road which is why

fine writers need to get out of cities

and get lost somewhere it’s good

sometimes to get lost and scared

out in nature with no man-made signs

to take a narrow un-paved road where

you don’t know where it leads to be by yourself

with no assurances so when you find

the highway and turn the radio

on and you tune into classical

music you know when it’s La

Traviata the end of Act One

 

 

 

a writer writes

 

so all I have to do

is finish act 3 and be

done with it the structure

simple enough a boy acting

as RA helps someone on his dorm

floor in college with an attempted

suicide after taking a bong hit

of spice a girl (interested in

him of course) acting as

intermediary in his call

to action while he meanwhile

shows an on-line infatuation

for girl in New York who offers

him a job to do some coding

on one of her latest painting

projects all he knows of her

what’s on social media–her

Facebook posts–that’s the plot

but I don’t write in plots

I need an idea to talk about first

sometimes it comes from reading

other writers but the best lines come

when you hear them in your head

almost like there’s someone else

there and it takes years to learn

to discern but only a moment to listen…

anyway when I’m done with act 3 there’s

still 3 more stories to Catadoupe and last

night I found my ninth cat–he comes

to her at night when she sits on her

back stoop smoking my weed all black

yellow eyes a bad hip but he likes

to be petted and she calls him Tom–

act 3 then 3 more stories to write

but sometimes it’s so much better up

there in my head before I type it

with my fingers it’s mine for a moment

without the silence of judgment

and the loud noise of my own

failed expression

 

 

 

 

(why my ex-wife thinks she’s saved

and looks forward to church on Sundays

while she smokes my weed living solely

on food stamps and child support)

 

yesterday I spoke my mind

and she paraded me out

in front of my children in an

apartment I pay rent for… if

there’s anything that turns us away

from God it’s looking at each other

with our own eyes and not seeing

what God sees but this we have to

imagine and we call it faith and what

we see with faith we call love

and that all sounds real nice

until somebody who loves you

hates you which is merely a matter

of timing… hatred is practical in how

it erases everything you loved about

the person before and I don’t know

why we have to bring God into it

like some sort of referee because

if there’s one thing I’ve learned

from my children you can’t have

a game if you don’t play by the rules

but everybody makes up their own

rules when it comes to God and love

and loss and unless you side with

the devil obviously you know

which side God’s on and maybe

that puts it all in order for you

when you settle your affairs

and you pray for your enemies

at night–pray for them to quit

drinking… but who said salvation

is a comparison?

 

 

 

GDP

 

speaking in strains not

in economics though I heard

our town is opening a medical

marijuana dispensary employing up

to a dozen workers good news

for those with cards but i didn’t hear

about that until after what i saw

on my way to the launder mat

the mailman walking up my street

with a large white parcel in his bag.

i was going to put my clothes in

the dryer, and i said to myself, Hmm

and proceeded the few blocks to the

launder mat where two cop cars

were in the parking lot. i drove by

slowly, and again I said to myself, Hmm

and drove back to my place sure enough

the white parcel in my box return address

from Washington–top shelf Granddaddy

Purple frosty in the light–165 an oz.

i threw away the mylar and vacuum

packaging taking a quick hit

from the bong before going back

to the launder mat the cops gone

but an irate black woman with an extra

wide ass talking down her man

while washing pillow sheets and

upholstery–something about he lost

his job… i just pulled my clothes

out of the dryer while i heard him

sitting in a massage chair a recorded

female voice saying repeatedly,

Please Insert Money. last i saw

of him he was walking across the

street to the Dollar General… i

went home rolled a fat one

and finalized the order on Abraxas,

releasing the bitcoin funds

to the vendor. as for feedback i said,

top shelf bud at a midgrade price

and fast shipping (it was marked

as shipped on Columbus day) i also said

i almost want to keep it a secret

but then nothing real is ever kept

a secret it’s just not profitable just like

where I heard about the marijuana

dispensary– economies need their

Scheherazade…

 

 

 

 

Stoned Blind Love

 

I look and you tell me

what you want I don’t

have to look closely

and see myself but

I try to tell you that I

matter when all of us

do stilled by the ancient

waves of greed and fear

and what you don’t regret

erodes the rock of last

grasped reflections fused

by the sun and hourglass

the passing gravity

in every grain of sand

 

 

And Hell Followed With Him

 

yesterday we went on a walk

between pounds hollow and

rim rock after a hike through

the garden of the gods the mist

rising up around the rocks in

a light rain the colored leaves

falling all around us in the wind

and just before ox-lot cave we

heard a snapping noise and I

thought it was behind us but

then I saw her scream Move!

as the rotted limb of a tree branch

high above us on the rock face

made heavy by the rain fell the

dry dust of its diameter at least

four inches the length several

feet and I had no time to look up

helpless as the pieces of wood

fell on my children in moments

that just seconds before had been

peaceful reflections of the forest

I try to protect Bell as more wood

fell but a branch glances off her arm

a limb lands on Delilah’s back the

cries of pain come… luckily we are

not alone other people hear our

children cry saw what happened

the panic passes the injuries minor

but we turn around and wonder on

the walk back did it happen for a

reason fathoming all kinds of

scenarios as the rain comes down harder

maybe twenty years from now Bell

will hear that sound the recognition

giving her the half second to save

her youngest child from certain

death or maybe it was just a few

distractions in our day that made us

arrive that moment in the path

anyway we go to pizza hut and I

feel like a wet dog from the woods

but my children are alive if bruised

they are in my bed now and now

if I could get rid of the fleas from

getting rid of the cats life would be

good but then everything is

significant you just can’t hold on

to it you have to let it flow through

you and try not to go insane

 

 

requiem for a dream

 

as you get older there is

no crisis only acceptance

and extraction but there is

no sadder thing than seeing

a woman get old the hollow

shell of her former self

succumbing to the symptoms

of a drug-induced psychosis

just to fit in a red dress again

no help from the protocols

of our mental institutions

curling in the fetal position

to cope and when you see it

all you can do is cry

and hold one another

always depending on the

kindness of strangers

over the delusion and

deprivation what gets lost

in screams under water

and catatonic eyes waiting

at the bus stop on your way

back home

 

be careful of something that’s just what you want it to be

 

and it’s not about profit some say it’s the smart people ain’t nice now why is that?

Bukowski said go all the way where the feasts are promised Shit…

I’ve lived with my mom as the father of two girls lived with bugs in places so roach-infested they swarmed everytime I made a pot of coffee bankrupt, divorced, at 38 all my belongings could fit in a Ford Fiesta on high interest– that’s as far as I went and I still live on an American diet

never cared about the money til I didn’t have it then I saw a price to the poem got a job as a civil servant and began to repay my debts

all the time talking to myself though, figuring, keeping score: 8 books roughly 2600 pages around 750,000 words I’m 39 now and that’s what I got just about beat Shakespeare and about half way to the big dogs of the last century– need about 16 books roughly 5200 pages around 1.5 million words Faulkner got there at 62 Hemingway, Steinbeck almost and Kerouac burned like a Roman Candle–got there at 47… but what does it profit a man? what does it profit me?

a smart man knows the measure of a man’s happiness are the limits of others and God wouldn’t it be nice if someone just took a look at you knew your soul with immeasurable pity and love and understanding– that’s what we want to be loved for who we are

herein lies the catch adjudicating cleverness because something somewhere made us all and who you are to be loved we make ourselves

yes something somewhere made all of us but without judgment so that our victories and defeats are at the hands of each other

and this all of this merely to prove something to prove how smart you are

and that’s about as dumb as it gets the victories the defeats makes you almost want to say: ah the hell with it I’ll just get fat and sing the blues…

the truth is we all want something sacred I’ll be 40 soon and whatever made and loved and pitied me keep me from touching it any further

 

 

TO CHRISTIANS

 

so the phone rings

but the person to cover it

is off getting a flu shot…

you know when jesus

got angry it was

 

fundamental

 

we sing and we hear

and it’s all fine talk

 

even the church has been

contemporized into The

american dream

 

may the Lord bless you

and you could almost cry

about how good you are

you follow all the rules

well, at least most

of them

 

all that to save it cheaper

on a trash bag… ya boy

and do you really plead

dumb or just leave it

for the other person to fix?

 

every trap effective is simple

and every reverse trap is

simpler still and so he said

 

i will make you fishers

of men… but if you go

to the poor even they know

God don’t like ugly and

there are many dead

who think they’re born again

 

and so the devil laughs

at his existence

 

 

 

 

 

 

and who is God for the heart

is a lonely hunter is it that mute man

who listens only to commit suicide

some say it was Robinson

Jeffers or maybe Ingmar Bergman

no no you got it all wrong man

keep it simple to the masses

it was Elvis Mr. Mojo Risin’ that first

time you heard the white album

and saw Van Gogh in a song

and maybe none of us have time

for that sermon on the mount

listening to our wallets

too busy harried overwhelmed even

in finding something authentic but really

when we compare daddies

none of them talk back

when they’re dead

 

 

the deer hunter

 

i saw it and didn’t understand

then i saw it when i bought

a big screen tv and i still

did not understand so flipping

channels last night after

work at the VA

i watched again a man

crying in hospital pajamas

when the doctor asks him his parent’s

names discharged to oriental

streets where no one answers

the phone and prostitutes turn tricks

in front of their children

and gunshots call to back parlor games

of russian roulette– he was a good

man wounded and given the right

nudges and like a soldier

he missed his friends…

i didn’t watch the rest what no one

understands about coming

home after coming to yourself

in a dark wood where

the straight way is lost

i was hungry and source code

was on fx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

supersize me

 

there’s gotta be a math

to how much you’ll pay

for what you’re already

getting but you want

just a little bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ritz crackers with peanut butter

 

maybe I forgot to mention

there’s birdshit in the bottom

of my mailbox so when the

mailman comes he tries to

close the lid even when I

have parcels of weed but

the bird droppings are still

there just like the terror and

the trap that we know what

we can’t possibly know and

have come back as gods

with the knowledge of eden

and we act on this almost as if

the expression matters even

when no one you know hears

and the crumbs stick to the

roof of your mouth

 

 

writers block

 

so many things i could

write about

 

like the daywrecker lollipops

arrived perfectly in the mail

on Halloween–155 mg of THC

in lemon and tangerine

 

the difference in a body high

and when it hits the head

 

cerebral mellifluence

forgetting by the world forgot

and so i ask myself

 

why put it down?

for is the expression heard

did it reach you

did it engage your mind?

 

truth is it’s not Halloween anymore

nor All Soul’s Day

nor All Saint’s Day

and Veteran’s Day has passed

 

but my car door still ain’t fixed

and i still might have flea eggs

and it’s time to get a new badge

at work–fingerprinted again

and a new picture of myself

 

three years of my time to the VA

 

but what else in those 3 years?

the psalmist was finished

catadoupe is 350 pages

not that numbers mean anything

in the measure of quality

 

but break it down

day by day

 

I write and

I share and

I rely on metrics

to tell me someone’s listening

but when the phone rings

it’s always a telemarketer

and you can read my mail

the money goes out that way

it doesn’t come in

 

so why should i do it?

to prove something?

to who?

myself?

 

i used to never understand

why writers were seduced by

the bottle so many words

to forget you said so much time

spent alone but i know

i’ll look back on my life

with no regrets for the work

no doubts that it’s good

and i’ll drink not

because justice wasn’t done

but because justice isn’t

for if i ever heard

my voice come back

to me

 

i still wouldn’t like

the way it sounded

 

 

 

the bite of the tarantella

 

it makes sense that ugliness

is proud in how it can handle

itself-its-Being

 

you see your beauty

marred in the mirror by it

when you walk away

with last words

for yourself

to greet the day

 

those things

you tell yourself, but

 

tell me–

when was the last time

you hurt because you hurt?

 

when was the last time

you thought of your old mother

the tears your dead father cried

a child discovering they’re alone?

 

dissatisfaction with your

position or your place

is a matter of who you’re lined

up with at the moment

but what will you do

to be picked to win?

 

many atrocities are committed

because it’s comfortable

or rather

I’d rather you be

uncomfortable

not me

 

and like a child fading in the mirror

we leave what we cannot control

we leave father mother

and one day a lover will remember

gossamer strings are seen

especially in calm clear weather

floating tiresomely

in the convulsing colored background

of what’s condemned to fall

 

 

la forza del destino

 

shit

not a bad day so far

i woke up at 6:11

with my children

and spoke to them softly

to open their eyes

 

dropped them off with the ex

at work at 7 an outpatient

blood draw at 8:15

but other than that a quiet day

in the lab

 

wrote a poem

excused myself for a bad

contact and a short commute

home on the back porch

drank a beer

 

came back wrote another

poem in time for lunch

fuck it let the type and screen

sit no wax in the mail

but i made fresh cartridges

drank two more beers

 

took a few hits from the bong

not sure which strain

could be the dutch treat or

the sfv og kush not as

sticky as when it came in the mail

and you may wonder why

 

i talk so prevalently about

underground activities as a

government employee and it’s because

at around 2:57 i’ll walk out

of here and unless i see my children

nothing visceral will come

of this poem and besides i just

 

spilled piss on my glove from

a could be pregnant veteran

but she wasn’t

 

 

raise no more devils than you can lay down

 

nostalgia can come alone

or with someone maybe after

you have children it’s easy

to forget that sixteen candles

sort of feeling of being unnoticed

not important… you say

hix calix and pass on

the mantle of histrionics

mixed with hormones

remembering now how

 

they say nothing burns

in hell except the self

and shyness is a form

of pride for if you feel

like no one notices you

you’re obviously noticing

yourself then

 

this too passes

so when you wake up

on a Sunday morning

the darkness already gone

but the dream-like quality

still there you play your part

in the peepshow ready

to perform as soon as

somebody puts a coin in

 

is there something going on

when the lights are out and

the curtains closed?

when the stone has not

been lifted?

am i only alive

when you read me?

 

it’s a pity i have such low

self-esteem but it’s how

the writing gets done

and if all you think i’m doing

is selling my panties

for a sniff maybe you need

another roll of quarters

 

 

 

like fish in a barrel

 

i went to tulane university

on an AFROTC scholarship

in physics

i double-majored in

mathematical economics

i think i had about a 3.3 GPA

i was good at math

but didn’t excel in it

half the time i showed up

still drunk for class

it costs over sixty grand a year

to go there now (that’s about

what i make in a year if you

count my VA disability)

my military assignment

was classified but i

quickly drank myself

out of that

i wrote my first book

when i was 25

i finished Lazarus

just before my 33rd birthday

i’m forty now and you can say

i’ve written about 8 books

depending how you look at it

do you count the children’s stories?

the original Salted with Salt?

maybe since Lazarus and The Psalmist

are both over 700 pages they count

for the picture books and revisions… anyway

i have no student loans and i’ve made

less than a hundred dollars in royalties

the past 18 years, and oh i have

two daughters…

so when i show up for doughnuts

at work on a Sunday morning

i’m the only one at the breakroom table

with a private education and a few

novels under my belt and if there’s

one thing i’ve learned in all my travels

people only see differences

in a good way

when you’re dead

and what they don’t understand

is quickly understood how they

can understand it and really

only stupidity asserts itself…

so what i’ve found if

i shoot straight

you assimilate

and pretend to never be the bait

and then they say you’re just

like us and they’ve got you

the only true measure

whether the water

has salt in it or not

 

 

 

the standard model

 

you see we try to fit things

in our measurement

but the bell theorem

states an inequality

about local realism

does it collapse

to our consciousness

or is there a counterfactual

definiteness

but whether you ascribe

to a Copenhagen interpretation

or think of many worlds

there’s still a spooky action

at a distance

the sad thing we don’t know

how to communicate

information by it

with relativity making

any sense

but I used to have

a pickup truck

and dialectics

come by the dozen

and when it comes

to gravity and my penis

all I gotta say

is hubba hubba hubba hey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

run with the hunted

 

I eat and clothe

myself and I search for

shelter from the storm

by the sweat of my brow

to your labor

the rules of civilization

saying I shake

hands while making

eye contact

a blink not the same as a wink

and a smile the sublime

crooked attraction

of a howl

 

 

outlaw women

 

should I talk about Rosie

who saw plenty of dinkers

in her day running the bars

of east Texas how she raised

my ex wife waking up cursing

how she lives with one

of her sons now a pill

habit the constipation

a chore Jake the grandson

dead on a overdose and

Ellie her liver shot trying

to raise her daughter’s son

because she can’t get off

the heroin and so like

evolutionary algorithms

in a computer the generations

self-optimize learning how

they’re built but awareness

doesn’t help for the

father in between

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

today revisited yesterday

 

Mephistopheles met Methuselah

in the Quick-E Mart the other day

and like one old man to another

they discuss their bids on eBay

‘it’s a beautiful world’

‘it’s a wonderful life’

they say plangent and sincere

‘been a while since I’ve seen you here’

and not sure what else to say

not sure what either has become

it’s regular kismet when

they reach for the same

brand of chewing gum

 

 

 

Oedipus wrecked

 

the sun and breeze

right i thought

what is the sum

of me and how do i

express it

but all i could think about

was the sick shit

i had this morning

the gray clay kind

cherry red with my blood

and i look back unsalted

to an idea of a sweet

innocent boy

and wonder what the

hell happened

what protects me now

the lost honor

of what i watch

die every day

so when i have those

beer shit blues

i crack open another

word problem

and i never come down

even when in the end

a woman becomes

a mother her father’s

daughter

 

 

Just One More

 

There was a time

Before mirrors where

All you had was your reflection

In water

And faces scratched out

In drawings of one another–

Surfaces enticing us to eat

 

People fish in bars

With beer and Jameson

Chased with pickle juice

And when “Don’t Mess

With My Toot Toot”

Becomes the theme song

The neon calendar always

A day ahead

You realize the Touch Tunes

App for the jukebox

Is an artificial trick

As in fly fishing

 

Sammie and Sue

Owners who day drink now

Since the kids are grown

Sophie the puppy bulldog mascot

Sammie ex-phone communications

For MCI Sue a great short order

Cook for the grill

The house paid the bar

A nice investment for early

Retirement the food great

Live music leaving something

To be desired though

Sammie’s auditions

Tedious with versions

Of “Oh Black Betty…”

The only recourse left

A DJ–Music in Motion

Of mostly bad black rap…

But Sue likes “Heathens”

And Twenty-One Pilots

Used to be Christians

So that’s alright

 

And of course there are names

For the bartenders all good

Girls (according to Sue)

Or at least they come back

And don’t steal from the register

With their stories

Names for the regulars too

All of them connected

God it must suck to grow up

In a small town Rural King

Next door and with that six

Degrees of separation you can’t

Walk into anyplace without

Someone knowing you and who

You know the cliques the fleeting

Alliances ignorant close-minded

Proud of coal mines packing

Their conceal and carry

And it’s like pulling teeth

To claim their intelligence

In all their name games

So I won’t name them

 

It’s funny though

How easy it is to start a fight

But like babies they don’t know

How to apologize so when

They announce they want

To punch you in the mouth

You just want to take them

By the back of the head

And bash their nose into

Their brain pan casually

As they sit next to you

On a bar stool

Because as my ex-wife

Said I can be one mean

Son of a bitch but I prefer to use

My mind over muscle

And that’s what really always

Pissed her off and everybody else

When all can’t be forgiven

 

Love is to blame

For all the shit though

In all those mirrors

All those reflections in water

In beer and shot glasses

In the faces scratched out

Of drawings

And it’s always just

One more

One more day

One more year

One more life

One more death

The drinks don’t take

Away the memories…

And that’s the bottom line

 

 

 

Eros

 

The agape of age

Young to modern times

Says the Hallmark cards

Of love just turn

In five years to giving up

Your house so why not

Skip to it and save

The trouble because

What is absent

Is present

The significance

Eluding to mystery

Mystery becoming desire

Where there is no trust

Only power in gained

Knowledge gained first

And all things end

Badly otherwise they never

End which is always why

We do it again

Seduction’s power in surrender

Exorcising our demons in

vulnerabilities Angels singing

To hell with it anyway

For there is no life

After love only helium

Voices strong enough

Making it easier (to remember)

To vibrate with the twang

Of the arrow and the snap

Of the bow

 

 

 

Pinch Penny

 

Before Christmas

(before the cards to hang

on the fridge the obligatory

gifts which might need

a receipt)

an undercover DEA

agent asked me after

telling me are you:

Elf on a Shelf?

Frank the Greek

grandparent owner

eating his diabetes

diet with a wink

reminiscing on yellow

page ads he used to

send out to SIU

students since the bar

opened in the eighties

(before me and after my dad’s

alumni time)

of course the wink

no surprise in the calumny

of regulars looking at

the specials asking

in Spanish instead of Greek

Porque…

and as old men I tell them

to read the newspaper

winter break over

the textbooks read in

time for the spring

semester refund and

if they only knew

(evil is good

doing nothing) For

Now it’s a matter of

coupons to court dates

not an I ain’t stepping

out as a father

like Frank’s wink

to a father meant stepping

in–the withdrawal always

(an improvised rap a sidekick to)

the plan for the dream

the dollars and sense

like a bad penny

for your thoughts

 

 

Ex’s and Ohs

 

What can I say

I still love the bitch

From stealing my keys

To stealing my mail

Eating my KFC with

The children after another

Novel finished then

Kicking me out of the house

The coldness of her storms

Still make my balls wet

The seeds of other men

Real or not a bother but once

You ain’t a virgin you can’t be touched

For the very first time anyway

And those Bette Davis eyes

Aren’t a large insult

To her face… the orders

Of protection laughable if

They didn’t hurt so much

Because once you have

Children together it’s never

Really over… And here I am

Heading to Greensboro

Willing to come back for court

Dates and visitations

And if she were willing–

A dogwood flower for her hair,

Charm bracelets for our daughters

 

 

 

Not Everybody Likes Us

(but I drive my dog wild)

 

Well it’s a Wednesday

and I woke at 7 to the

Thump Thump Thump

of Rosie’s tail as she lay

curled up next to me

her head on my chest

already looking at me

ears pointed eyes subdued.

I’m taking her back to the

Humane Shelter today.

She kept me company over

the winter break my one

semester at SIU complete

after sort of keeping to the plan

ending more than three years

at the VA turning in

my resignation to become

a traveler again the relationship

with the ex-wife always

what it always is—

hot and cold.

I thought long and hard

about taking her with

to North Carolina

she’s just too damn wild

and skittish she’s practically

chewed up all Delilah’s dolls

and Bell’s toys (she has deer

antler to chew on it just

ain’t enough for her) and I

can leave the back door open

she won’t go–too afraid of the

noises the forklifts going to and fro

through the gates at Rural King

next door… it’s a sad thing–losing

a dog because in this case

Losing is a matter of giving

her up–a dog like a woman,

a dosage of drug and

you better keep to the prescription

for doting turns to withdrawal

when you don’t give

it the attention she needs

puppies need to play

and if you sit out the dance

out of breath for lack of cardio

a trinket peddler in Bethlehem

told me once: What happens

to dogs in a closed room?

The shelter opens at twelve

thirty. No one likes

Goodbyes not even

dogs but if I owned anything

at all maybe it was her love

for a while her smile blessed

with the absence of

anticipation and memory… I

wish we could be like that–

blissfully unaware of whether

someone likes us or not

and sure they read auras

but time in dog years

easily forgives mistakes

 

 

Jason Akley

Professor Michael Humphries

English 455

12 December 2016

 

The Just Judges

This paper will explore the pathologies of pride in the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence—his tragic flaw, his Janus aspect, and in Aristole’s designation of the tragic flaw (hamartia) how even lofty characters are just like us—tragic despite their virtues, not because of their vices, and whether the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” merely exposes his hypocrisy or reveals how his “fall” can happen to all of us. First duplicity as revealed in The Fall will be examined, as shown through the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clamence (the Janus aspect of Clamence, how choice is the moment of actualization, and whether there are two worlds/two truths). Then the duality of experience and reflection will be discussed (how this relates to why Camus decided to write The Fall the way he did, the distinction between truth and falsehood, and if this distinction is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories). Finally, the merging of appearance and reality into the same thing will be explored (the fact the painting of “The Just Judges” is real, the symbolism of the location of Amsterdam and the doves, and how sometimes these meanings can be illusive yet complement each other).

The character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence definitely has a Janus aspect. In his jaded confession to the reader (in this case an unknown listener over the period of five days at a bar in Amsterdam) he reflects on his prior self-confident life as a prominent lawyer in Paris, and now his subsequent life as a “judge-penitent”, displaying a different kind of self-confidence—a rather dubious reinterpretation of his prior life. In Paris as a defense lawyer he is neither judge nor judged, and he’s a success. Clamence is not unreflective of this fact (he clearly knows what he’s doing), and that is the nature of his pride, but he maintains his innocence and doesn’t foresee his possible failure and vulnerability. He doesn’t take seriously the palpable presence of jealousy. Nor does he understand that eventually he will be judged, by others and himself.

In Amsterdam, he gives himself up wholly to self-condemnation, and in a sense through this mechanism still tries to define his superiority over others. His experiences and reflections of this are not complementary. Instead they contradict.   Despite references to where he is now he is rather oblivious to his surroundings, living heavily on gloomy reflection and embittered thinking. Far from him, as Solomon points out (200-201) is Queen Jocasta’s philosophy—“Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly.”   His reflections in Amsterdam see his former seemingly innocent and noble life in Paris as a sham, and he uses metaphors to display this “double” life. He tells us if he had a business card it would be Janus-faced, with the slogan “Don’t rely on it.” In other words, on one side is the apparent face of innocence and nobility, the other side is the Amsterdam devil. After his revelations in Paris he tells us he looked in the mirror and his smile was “double”, the duplicity referring to his hypocrisy, that he is guilty while claiming innocence, and his selflessness is really motivated by self-interest and vanity. Perhaps Camus is pointing out to his reader, and to himself, we all have this image in the mirror.

What Clamence realizes and as he confesses to his listener is we do have a choice, and this choice defines us. We must look into this mirror and we never stop looking. Each time we look we might see something else we didn’t see before, but this reflection is already in the past, and instead of forever chasing it (as Clamence does—Camus ends the novel quite brilliantly: Brr…! The water’s so cold! But let’s not worry! It’s too late now. It will always be too late. Fortunately!) one must face this abyss of self-knowledge and laugh at oneself—something Clamence unfortunately is really unable to do. Udoff in his introduction to the collection of essays on Kafka’s contextuality, “Abysssus Abyssum Invocat” (roughly translated the deep calls the deep or hell calls hell) illuminates this form of exile and points out referencing Kierkegaard’s Either-Or the depiction of choice as a moment of self-actualization, the interplay of self and word, play and oath (xxviii):

 

… the experience of choosing imparts to a man’s nature a solemnity, a quiet dignity, which never is entirely lost… So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and the I chooses itself—or rather, receives itself. Then has the soul beheld the loftiest sight that mortal eye can see and which never can be forgotten… the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.

 

What one sees in this moment of self-actualization, however, is the dual nature of this choice how there are two worlds/two truths. The duality of Nature (and human nature) is present all around us. We would not be able to define day if we did not have night. We would not know hot if we didn’t know cold. Sometimes the lines are clearly divided and distinct, and we know black and white. Other times a sense of discernment is needed, for in things such as love and hate, pride and humility, these lines can easily be crossed and stepped back over again (in the blink of an eye one can see a reflection of love and just as quickly fear and doubt what is seen, look again and see hate, take another look and come back to love), and in this process of self-reflection and perception of the outside world gray areas appear. While one is innocent this infection of self-doubt is not evident—the truth is the simple goodness of life—but with age and experience this naiveté dissipates, and this is what Clamence resents and pities. It’s an old philosophical game. The innocent act can be seen as a self-serving one. Generosity and heroism can contain the motivations of greed and cowardice. What Clamence condemns in himself (hoping his listener will agree) is not seeing this is an act of self-deception, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

So why does Camus write The Fall the way he did? In many ways when one is faced with this moment of self-actualization and begins to realize the duplicity and dualities all around us it’s a matter of exorcising the demons of what we now see in the mirror and sublimating it as a means of catharsis. Apparently Camus took stock after the publication of The Rebel and decided to write anything which came to mind, write what he felt, and out of this came the self-confessional tone in The Fall. As Tarrow researches in his journals and articles, this profound duplicity of humanity is explored and echoed by the text of The Fall itself, the fact that truth and falsehood are hard to distinguish and the distinction may even become irrelevant (156-158):

 

… The intellectual may speak, in a hesitant voice, but in vain. It is not a response that will greet him, but curses and idiotic polemics. According to what he says, his topic and his mood, he will indirectly help the shopkeepers, or unwittingly encourage the policeman. He will thus have rendered a disservice to those he loves, and as sole recompense will have to endure the fact of having enemies, even though it goes against his nature. In preference to such sorrow, should he not opt for silence, and that irony that helps him live his life? Thus the man with scabies tosses in his bed, scratching his sores.

 

In the writing of The Fall Clamence learns the same truth: First I needed this perpetual laughter, and those laughing, to teach me to see clearly inside myself, to discover that I was not simple. Certainly the text of The Fall stresses autobiographical aspects to the life of Camus, but as those who knew him point out (Sartre among them) The Fall constitutes a parody of existentialist man though the psychology of its hero is profoundly an existentialist work. It’s Camus speaking of his pain.

So is there a distinction between truth and falsehood? In every sincere act one can question its sincerity. Out of this confusion arises. In trying to be understood one can find oneself misunderstood. Just as one looks in a mirror and the right hand becomes the left the language we use to express truth and falsehood inherently leads us farther away from it, and though we can laugh at a dog chasing his tail, in essence we are in the same predicament. And so we distance ourselves from it, as Camus did (for he said the creative writer expresses in his work not so much his personal experience as his desires and temptations), and in many respects in the writing of The Fall he didn’t clear away all the inner conflict. In his reaction to receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957 he exclaimed, “I’m castrated.”

The distinction between truth and falsehood, as seen in the duality of experience and reflection, doesn’t become relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. He can’t swallow his pride, and the laughter he feels projected on him he now projects on others. Pichova in her book on Nabakov and Kundera approaches their texts through the art of memory, and this relates to how Clamence remembers. In particular the chapter, Variations on Letters and Bowler Hats, discusses how Kundera returns to the problem of personal memory in exile. Once again duplicity is noted in the character of Sabina in her search of “unintelligible truth” for in her struggle for artistic freedom she betrays her homeland and must live in exile. The use of the metaphor “a semantic river” and the meanings behind dualities come into play as much with Sabina’s bowler hat as it does with Clamence’s stolen painting. The theme once again of experience and reflection is seen in how each new experience resounds, each time enriching the harmony, referring to Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return and Parmenide’s view of the world consisting of opposites (56):

 

It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ (“You can’t step twice into the same river”) riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. (ULB 88)

 

Clamence in his confession at a bar in Amsterdam is in many ways a reflection of this semantic river. He’s trying to justify and reinterpret his prior life in Paris. He’s looking in the river’s mirror like a confused Narcissus on the edge of drowning as what flows is the changing reflections in the current, and just as a river has a source and eventually pours out into the sea Clamence is attempting to understand what he sees now: One plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn`t even know whether or not he can hang on until the next day. Unfortunately, as Camus points out in the style of the text, he can only see his own experiences reflected all around him, and there’s really nobody there despite his sometimes lyrical sometimes sarcastic perspective of where he is now and from where he came. It’s just Clamence talking in a monologue, and we are tricked into reading it like these memories didn’t happen and mean nothing.

Another writer put it a different way. All things merge into one, and a river runs through it. Clamence is haunted by waters. What one realizes (as Camus surely did) is the duplicity, the dual nature of reality (this is seen even in the study of sciences in the nature of light acting both as particle and wave), and you can look and it seems to collapse into one thing, but it’s really both. Appearance and reality merge into the same thing. A man can be both good and evil, and depending on when you look and how you look a judgment can be made which in a sense is temporary and illusive, yet still fixed on its course. As soon as one speaks and says: this is so… he is altering what he observes and what he’s speaking about. This goes on in our perceptions of the outside world, and also in self-reflection. The Bible speaks of it in the book of James as a man looking at his reflection in the mirror and then forgetting what he looks like, and in essence being cast about in a sea (for really a river can only flow one way). Knowledge of good and evil truly does leave us naked. We become invisible to the secrets we try to conceal. The celebration of this the clothes we wear, which what Clamence (and Camus) confess can employ the magic of misdirection—to fool others, and ourselves.

Time is funny, however, and what Clamence can’t see in his confession of: You’re just as evil as I am… is the humility to accept the very things which lead to his downfall are the virtues which cause his vices. We are not meant to judge (because as soon as we do those judgments are reflected back upon us), but we have to in our everyday lives. We have to make choices, some on a small scale some on a grand scale (the terrifying realization Clamence confronts is that both are happening at once), and these choices determine who we are and we have to live with that responsibility. The irony that our knowledge frees us, but also defines our prison. The more you know the more you suffer because you can no longer claim ignorance. Clamence in a sense embraces this fact, but holds on to it too tightly. He can’t let go of his pride and just let it be, and he thinks he’s alone in his suffering, but he’s not. Misery loves company, and one of the best ways to dispel guilt is to be around others who share in your guilt and say: You can be just as good as I am evil. It just depends how you want to look at it, and we will always be looking, always be dipping our toes in that semantic river—fearing it’s cold to the point of being frozen, or joyfully jumping in and going with the flow.

It’s interesting that the painting Clamence admits stealing is actually real. Camus, perhaps like Kafka, envisioned literature as having no place in the real world, but it equally has no place in the world it creates. The same can be said of the stolen panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, which in the text of The Fall Clamence confesses stealing from a bar called “Mexico City”. The actual historical references to the theft of “The Just Judges” and the creation of the altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers are not in the scope of this paper, but the fact that Camus relates its theft to the character of Clamence plays into what Kafka was referring to, how the lies in the narrative of a work of fiction (in any work of art for that matter) can still reveal profound truths. It’s by telling these stories to ourselves, even if embedded with falsehood, that we find a deeper understanding of ourselves.

The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves throughout the text of The Fall also show how metaphors merge in the duplicity Clamence has come to resent and pity in himself. He admits without desire he might be closer to the truth, but the truth is a colossal bore. He has come to confess in a place where others share in his weakness, as Amsterdam in its construction and culture practices as a way of life. And yet the doves are there. As the stolen painting, part of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, has the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so to Camus bows in with the lyrical expressions Clamence gives to them. He admits: …the obligation I felt to conceal the vicious part of my life gave me a cold look that was confused with the look of virtue; my indifference made me loved; my selfishness wound up in my generosities. I stop there, for too great a symmetry would upset my argument.

Parker’s essay on Eco’s The Name of the Rose responds in similar fashion to this question of symmetry in signs and symbols, and whether they can be interpreted as having meaning. She challenges some of Eco’s statements on semiotics and his refusal to designate his novel open or closed whether there’s little freedom for interpretation or rather inexhaustible interpretations. Signs which can mislead or inform are seen again as a duality, a duplicity, and how following them toward some enduring thread of meaning, some permanent truth, is illusive. Parker shows, however, the tension to whether these signs or symbols (once again referring to Clamence’s stolen painting) have an open or closed meaning don’t serve to cancel one another out, but merely complement one another. What counts is your relation to these meanings, not what you are. Referencing the text, William espouses this relation in The Name of the Rose in the significance of leprosy and heretical beliefs (150):

 

“How can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable? (243)

 

So how does this go back to what this paper explores as the pathologies of pride as seen in the character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence? He reveals to us his duplicity, his Janus aspect, how we are constantly making a choice between two worlds/two truths. Camus, in the writing of The Fall, also expresses the duality of experience and reflection in how he decided to write the text and what he felt, how the distinction between truth and falsehood is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. Then we see how appearance and reality merge into the same thing through metaphor and meaning flowing like a semantic river. The painting of “The Just Judges” is real. The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves provides a symmetry hard to argue against, the interpretation of these meanings both fixed and inexhaustible, but they don’t serve to cancel one another out—they merely complement one another. In essence, the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” both exposes Clamence’s hypocrisy and reveals how his “fall” happens to all of us. The beauty in it rests that the pride which bedevils all of us is a painting we can steal and sing about, and by this story we tell ourselves come to a deeper understanding of who we are.

 

 

I’m your huckleberry

 

Well today was a good day

driving through the Smoky

Mountains outside of Asheville

along the Blue Ridge horizon

to where the trees

turn to pine

a nine hour drive

from Marion to Greensboro

great on gas popping

the clutch and just

coasting sometimes the only

way to tell on the winding

roads whether you’re going

up or down…

The radio airwaves turn

to shit though much like

the logorrhea which made

Maxwell Perkins do his job

with Thomas Wolfe (Asheville

his hometown) still you can’t

beat the opening lines to Look

Homeward Angel:

 

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

 

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

 

O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

 

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again…

 

Maybe like Doc Holliday

recognized when he wasn’t

playing Frederic fucking Chopin

(not unlike Kate in The Awakening)

some folks are just too

high strung looking to fill

a hole you just can’t fill… I’m here

to fill a hole (with a wink

and a smile) and to the whores

greeting me with clothes

in their bags outside

The Extended Stay America

asking me where’s my wife

I hold open the door…

no matter only here til Wednesday

then I go to the Legacy at

Friendly Manor… and we all

could use the comfort of friends.

 

Couldn’t find a rib joint

so I picked up a pizza

at Elizabeth’s on Wendover,

New York style by the slice–

gotta a small Margherita

might go to Stumble Stilskins

for the Super Bowl tomorrow

I don’t know but don’t ask

me nothing about nothing

I might just tell you the truth.

 

 

Turn Left

 

why is it

from small towns

to big there is

only one way

(back roads another story)

and if you can’t

do a U-turn you

might end up with

a failure to yield?

Oh well, Hell

was created for people

who ask too many questions.

Always get the lay

of the land.

 

 

Crash Into Me

(the outer banks)

 

My father used to say

he feared the sea

maybe because of its vastness

because of its depth

like a mysterious woman

he was afraid she couldn’t forgive…

I don’t know if I’m scared more

here south of Kittyhawk

or remembering the silence

of the mountains near Whitefish,

Montana–in both you can find

God like the salt in the air

what only comes through in

waves the tides of the moon

as in the majestic glacier mount

and bear tracks in the sand

I listen to both intent

to what they have to say for those

that wait upon the lord

find in the seagulls never

too tired of flying

their ability to soar…

 

 

 

Seashells for Valentines

 

well I saw

the shores of the Atlantic

again along the outer banks

and just nigh the Hatteras

lighthouse I walked in

the sand and found

seashells… they say you

can hear the ocean

in them so though I was

alone maybe my girls

were with me in what

I heard with what I saw

in my heart in my mind

they held their hands

in mine and dipped their toes

in the tide left their footprints

in the sand… and since they were with me

the seashells are my gift to them

may they hear the sea

in the flowers and chocolate

of Tuesday

 

 

 

God is not without

a sense of humor

 

well if God remembers

Everything

how can he not

be without a sense

of humor for of all

the dark places

Leonard Cohen said

it best: There is a crack

in everything that’s how

the light gets in…

Watched 50 first dates

again last night an old

Valentine’s day memory

of chocolate covered

strawberries and champagne…

God is love

and love is trying

to forgive mistakes even

if mistakes is how

you learn to love

life so learn

to go down memory lane

with a laugh

 

 

 

Love is just a Word

(…like in dreams caviar ain’t

fish eggs it’s kief dusted on

a hash oil dipped kind bud…)

 

I’ve had many dreams

of late last night after

a nap digesting a Frisco Melt

from Carolina Diner I awoke

with a red eye a fresh contact

put in in the a.m. must have

scratched during REM

sleep so while my eyes

watered (the right empathetic

with the left) I tried to grasp

the inception of my reality

since time is relative more so

in the stories we write in our

sleep the people who inhabit

them a projection of our own

subjective subconscious the world

they breathe still inevitable with rules

or how else would we believe…?

And so these dreams of ours submit

to our desires and fears

our ignorant conceptions to

what’s going on in the waking world

like tastes rolling across the tongue

distances measured disappearing

no gaps between scenes you

your only audience

some of them bitter some

sweet… and am I making

my dreams like I make love

or are they creating me

something strangely forgettable

like actually defining the word

Love–the edge of it doubled

with inspiration and insanity

because just as dreams may

have no rhyme nor reason

and we’re okay with it

so too love commits many

banal and evil and irrational

actions the idea charitable

the reality a pain in the ass

like a holiday you don’t know

and don’t get off because

it’s celebrated in another country–

a joke to outsiders

something you make up a name for

hoping others will fall for it…

maybe that’s why the black girls say

Give it to Jesus–I’ll take a fruit

basket and a massage… and I have to

admit I like their way of thinking

so on smoke breaks by the bus stop

the white woman worried her man

of 27 years drinks too much

can also take those black girls’ advice

for a better method of passing out

and look up caviar on YouTube

(better yet the darknet–

they call them moon rocks)

because unlike a box of chocolates

or a bad dream you know

exactly what you’re gonna get–

High… and unless you’re afraid

of flying that’s better than most

hangovers and most flowers of a dream

deferred–all you might really end up

with is a red eye.

 

 

 

I love the South

 

Maybe it was going to

Tulane in New Orleans

but I step outside to smoke

a Pall Mall and across

the way in a balcony of

my apartment complex two

black kids a boy and girl are

making their own time their

own rhythm just clapping

hands stomping feet maybe

it’s the Bojangles where you

can get a country ham biscuit

in the drive thru next to a

Piggly Wiggly I just don’t know

there is Soul here that says

a blessing before every meal

and it may be

a slow drawl but May be

that’s the best way to say it

 

 

Cherokee

 

I still have yet to find it

in my blood though I’ve gone

many times looking for it

in the past… The last time

I was here my ex wife bought

me a wooden pipe after

coasting down from

the Gatlinburg side out

of gas in her jeep we rented

a cabin near Dollywood

and she was pregnant with

Delilah… I played golf here

with my father the mountain

terrain tough and I set part

of my first novel here

when I took a road trip back in

college to visit a roommate

working as a river rafting guide

on the Nantahala–I slept in a

church parking lot outside of

Bryson City… Today I bought a dream

catcher and two medicine

stones are for my girls

and may they find in their blood

what I still go looking for

 

 

Tobacco Country

along the veteran’s trail

of peace (Guilford Battleground)

 

A Sunday in February

the sky clear the sun warm

I sit on the log of a fallen

tree next to a monument

for a revolutionary war soldier

who fell in 1781– the stone says

it was in March and it was

a Thursday… The South loves

its history. It takes the memory

and puts it into thought.

If you think on these things

something happening now

can mean something 200

years later, as people go

strolling by with their dogs.

The paths here cross each other

easy to get lost unless you

remember the monuments

and these new things to you

seen at a different time

have a clean way of stripping

the negativity from your life

as you indulge in a smoke

for this is tobacco country

a pack of cigarettes three

dollars the high limbs

of the pines above and

the dead leaves at your feet

 

 

Kindred

 

acute long term care

for wounds and surgery

out at the bus stop

where they make you smoke

the husbands and wives

talk… talk about

as long as they ain’t brain

dead as long as they

know who they are

on feeding tubes

shitting themselves

with scales a liability

to getting them out

of bed for a shower

the medical technology

an advancement

to the paperwork always

to be charted contact

precautions just a part

of it… a hard decision

to make over a cigarette

on an overcast day

when to find the light

you must search all

the dark places…

the city taking away

the cans for the butts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a poet learns to know

all time at once

and it’s just you…

the trick is

whether anybody knows

synchronicity ain’t

just physics or the I

Ching be basic

and you’ll find

it’s not very shallow

 

 

 

Watcha Gonna Do?

 

Mr. Mack comes out

to the bus stop to smoke

on his walker his fro

wild and gray under

a baseball cap

his wife was given

a sedative she was

allergic to so she ended

up here with a tracheotomy

her hemoglobin always

low lots of antibodies

in her blood Mr. Mack

told her don’t go

to the hospital for every

damn thing they gonna

kill ya but she’s afraid

of dying I said

that’s a lawsuit

he said maybe for their

grandkids and we talked

about youth and mistakes

he wanted to be a baseball

player but putting food

on the table felt good too

one time as a kid

he ran a riding lawnmower

up a post lucky it didn’t

fall back and crush him

and he said it’s alway like

that a guardian angel watching

out for ya because you can

bounce back from those mistakes

when you’re young

the older you get you get

to thinkin’ bout them more

and if you don’t learn

from them you’re a damn fool…

as he said though ain’t nobody

perfect but Jesus Christ

and I said ya ain’t it funny

you always hurt the ones

you love just a weird thing

of life and he said: well

it’s better not to give people

what they want

give them what they need

 

 

 

How does a good thing end?

 

I guess it’s a memory.

Either time or a frame

of mind looks at it

that way. Otherwise

you don’t want

it to be over or it wasn’t

good. The funny thing is

if it didn’t end you wouldn’t

know it was good… it’s the

questioning of rules

that make new ones

and it’s a sad thing to be

ugly about it even though

time and the world make us

aware of it for what you know

now you were surely question

later so maybe in that final

sleep the desires which

make us feel awake

also make us feel like

we’re dreaming

and we remember.

 

4/1

 

we all want to be

loved more than we want

to love. so we make

a show of strength.

funny the perfection

of ourselves forgets

the strength of our

weaknesses. the best

way to get someone

to love you is by letting them

use their unique traits

to help you–after all you want

the other person to need you

more… and like in all laws

the rules of attraction

contradict so what

pisses you off also

wins your respect and keeps

your interest… just saying

it might be better

than a selfie.

 

 

as good as it sucks

 

sometimes knowing more

ain’t the truth the secret

a lie until you know

it’s the truth the imagination

all you want to hear anyway

God how we hate

for someone to know

more than we do

to feel that hesitation

the truth what we want

to know and what we want

a fickle thing life

having its way

taking our naivete

making us feel like tards

trying to conjugate the verb

love the names we have for it

becoming a jaded code

because if there is

a hell if there is a fall

it’s that feeling when

you’ve done something terribly

horribly wrong

and you’re guilty and alone

like all eyes are on you

the only remedy to share it

and find your own normal

judgment the same thing

as laughter and like seasons

these things repeat and age

what’s bad for you good

for you later that strange mirror

of time paradise lost

paradise regained a story

we’re telling ourselves

every day the sunrise

a sure thing just as

the sunset and if you want

to bark at the moon

the deepest howl

is just a whisper

to heaven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m still gonna call the poems I’ve been working on A Year Under a Restraining Order even though it ain’t true because I figured just writing poems for a year anyway after finishing Catadoupe (and I’m 42 now) and I have a title for the next book I started for Bell I got it from a Hemingway biopic No Remedio apparently he said that was the toughest phrase in Spanish and he’s probably right so for the solar eclipse in August I got two tickets Ozzy is playing Bark at the Moon in Walker’s Bluff my ex wife is taking the day off…

 

 

and a piece of my tooth came out from my gum today from the extraction a couple months back then I had to use a peroxide kit six bucks from Wal-Mart to get the damn wax out of my ear so I could fucking hear so I’m more aware now when I’m wired and when I’m tired because people definitely do pick up on those vibes in many ways we’re just energy anyway kinda like the longer it takes you to react the greater the force to slam on the brakes all things are reciprocal

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Birthday

 

He wrote a lot about fools

maybe that says something

and fools who know they’re fools

lose the only good innocence

about them so it’s funny

how things can turn to shit

and you still come out smelling

like a rose… flowers eat poop

anyway how I explained it

to my 7 year old daughter

she was painting after dinner

for Easter I grilled steaks

while the girls went to church

baby mama making the eggs

over easy and like all

moveable feasts a plan

is just a prophecy about

as accurate as a weather

forecast and sometimes

you do gotta eat shit

to find some beauty

the past at least finding

a useful purpose so don’t

quote me on it when I say

enjoy where flowers

come from could be

what your picking rests

on the rooftop of hell

or drifted from heaven’s

basement but the bloom

is well worth the fade

 

 

 

 

you see the woman was deceived and the man was tempted why the fuck do you think women are smarter if you read the fall story as a warning and my ex-wife and I (I have other names for her but lately she’s been boo) talked about it Easter morning before she went to church with the girls and I drank beer grilling steaks listening to hank 3 and after the sermon and the meal she said the preacher pretty much talked about the same thing because the most basic story is man and woman and it’s a story happening every day

 

 

 

Lab Week

 

you know sheep

are stupid

funny how it’s a metaphor

for cleaning up and lost sleep

and how if one goes astray

there’s great rejoicing

when it’s found

and you can be a wolf

or a shepherd

you never want to be

the sheep so sometimes

we put on ridiculous clothing

which only a child

is bold enough to call

nakedness because we’re not

too dumb to know we’re lost

we just act seasoned if we sense

a wolf and like we pulled the wool

over the eyes of the shepherd

in the final analysis though

the thing about blood

is nobody really wants to

draw it and nobody likes

getting stuck sometimes

you just have to appreciate

it’s the only way

to prescribe treatment

 

 

 

Darlin’ Companion

 

So her bed is supported

by books (too much

jumping from the kids)

the base boards broke

the Van Gogh print

still above it covered

by her patterns

and we got to lay

there for a moment

in each other’s arms

before the whole damn thing

fell leaving us laughing…

we had to get up anyway

to put out the girls’ Easter baskets

and we worked together

to put the books back

joking about the titles

The Divine Comedy went up

by the pillows a Bible braced

the middle along with a book

called The Harbingers

she pronounced the harbangers

and in the morning while

I was taking a shit she came in

to show a memory a few years

back on Facebook of her neck

dissection surgery and she

mentioned why she got the electric

toothbrush how girls talk about

the swirling brushes…

then it became evident

why Johnny Cash said have

separate bathrooms

 

 

 

 

so the girls got a male kitten from a woman weaning a litter they named him Tom and from our technology that makes it a comfort being alone stimulating that cortex of pleasure which gives us our meaningful death I watched them through the video camera of my smartphone in Greensboro all laying in bed with him stroking him while he snoozed… can’t say I’m not jealous of the sonofabitch… at least they didn’t name him Mr. Fuzzypants

 

… I was asked who’s an up and coming author and though I haven’t read all of Infinite Jest I know it’s good shit and goddammit a beautiful soul like this guy went off his antidepressants and hung himself and sure I sense a kindred soul I love how the movie about him ends (“The End of the Tour”) he dances in the basement of a baptist church in those gatherings where what makes us feel alive has that sense of not feeling alone

 

 

it takes two

 

one thing quantum

mechanics shows us

is consciousness has

a measurable effect on

the universe too bad we all

want to play at ultimate observer

of course one and one

and one makes three it’s just

the dimensions don’t always

add up even though we all know

the devil makes four

the other dimensions

folding into ours

shit in linear algebra

the Gaussian theorem

generalizes to any number

of dimensions as I learned

in Industrial Organization

(just the professor and I

his last tenure at the department

of justice busting up trusts)

a matrix makes it easier

to deal with “n” number of variables

especially in nonlinear programming

but when you get to that X and Y axis

the curve can be parabolic

never quite touching it just

goes on forever… enough

with the math metaphors though

it’s about as lame as

the square root of three…

the truth as I see it

a woman is naturally more

artistic left to my own devices

my walls remain bare and quality

time is spent scratching myself

time may be fonder on the man

but a woman fills in the spaces

 

 

 

 

funny a light that feeds on the darkness turns it into light

 

 

 

Time Zones

 

it should have been

Ben Franklin who came up

up with it then again

there ain’t nothing new

under the sun maybe

it solves an energy crisis

we all know we can sleep

when we want to

and Demeter and

Persephone don’t give a shit

about farmers Christianity

has its origins in the Eluesinian

Mysteries if you believe it

history is hand to mouth

anyway to the humor of

Goethe just look at

at the Grand ‘Ol Opry

and Hank Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it’s funny when what you feel is judgment not love and judgment has a limited understanding justice is supposed to be blind after all and you really do have to laugh when people take your honesty as a lie so you have to lie (in other words make shit up) in order for them to be honest…

 

 

 

Traveling Heart

(or baby mama day)

 

well she totally fucked

the poem about her bed

being supported by books

after we fixed it again

and she complained a Good

Housekeeping magazine was

sticking out under the bed rails

(I did write a note for Bell

when she showed me her secret

hideaway and on a post it

with her lipstick kiss I said:

Even love is under the table)

and after a long drive we talked

as I massaged her back working out

the knots that never seem to go away

since her neck surgery

but later when I told her

I miss you she said:

You’ll live… I have fleas

(Tom the new kitten

brought friends and I hate

to say it cats are dirtier than dogs)

I don’t hate to say

planting the seeds is the same thing

as doing it so when you say

you’ve been thinking about

sucking my cock all day

and that you think about me

when you masturbate

it’s kind of aggravating

when she says I’m irresistible

then goes to the back stoop

asking for a smoke she doesn’t want me

to join her in to share a laugh

with the neighbor next door

listening to his troubles confiding in him

about all my problems

saying it’s a spiritual connection

just a close friend who doesn’t want me

to make the same mistakes though in

anger when unkind words are spoken

she implies other things

(a real winner a wheeler dealer

married four times with seven kids

and before we went to bed

she tells me I handled it well)

then good ol’ Tom woke my ass

up at 3:30 in the morning

crawling on my head after a dream

which when awakened keeps me

from going back to sleep and I wake

her up a real pisser of a way

to start a Saturday on Mother’s Day

weekend so sitting on the back stoop

with our morning coffee she admits

she’s read men give love for sex

which seems like a simple objectification

but it’s pretty fucking true and after

digging up bones for a while

(7 years of marriage and 5

years of divorce) I’m emotionally

exhausted and just want drink

(her simple objectification to our problems

as we smoke weed I sent her in the mail)

and yep I drink beer before I take

the girls to shop for her presents

a fun trip to Wal-Mart

Delilah picking out a Pioneer Woman

Dutch oven and Bell choosing a tea and spice

rack and sure I acted like an asshole

admitting to her the old Cherokee

story of two wolves how I was having a hard

time feeding the right one

things escalating to the point

she was leaving for a drive

through the forest with the girls

making a jug of lemon shakeup

from the juicy lemons she texted

Delilah to get while we were at the store

and me feeling like Tommy Boy

trying to take a piss while the car kept moving

leaving me to wonder if I’d ever get in—

a nice long drive some of it

nostalgic to places we’ve been before

some of it new things calm

by the end of the day as I bask

in their attention at Long John Silver’s

and once we get home we lay on the couch

together and she talks to Delilah

about the homes for sale we took a look at

I knew I blew it and we were back

to square one wanting to make up

but not wanting to try

and you should never go to bed

angry but I did the plan for Sunday

to go to church and then grill

three ribeyes and a filet mignon

(she asked who the filet was for

in front of the neighbor and I said

the same thing Paul Newman said

about a fine steak) which later she told me

as she’s said before I have his alluring eyes

I still wake up alone though as usual

Sunday morning feeling tired

so when she texts she’s up making coffee

and that she’s happy she got to sleep

I say good I’m glad you got what you needed

and since I don’t want to lose sleep for work

on Monday I leave to make the 600 mile drive

back to Greensboro the meat left out

at room temp for somebody else to grill

an unhappy message that I didn’t mean

about if our girls grow up to be

hog wild it’s her fault which totally

contradicts that you shouldn’t give a man

sex just because he tells you that

you’re beautiful and when I cross

the North Carolina line community radio

was playing a song about a traveling heart

a cover I think and there’s been father’s days

when she wouldn’t even let me see the children

and I’m not mad or sad as we learned

the day before it’s never too soon

to joke about it because as the saying goes

comedy is tragedy plus time

sometimes you just have to live

the limbo in between and turn the page

 

 

 

things have changed

 

it’s the one thing

that’s certain–change

even though we’re always

sure we have a finger on it

like a pulse we never want

to be a beat ahead

and like Bob knew way back

when he wrote a song about it

used by The Wonder Boys

only a fool here

has something to prove

and God knows how we play

at fools puffed up or just

hoping for free popcorn

and like the rabbit and the tortoise

don’t be so eager to race

because you see if things change

the finishing line moves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sure I have plenty of material about my travel assignment to Kindred (and other things these poems started while at the VA working on Catadoupe resigning after three years due to the volatile situation with the ex a semester spent at SIU my father’s alma mater then working as a traveler again my first lab tech assignment in Greensboro, North Carolina) and I could be writing about these things privately or sharing it here and is there really a difference the plan to take June off and spend time with my daughters and it’s not like we don’t love dirty laundry I’m just not into that I prefer to have fun with the truth as I see it like a man walking out with a garbage bag and his hospital wristband on making it down two floors and past security at the entrance across the street to the bus stop where a few of us are smoking wondering what the hell he’s doing the nurse supervisor running after him when he was already way down the street almost to Martin Luther King I guess he was AMA and shit we were on break why get involved and possibly get sued they walked him back in though with a high five and things like that just make a Friday before your last week interesting

(a week later)

… then you get home and there I am at Barnes & Noble with my daughters Delilah wants knowledge of good and evil in the descendants diary of Raven and Apple White when I just want to read Jude the Obscure because I like Thomas Hardy after writing it he gave up novels and wrote poetry I hear some of it personal for a good twenty years before he kicked the bucket and if you ask about my bucket list all I have to say is don’t be a fucking idiot the universe unfolds as it should anyway

 

we create stories to understand and be understood so many words when more is less and just like the first fart joke was written in 1900 BC we keep joking about the smell in the room like it’s a fucking elephant joke but then even children know the joke about that…

 

 

 

End of the Line

 

I opened some beef jerky

for her breakfast

they make those Slim Jim’s

difficult Bell giving a hug

a kiss on the cheek

Delilah already addicted

to games from the Google

PlayStore the assignment

in Greensboro, North Carolina

over for a week now

funny to look at how

the dynamics changed in

as little as four months

the outward appearance as

Delilah is already starting to learn

the truth and misdirection

at the same time how it all

collapses for a moment

the train running on perpetual

motion and you move while it moves

not sure you’re going

front to back or

back to front the details

like leaving Las Vegas not staying

in a private compartment

still I guess the music

slips through the doors

and when the music is over

you begin to measure

time in songs… at least

that’s what I tell Bell

when she asks, “Are we there

yet?”

A YEAR UNDER A RESTRAINING ORDER
…A work in progress
Whispering Hope
we’ve all prayed

we don’t call it that

not with fingers crossed

but we talk with ourselves

sometimes in tears alone

in laughter to savor the

moment and is there an in-

box to all those prayers how

full would it be and 

we sing songs and it helps

a troubled soul with the mystery

we all feel at once

untitled
I’m doing something wrong right now

I just don’t know it

sometimes I know and I

still do it wrong but to who

am I accountable if the mistake is

premeditated and really all the countless

things I do that could be right 

or could be wrong it is my knowledge

which makes it so… and yours too

but it doesn’t add up that way

in fact put enough people together

and no one’s wrong except 

the person who says they’re right

so in a way this really isn’t

a bad poem–at least not

that I’m aware of

a picture’s worth…
she was sitting on the floor

when I dropped off the girls

from school on my way to work

her legs out in front of her

looking at pictures from our marriage.

Delilah quickly undressed and ate

a Jonathon apple on the new couch

while Bell found the DVD slideshow 

she made of our wedding photos 

set to an instrumental of Pink Floyd’s 

“wish you were here”.  I put it in 

the PlayStation for her it didn’t take long

to watch laughter and comments 

to the pictures as they passed 

on the screen…  In some of the

photos we looked happy

the children at various ages

in our arms different places–

Montana Texas New Orleans 

her hair always different.

I’m pretty much always

holding a beer or a cigarette

or both.  sometimes I wish

my eyes were on a different face…

I went to work what else

could I do the DVD ready again

for Bell to press play and tonight

when I go home the pictures

won’t be there but they gave me

a moment and they say a moment

of realization is worth a thousand

prayers

sempre libera 
I used to like overtures to operas

in high school I’d go to the mall

to the music store and buy 99 cent

tapes the popular ones at first like

Tannhauser but I didn’t go for

German opera much not Wagner

not Beethoven not Mozart (Austrian really but 

who cares) I liked the Italian opera

Verdi and Rossini and it followed

in college in New Orleans they offered

an evening intro to opera class

where you just sat in the theatre

the lights out a full movie screen with

sub-titles surround sound and we watched

The Magic Flute by Ingmar Bergman–

it sounded like God… it was on Wednesdays 

and I called it Wednesday wino night because

I walked up to the corner of Broadway

and Claiborne and bought cheap wine–

Night Train, Ripple, Thunderbird–the kinda 

wine that works good as a paint-thinner

but anyway I digress the fact of

the matter I listen to opera now

as much as I play golf so Bukowski

can shove his Shostakovich up 

his ass I know the fucker wouldn’t know

what to do on a back road which is why

fine writers need to get out of cities 

and get lost somewhere it’s good 

sometimes to get lost and scared

out in nature with no man-made signs

to take a narrow un-paved road where 

you don’t know where it leads to be by yourself 

with no assurances so when you find 

the highway and turn the radio 

on and you tune into classical

music you know when it’s La

Traviata the end of Act One

a writer writes
so all I have to do

is finish act 3 and be

done with it the structure

simple enough a boy acting

as RA helps someone on his dorm 

floor in college with an attempted

suicide after taking a bong hit

of spice a girl (interested in

him of course) acting as

intermediary in his call 

to action while he meanwhile

shows an on-line infatuation

for girl in New York who offers

him a job to do some coding 

on one of her latest painting

projects all he knows of her

what’s on social media–her 

Facebook posts–that’s the plot

but I don’t write in plots

I need an idea to talk about first

sometimes it comes from reading

other writers but the best lines come

when you hear them in your head

almost like there’s someone else

there and it takes years to learn

to discern but only a moment to listen… 

anyway when I’m done with act 3 there’s 

still 3 more stories to Catadoupe and last

night I found my ninth cat–he comes 

to her at night when she sits on her 

back stoop smoking my weed all black

yellow eyes a bad hip but he likes

to be petted and she calls him Tom–

act 3 then 3 more stories to write

but sometimes it’s so much better up

there in my head before I type it

with my fingers it’s mine for a moment

without the silence of judgment

and the loud noise of my own

failed expression

Event Horizon
you don’t know unless you go inside

then you don’t know if you’ll ever

get out because I used to find it

hard sometimes to see the truth

as beautiful, but simply–it is…

a couple weeks ago on Pornhub

I saw her daughter had made

a sex tape with her boyfriend

I assume it’s him you don’t see his face

he just holds the camera on the phone

they have a baby son together

and I’m not sure when it was made

says it was posted three weeks ago

by a SexyYennifer and it was featured

two weeks ago when I saw it

she of course confronted them

over the phone or by text I imagine

and they just laughed it off calling

it their hubble double but of course

very curious to see it to see if it looks

like her I told them to look under the title:

incredibly passionate sex with a

beautiful girl–obviously a girl posted it

and she directed it as well very careful

to only show herself at certain angles

never showing her full body or the possible

stretch marks from having the baby

and it was actually quite tedious not

very passionate at all maybe they did it 

to spice things up maybe it was recorded 

a long time ago but my ex-wife said

it wasn’t her it just looked like her 

it wasn’t the same mouth but I know

those eyes she has her mother’s eyes

so I said okay it still makes a good story 

how she was propositioned to make

a sex tape when she was young

and what makes a girl wanna post 

that of herself shit it’s so prevalent 

all you gotta do is say “free porn” 

to a smartphone and it just pops up

back in the day you had to sneak

looks from the magazine racks

I’m glad I don’t have a son

but I have two daughters and I

knew her daughter since she was

a little girl before she lived with

her dad at sixteen what if they 

make a sex tape to see that

the sad psychic shock… but

just like this post the story I might write

of it this poem–it won’t have over a 

million views and hell all I really did

was maybe just boost her post…

and what sucks you in is not gravity

for not even the light can escape–

no, what brings you there and makes

you stay there is your own frozen

pride your vanity alone

made smaller and smaller

staring back into the past

(why my ex-wife thinks she’s saved

and looks forward to church on Sundays

while she smokes my weed living solely

on food stamps and child support)
yesterday I spoke my mind 

and she paraded me out 

in front of my children in an

apartment I pay rent for… if 

there’s anything that turns us away

from God it’s looking at each other

with our own eyes and not seeing

what God sees but this we have to

imagine and we call it faith and what 

we see with faith we call love

and that all sounds real nice

until somebody who loves you

hates you which is merely a matter

of timing…  hatred is practical in how

it erases everything you loved about

the person before and I don’t know

why we have to bring God into it

like some sort of referee because

if there’s one thing I’ve learned

from my children you can’t have 

a game if you don’t play by the rules

but everybody makes up their own

rules when it comes to God and love

and loss and unless you side with 

the devil obviously you know 

which side God’s on and maybe

that puts it all in order for you

when you settle your affairs

and you pray for your enemies

at night–pray for them to quit

drinking… but who said salvation 

is a comparison?

GDP
speaking in strains not

in economics though I heard

our town is opening a medical

marijuana dispensary employing up 

to a dozen workers good news

for those with cards but i didn’t hear 

about that until after what i saw 

on my way to the launder mat 

the mailman walking up my street 

with a large white parcel in his bag.

i was going to put my clothes in

the dryer, and i said to myself, Hmm

and proceeded the few blocks to the 

launder mat where two cop cars

were in the parking lot.  i drove by

slowly, and again I said to myself, Hmm 

and drove back to my place sure enough 

the white parcel in my box return address 

from Washington–top shelf Granddaddy

Purple frosty in the light–165 an oz.

i threw away the mylar and vacuum

packaging taking a quick hit

from the bong before going back

to the launder mat the cops gone

but an irate black woman with an extra

wide ass talking down her man

while washing pillow sheets and

upholstery–something about he lost

his job…  i just pulled my clothes

out of the dryer while i heard him

sitting in a massage chair a recorded

female voice saying repeatedly, 

Please Insert Money.  last i saw

of him he was walking across the

street to the Dollar General… i

went home rolled a fat one

and finalized the order on Abraxas, 

releasing the bitcoin funds 

to the vendor.  as for feedback i said, 

top shelf bud at a midgrade price 

and fast shipping (it was marked

as shipped on Columbus day) i also said

i almost want to keep it a secret

but then nothing real is ever kept

a secret it’s just not profitable just like 

where I heard about the marijuana 

dispensary– economies need their  

Scheherazade…

Stoned Blind Love
I look and you tell me

what you want I don’t 

have to look closely

and see myself but

I try to tell you that I 

matter when all of us

do stilled by the ancient 

waves of greed and fear 

and what you don’t regret

erodes the rock of last

grasped reflections fused 

by the sun and hourglass

the passing gravity

in every grain of sand

And Hell Followed With Him
yesterday we went on a walk

between pounds hollow and

rim rock after a hike through

the garden of the gods the mist

rising up around the rocks in

a light rain the colored leaves

falling all around us in the wind

and just before ox-lot cave we

heard a snapping noise and I 

thought it was behind us but

then I saw her scream Move!

as the rotted limb of a tree branch

high above us on the rock face

made heavy by the rain fell the

dry dust of its diameter at least

four inches the length several

feet and I had no time to look up

helpless as the pieces of wood

fell on my children in moments

that just seconds before had been

peaceful reflections of the forest

I try to protect Bell as more wood

fell but a branch glances off her arm

a limb lands on Delilah’s back the

cries of pain come… luckily we are

not alone other people hear our

children cry saw what happened

the panic passes the injuries minor

but we turn around and wonder on

the walk back did it happen for a

reason fathoming all kinds of

scenarios as the rain comes down harder

maybe twenty years from now Bell

will hear that sound the recognition

giving her the half second to save

her youngest child from certain

death or maybe it was just a few

distractions in our day that made us

arrive that moment in the path

anyway we go to pizza hut and I

feel like a wet dog from the woods

but my children are alive if bruised

they are in my bed now and now

if I could get rid of the fleas from

getting rid of the cats life would be

good but then everything is

significant you just can’t hold on

to it you have to let it flow through 

you and try not to go insane

requiem for a dream
as you get older there is

no crisis only acceptance

and extraction but there is

no sadder thing than seeing

a woman get old the hollow

shell of her former self

succumbing to the symptoms

of a drug-induced psychosis

just to fit in a red dress again

no help from the protocols

of our mental institutions

curling in the fetal position

to cope and when you see it

all you can do is cry

and hold one another

always depending on the

kindness of strangers

over the delusion and 

deprivation what gets lost

in screams under water

and catatonic eyes waiting

at the bus stop on your way

back home

be careful of something that’s just what you want it to be
and it’s not about profit

some say it’s the smart people ain’t nice

now why is that?

Bukowski said go all the way

where the feasts are promised

Shit…

I’ve lived with my mom

as the father of two girls

lived with bugs in places

so roach-infested they swarmed

everytime I made a pot of coffee

bankrupt, divorced, at 38 all my belongings

could fit in a Ford Fiesta on high interest–

that’s as far as I went and I still live

on an American diet

never cared about the money til I didn’t have it

then I saw a price to the poem

got a job as a civil servant

and began to repay my debts

all the time talking to myself though, figuring, keeping score:

8 books roughly 2600 pages around 750,000 words

I’m 39 now and that’s what I got

just about beat Shakespeare and

about half way to the big dogs of the last century–

need about 16 books roughly 5200 pages around 1.5 million words

Faulkner got there at 62

Hemingway, Steinbeck almost

and Kerouac burned like a Roman Candle–got there at 47…

but what does it profit a man?

what does it profit me?

a smart man knows

the measure of a man’s happiness

are the limits of others and

God wouldn’t it be nice if

someone just took a look at you

knew your soul with immeasurable

pity and love and understanding–

that’s what we want

to be loved for who we are

herein lies the catch

adjudicating cleverness

because something somewhere

made us all and who you are

to be loved we make ourselves

yes something somewhere made

all of us but without judgment

so that our victories and defeats are

at the hands of each other

and this all of this

merely to prove something

to prove how smart you are

and that’s about as dumb as it gets

the victories the defeats

makes you almost want to say:

ah the hell with it I’ll just get fat

and sing the blues…

the truth is we all want something sacred

I’ll be 40 soon

and whatever made and loved and pitied me

keep me from touching it any further

TO CHRISTIANS
so the phone rings

but the person to cover it

is off getting a flu shot…

you know when jesus

got angry it was
fundamental
we sing and we hear

and it’s all fine talk
even the church has been

contemporized into The

american dream
may the Lord bless you

and you could almost cry

about how good you are

you follow all the rules

well, at least most

of them
all that to save it cheaper

on a trash bag… ya boy

and do you really plead

dumb or just leave it

for the other person to fix?
every trap effective is simple

and every reverse trap is

simpler still and so he said
i will make you fishers

of men… but if you go

to the poor even they know

God don’t like ugly and 

there are many dead

who think they’re born again
and so the devil laughs

at his existence

and who is God for the heart 

is a lonely hunter is it that mute man 

who listens only to commit suicide 

some say it was Robinson

Jeffers or maybe Ingmar Bergman

no no you got it all wrong man

keep it simple to the masses

it was Elvis Mr. Mojo Risin’ that first

time you heard the white album

and saw Van Gogh in a song

and maybe none of us have time 

for that sermon on the mount

listening to our wallets

too busy harried overwhelmed even

in finding something authentic but really

when we compare daddies

none of them talk back

when they’re dead

the deer hunter
i saw it and didn’t understand

then i saw it when i bought

a big screen tv and i still

did not understand so flipping

channels last night after

work at the VA

i watched again a man

crying in hospital pajamas

when the doctor asks him his parent’s

names discharged to oriental

streets where no one answers

the phone and prostitutes turn tricks

in front of their children

and gunshots call to back parlor games

of russian roulette– he was a good

man wounded and given the right 

nudges and like a soldier 

he missed his friends…

i didn’t watch the rest what no one

understands about coming

home after coming to yourself

in a dark wood where

the straight way is lost

i was hungry and source code

was on fx

supersize me
there’s gotta be a math

to how much you’ll pay

for what you’re already

getting but you want

just a little bit more.

ritz crackers with peanut butter
maybe I forgot to mention 

there’s birdshit in the bottom

of my mailbox so when the

mailman comes he tries to

close the lid even when I 

have parcels of weed but

the bird droppings are still

there just like the terror and

the trap that we know what

we can’t possibly know and 

have come back as gods

with the knowledge of eden

and we act on this almost as if

the expression matters even

when no one you know hears

and the crumbs stick to the

roof of your mouth

writers block
so many things i could

write about
like the daywrecker lollipops

arrived perfectly in the mail

on Halloween–155 mg of THC

in lemon and tangerine
the difference in a body high

and when it hits the head
cerebral mellifluence

forgetting by the world forgot

     and so i ask myself
why put it down?

for is the expression heard

did it reach you

did it engage your mind?
truth is it’s not Halloween anymore

nor All Soul’s Day

nor All Saint’s Day

and Veteran’s Day has passed
but my car door still ain’t fixed

and i still might have flea eggs

and it’s time to get a new badge

      at work–fingerprinted again

      and a new picture of myself
three years of my time to the VA
but what else in those 3 years?

the psalmist was finished

catadoupe is 350 pages

not that numbers mean anything

in the measure of quality

      

      but break it down

      day by day
I write and

I share and

I rely on metrics

to tell me someone’s listening

but when the phone rings

it’s always a telemarketer

and you can read my mail

the money goes out that way

it doesn’t come in
so why should i do it?

to prove something?

to who?

myself?
i used to never understand

why writers were seduced by

the bottle so many words

to forget you said so much time

spent alone but i know

i’ll look back on my life

with no regrets for the work

no doubts that it’s good

and i’ll drink not

because justice wasn’t done

but because justice isn’t

     for if i ever heard

     my voice come back

     to me
i still wouldn’t like

the way it sounded

the bite of the tarantella
it makes sense that ugliness

is proud in how it can handle

itself-its-Being
you see your beauty 

marred in the mirror by it

when you walk away

with last words

for yourself

to greet the day
those things

you tell yourself, but
tell me–

when was the last time

you hurt because you hurt?
when was the last time

you thought of your old mother

the tears your dead father cried

a child discovering they’re alone?
dissatisfaction with your

position or your place

is a matter of who you’re lined

up with at the moment

but what will you do

to be picked to win?
many atrocities are committed

because it’s comfortable

or rather 

I’d rather you be

uncomfortable

not me
and like a child fading in the mirror

we leave what we cannot control

we leave father mother

and one day a lover will remember

gossamer strings are seen

especially in calm clear weather

floating tiresomely

in the convulsing colored background

of what’s condemned to fall

la forza del destino
shit

not a bad day so far

i woke up at 6:11

with my children

and spoke to them softly

to open their eyes
dropped them off with the ex

at work at 7 an outpatient

blood draw at 8:15

but other than that a quiet day

in the lab
wrote a poem

excused myself for a bad

contact and a short commute

home on the back porch

drank a beer
came back wrote another

poem in time for lunch

fuck it let the type and screen

sit no wax in the mail

but i made fresh cartridges

drank two more beers
took a few hits from the bong

not sure which strain

could be the dutch treat or

the sfv og kush not as 

sticky as when it came in the mail

and you may wonder why
i talk so prevalently about

underground activities as a

government employee and it’s because

at around 2:57 i’ll walk out

of here and unless i see my children

nothing visceral will come

of this poem and besides i just
spilled piss on my glove from

a could be pregnant veteran

but she wasn’t

raise no more devils than you can lay down
nostalgia can come alone

or with someone maybe after

you have children it’s easy

to forget that sixteen candles

sort of feeling of being unnoticed

not important… you say

hix calix and pass on

the mantle of histrionics 

mixed with hormones

remembering now how
they say nothing burns

in hell except the self

and shyness is a form

of pride for if you feel

like no one notices you

you’re obviously noticing

yourself then
this too passes

so when you wake up

on a Sunday morning

the darkness already gone

but the dream-like quality

still there you play your part

in the peepshow ready

to perform as soon as 

somebody puts a coin in
is there something going on

when the lights are out and

the curtains closed?

when the stone has not

been lifted?

am i only alive

when you read me?
it’s a pity i have such low

self-esteem but it’s how

the writing gets done

and if all you think i’m doing

is selling my panties

for a sniff maybe you need

another roll of quarters

like fish in a barrel
i went to tulane university

on an AFROTC scholarship

in physics

i double-majored in

mathematical economics

i think i had about a 3.3 GPA

i was good at math

but didn’t excel in it

half the time i showed up

still drunk for class

it costs over sixty grand a year

to go there now (that’s about

what i make in a year if you

count my VA disability)

my military assignment

was classified but i

quickly drank myself

out of that

i wrote my first book 

when i was 25

i finished Lazarus

just before my 33rd birthday

i’m forty now and you can say

i’ve written about 8 books

depending how you look at it

do you count the children’s stories?

the original Salted with Salt?

maybe since Lazarus and The Psalmist

are both over 700 pages they count

for the picture books and revisions… anyway

i have no student loans and i’ve made

less than a hundred dollars in royalties

the past 18 years, and oh i have

two daughters…

so when i show up for doughnuts

at work on a Sunday morning 

i’m the only one at the breakroom table

with a private education and a few

novels under my belt and if there’s

one thing i’ve learned in all my travels

people only see differences

in a good way

when you’re dead

and what they don’t understand

is quickly understood how they

can understand it and really

only stupidity asserts itself…

so what i’ve found if

i shoot straight 

you assimilate

and pretend to never be the bait

and then they say you’re just

like us and they’ve got you

the only true measure

whether the water

has salt in it or not

the standard model
you see we try to fit things

in our measurement

but the bell theorem

states an inequality

about local realism

does it collapse

to our consciousness

or is there a counterfactual

definiteness

but whether you ascribe

to a Copenhagen interpretation

or think of many worlds

there’s still a spooky action

at a distance

the sad thing we don’t know

how to communicate

information by it

with relativity making

any sense

but I used to have

a pickup truck

and dialectics

come by the dozen

and when it comes

to gravity and my penis

all I gotta say

is hubba hubba hubba hey

run with the hunted
I must eat and clothe

myself and I need

shelter from the storm

by the sweat of my brow

and you must labor

the rules of civilization

saying I must shake

hands while making

eye contact 

but all I want to do

is howl

outlaw women
should I talk about Rosie

who saw plenty of dinkers

in her day running the bars

of east Texas how she raised

my ex wife waking up cursing

how she lives with one

of her sons now a pill

habit the constipation

a chore Jake the grandson

dead on a overdose and

Ellie her liver shot trying

to raise her daughter’s son

because she can’t get off

the heroin and so like

evolutionary algorithms

in a computer the generations

self-optimize learning how

they’re built but awareness

doesn’t help for the

father in between

today revisited yesterday
Mephistopheles met Methuselah

in the Quick-E Mart the other day

and like one old man to another

they discuss their bids on eBay

‘it’s a beautiful world’

‘it’s a wonderful life’

they say plangent and sincere

‘been a while since I’ve seen you here’

and not sure what else to say

not sure what either has become

it’s regular kismet when

they reach for the same

brand of chewing gum

Oedipus wrecked
the sun and breeze

right i thought

what is the sum

of me and how do i

express it

but all i could think about

was the sick shit

i had this morning

the gray clay kind

cherry red with my blood

and i look back unsalted

to an idea of a sweet

innocent boy

and wonder what the

hell happened

what protects me now

the lost honor 

of what i watch

die every day

so when i have those

beer shit blues

i crack open another

word problem

and i never come down

even when in the end

a woman becomes

a mother

​Jason Akley

jasonakley@ymail.com

jason.akley@siu.edu

618-520-6530

Eng 381B

Pinckney Benedict

Team A

24 January 2017
Beneath Was the Van Gogh

1

Now it’s just a barbecue stand on Route 13.  Used to serve as a guard shack.  I haven’t been in there myself to try the food, but from the number of cars outside during lunch hours it must do a good business.  That’s a picture of the gang here.  Taken… oh probably the late fall of ’26.  Just before the Shady Rest was bombed and burned down that winter.  See that guy standing near the back of that truck?  One fella came in here said that was his uncle.  Not part of the gang just sort walked into the picture.  You believe that?  Weird how things get connected that way.  Must have been huntin’ carrying that rifle…

You open a vein it bleeds.  Same as the earth I reckon.  After all these years of showin’ ‘em—these old photographs—black and white and newspaper clippings yellowed beneath the glass sometimes I feel like I just walked into them like I stepped back in time ninety years to when my father was a young man.  To when men fought over these coal fields and prohibition was in effect when alcohol was considered “un-American”.  And what would it say?  The land?  It’s in the pictures too I guess.  Just looked over in the background as souls parade through.  As they look into the eye of a camera and for an instant the motion stops and the light is a certain way.  No, maybe the earth should tell the story.  If’n it could speak.  Like it does in the hands of a painter.  In colors and shadows.  If pictures could lie I guess they would change.  We just do all the changin’ around them and give them the attribution.  ‘Spose the earth needs seasons just the same as a man does though—so as to fool time.  Or maybe time fools us.  I don’t rightly know.  What’s history for if even the land can’t learn from it?

In the end it was a bet.  I’m not a violent man, but I do like to gamble.  The earth is the supply and we are the demand.  It was the coal fields of Little Egypt brought Charlie Birger to southern Illinois.  And he brought whiskey and beer with him.

You ever play the stocks?  Got this thing called binary options.  Bid on whether the price is gonna go up or down by a given time.  A “put” is a bid that the price is gonna go down.  A “call” and you think the price is gonna go up.  Used to play blackjack as a young man.  Kinda reminds of that.  The minimum bet is $25 a hand.  That’s how I play.  All you gotta do is follow the live signal from the broker.  And it’s all or nothing.  You lose you lose it all.  You win and it’s anywhere from a sixty to eighty percent return…  See here—got this app on my smart phone.  Let’s me know when there’s a live signal from the broker.  I put in the amount I want to bid and anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes later the rate expires and I’m either seventeen dollars richer or I lost twenty-five bucks…  Asked my grandson ‘bout it.  He did the math.  I have to win sixty percent of the time just to break even.

If it’s too good to be true don’t believe it.  Funny thing is if it’s in writing you have the tendency to see it as truth.  But for most of my reading I’ve found most things written down is a lie.  Especially when it comes to money.  You don’t get nothin’ for free.  Guess it ain’t strange what’s usually offered as free is somethin’ you want.  Shit.  Even free dirt you got to shovel it…  But I’ve experienced my share of sell pitches—yessir—start with somethin’ you want and they wrap it all up nice for ya.  Money is made off of folks wanting money.  If you wanna lose weight don’t eat.  It’s what we obey that corrupts us.  Distribution of wealth?  Sons and daughters off to die in a war?  It’s the man who obeys risks the most—wake up one mornin’ and wonder where your soul is—it’s back there in your dreams.  Time ain’t the only thing lost in sleep.  No, livin’ means the law has to be broken.  Guess Charlie Birger and his boys knew it.  I mean how much are you really willing to pay for a drink?

It ain’t my broker that’s criminal.  It’s the system.  But I must say I like it.  I like it when that live signal pops up on my phone.  I put $250 in my broker’s account a week ago.  I’ve been up and I’ve been down.  The way it works I’m never gonna get rich—I know that—even though that’s what they promised.  The way it’s set up is to keep you playing…  But it gives an old man like me somethin’ to do.  Not many folks come for a museum tour anymore.  When they do it’s usually my lunchtime.  That’s why I eat out of Tupperware…
2

The brass was a dull brown unshined unpolished and if you looked closely the darker remnants were the residue of dried blood.  He left it on the bureau and she does not touch it in her cleaning.  She leaves it where it is and begins humming.  The cat is following her.  Everywhere she wipes with a dust cloth he steps tentatively head down sniffing a paw in mid-air inquisitive—investigating her work.

Peggy Birger used to not be Peggy Birger.  Her married name before was Peggy Lane and her maiden name was Moscowitz.  She’d been remarried for a year now.  But the cat still belonged to her ex-husband.  At least the cat seemed to think so.

Evil is done as evil is seen Peggy’s mother used to say—Marry a man who ain’t blind.  She couldn’t say she took her mother’s advice.  Not at least until love turned to convenience and her relationship with her ex-husband was convenient.  Now when he whined about things being unfair she just made it harder for him to see the kid.  It wasn’t like he could make much fuss.  Not with Charlie in the house.  And as an employer.  The key to a divorce is to keep it on your terms.

Another thing her mother used to say is a woman has her illusions built on stilts.  That way they don’t never have to touch the ground.  She couldn’t say she didn’t once love Oliver.  They had a son together, but just like the earth has its seasons folks have them too.  And a cycle once broken don’t never spin around again like it done before.  He let go and she didn’t grab back on.  The rest sort of took care of itself.  She’d moved on.  Wasn’t for her to feel sorry for those that didn’t.

Charlie made sure she got a cut of his take.  For the baby.  The rest he gave her was considered a gift.  The motives for it relinquishing her from gratitude.  She saw herself as high-minded to let him have a say at all in the affairs of their child, and when questioned by him about her motives—well, a real bitch would have done worse.

Things with Charlie weren’t always so great, and when she got down she turned to her mother’s religion.  She liked that because then it gave her an enemy.  Not an enemy inside herself, but outside.  Inside was all peace and tranquillity, and when the outside dared to disturb her or question what she should do or not do or even have the indecency to accuse her of hypocrisy in how she looked at herself compared to how she looked at others—she would hum a hymn and if any of her enemies were present they would have to flee from her firm and unshakable stance that God loved her blessing her with mercy while those who would deign to put her salvation at unease would feel His vengeance.  She had quite a thing going.  As her mother would have said the power ain’t in God’s hands.  It rests with those not afraid to use it. 

She moves to the mirror.  In the gray light of the room her reflection smears.  She studies her profile turning her head to the right and the left.  Her humming ends with an air of disapproval.  Looking not into the eyes she spits onto the glass and rubs earnestly with her dust cloth to remove the streaks.  The cat walks underneath her work his tail curling up to flick an arm already tiring in its circling ministrations.  He turns his head to look at himself back arched.

“You’re not making this easy.”

The cat passes in front of the mirror his ears twitching.

“You’re just like him ain’t ya?  A man needing approval.  Thing is you make it depend on a woman’s work.  Well you ain’t getting it from me.  I ain’t your momma…  You ever feel rage?  I ‘spose not beings you’re a feline.  A slave morality ain’t in your nature.  But I figure he must have felt it—rage—you ain’t sure what you’re mad at when a woman does and that just makes it worse…  He was an educated man—Oliver was—I used to told him that’s just words.  Don’t take a smart man to know that power don’t come from what you know but in how you die all those little things you give up those words we call them by how livin’ them is short but once they’re dead they stay dead a long time but you remember every slight the memory of words which say your salvation once was in my love but you are also in my hate in the fact that when I die I will not call out to you to remember me to say This I loved about you and the imperfections which are many… and I am and you are and what contains us we will never know the outer perimeters.  For the past cannot hold us.  The past is what we are now and that will change with tomorrow and what’s wrong with you that wasn’t right for me might be right for someone else so that good friends don’t have to be lost they just find different pasts for themselves different words…  Damn if this mirror don’t want to stay clean.  Like somebody sneezed on it.”

The winter had come early and now the rains came to melt last week’s snow.  Peggy moves to the window and draws the shade letting the morning gloom of light overcast in a gray mist give the pinkish hue of the upholstered Victorian furniture a look of something sad and old.  The cat still sits perched on the corner of the bureau.  He’s licking his paws.  A calico his fur is a mixture of black and orange and his eyes are yellow.  If he’s been listening to Peggy at all he doesn’t give the assurance that her words will bring her good luck or fortune.  He stares up into the mirror at the reflection of the painting on the opposite wall.  It rests above the embossed black horn of the phonograph—a rendering done in acrylic.  One of Charlie’s men had done it at his request.  When Charlie Birger asked you to do something you did it.  As a hired gun he was familiar with coal and had only dabbled in paint.  But then as to some educated men like the slighted Oliver it was not who made the painting which made it art rather those who regarded the painting calling it such—it was the process the work which mattered—and to Charlie Birger though the rendering was not original he liked it on his wall and let his wife have her matter of taste in the rest of the furnishings.  As for the brass knuckles resting on his bureau and the blood dried on it—some work is never finished—the words just die.  Peggy pays no mind to it now and continues with her cleaning.  She hums a new song.  The cat’s ears twitch in a faint acknowledgement and then as if to sleep was to be awake in order to really hear the story his eyes slowly close to the wordless sound.
3
You think I’m hurting you, Bob, but you been hurtin’ for a while now.  See you haven’t been yourself.  You’ve never been yourself.  I’m helping you now, Bob.  I’m helping you find your salvation.

he kneels in the street his hands aren’t tied arms just hang the fingers curled in the mud the snow left after the rains head chin down hair a bloody mess one eye already sealed shut purple and black right jaw laid open the skin folded over revealing the bone mouth blood and broken teeth only the rattle of his breath choking on it a sign of life

See it seems like nowadays people get knowledge before they have knowledge.  I’m giving you experience, Bob.  So you’re not so turned around anymore.  Them movies you go to see at the picture show.  Them books you read.  They ain’t real.  This is real, Bob.  They don’t write stories about losers.  Anything told from your point of view right now why it’d be a jumbled mess now wouldn’t it?   Still stuck on whether you deserve this.  That’s the knowledge before the knowledge.  See you should be feelin’ sorry, Bob.  Not sorry for yourself.  But sorry for me in you havin’ to make me do this.   Sorry for me feelin’ sorry for you because you see you coulda done somethin’ different—I gave ya the opportunity.  People do things for attention.  Why’d you make me do this, Bob?  You knew I’d know the money was gone.

i needed it

Why’d you need it, Bob?

didn’t have no money for Christmas my kids needed presents

Then why are you acting defeated, Bob?  That’s what happens when you know what you knew came too early for really knowing it.  They’re linin’ us up on a grid now, Bob.  Did you think your ignorant youth would be rewarded?  When you say things old only pain could know?  Let me help you, Bob.  It takes two to make this and only one to die and I won’t be there to help you along with the other part.  That part you got to do alone.  And you know it.  You know that now—don’t ya, Bob?

and I am not there who you are where you are and he may stand and I may fall and everywhere you see the hearts undergrown the this could be because we are here together and you are there alone so who am I could not be you an enrichment engrained that there are some things you can never be and one aspect of me can contain all of you and all that we name now and after while I am here for them I am not there for me as I have heard it from others I have seen realizing who I was when I was with them and how I am when I am alone our intentions and what I’m willing to try depending on if I’m surrounded by encouragement or dismay am I loved is who I  am around them and you better know who you are sitting at a table of enemies and now the distinction becomes crystal how we all keep score when you think someone is different than you better and others not like you because you see them as something behind you who you are is where you are and today I choose both the laughter and sorrow the anger and content for even here where there is no pity and only a gun I am among friends I am bold to see what I believe those unsightly angels those ignorant manipulators who are who they are wherever they are they are the legends they are the crazy ones and they are of an infinite variety as told after… the undefeated voiced in the attitude of the loser and you you are the one that’s waiting on me to name it

Yes the gun was always there the trigger and then like backwards the back of Bob’s head blows off and he falls back on his knees and the gun and the hand holding the gun knowing what it is and what it aimed at satisfied in the residue of smoke.  Charlie Birger stands the gun now to his side the finger off the trigger restless a shadow without a face looking down on the dead man almost saddened without a purpose hesitant on getting in the last word before walking away and he mumbles for no one’s ears:

I would have given you the money if’d you just asked, Bob.

Then the feet move away from the dead man the sun behind the passing clouds shining in a slow progression on the hardened mud grooves and soft puddles of Saline County the emptied Harrisburg street.
4
And so now see the men see the men who were with him.  Sometimes I wondered what they believed in but I don’t know there’s times when the clouds are dark and full of rain and the winter comes cold the snow without footsteps you get stripped down deep and you don’t live you exist the meaning of that how the world’s absurd and meaningless the morality a thing of the mind constructs based on information.  Ain’t it funny when you learn something you begin to notice how it directs what you see what you hear and you don’t know that you’re searching but you are and then you have beliefs…?  It’s all lies.  This world.  Our beliefs meant to placate us.  The truth a demographic.  What channel and what time.  How your preferences are cached and you’re shown what’s probable you’ll like.  Every camp has their propaganda their defense the existence of another camp.  With Charlie Birger it was the KKK.  But the men who were with him maybe it wasn’t about that nor money neither.  Hell you can get along with most anybody long as beliefs don’t come up.  You can eat with them you can sleep with them and you can ride and never have to share your limits.  No talk beliefs and you begin to think some people are stupid and if you sanctify it well then you have an evil intelligence.  Every moral system has a scapegoat and for some of these men Prohibition on poverty on the land most of them second generation coal miners they didn’t need a belief to get their bread to watch their children grow and sing Christmas carols and even in those dark days when the clouds are full of rain they built on the raw existence with faith hope charity the consequences of law and they knew they knew right and wrong…  So when you see one people say this and another people saying that they still are of the same people saying everything in the world you need to know or say and if one grabs your attention look for what’s behind the curtain for no one ever says anything without first having an idea in mind on who wants to hear it so don’t let the stupid folks the stupid things bother ya don’t get frustrated at rightly seemed injustice because someone out there thinks you’re stupid too with the things you say and do the things you believe and the best you can do the best version of yourself is to laugh and don’t get mad it all has a way of working itself out and if existence is absurd and meaningless at least you’ve had something to say about it.  

 I don’t know seems like now though I go about thinkin’ you know what I know.  Like the words though useless somehow fill it fill time and space so that I can talk and you can talk about what we already know we just don’t say it and then the words hit and you see it in your mind the feelings forming around it and out of the past the words just said an image rises a setting a backdrop where you see the words play out softer and softer til you can’t even hear them no more but you see what the words are sayin’ and you feel them as if another has taken your place on stage to tell the story your story our story the confluence castigated til it’s neither me or you him or her us and them but like one big room with all our voices and what carried them there waiting to speak listening to be heard the words which were always tripping over themselves muted in the motivations seen in the faces the eyes the setting in a way determining the outcome for in this room there is no exit there is no way out and the words—well, the words have nowhere to go.  That’s how I feel when I come here when I look at these old photographs and see these walls that have stood for damn near a hundred years.  I can’t tell their story without telling my own.  And what you leave here with is just your story added to theirs—I know that now.

See I guess the Ku Klux Klan didn’t like to imbibe.  They was good ol’ boys Southern Baptist Protestant while the miners the men who worked the coal fields like Charlie Birger himself who came back to Harrisburg after being in the army up in South Dakota good record honorable discharge and being a cowboy and all when he opened up a saloon here guess it seemed like good business to go in the liquor trade become a bootlegger seeings how most of the other men who worked them coal fields were immigrants like his folks with strong ethnic tendencies that included alcohol as a part of life them being Catholic or other religions and not a dry morality as practiced by those who regarded themselves as Klansmen.  From pulpit to politics you saw the dynamics as set by a dominant society in a specific geography.  And by well—the womenfolk.  Yep by the spring of ’23 the Klan had a good following in Williamson County supported by the farming community and folks in the larger towns holding meetings that had attendees sometimes in the thousands, but it takes a charismatic leader saying what you want to hear adds numbers to a group and the Klan found that in Mr Young someone with the propensity to have the law on their side and he had it being a former federal lawman.  Hell by the time he was gunned down most elected officials were Klansmen and mobs went from door to door forcibly searching for alcohol and if they found it why you found yourself in jail—a Klan jail.  They was the good guys you see.  Many of them deputized by federal authorities to aid in the enforcement of Prohibition.  But to Birger Harrisburg was his town.  He didn’t abide by no crime.  Wouldn’t tolerate it.  When somebody was robbed Birger repaid their losses and the thief was found shot dead a few days later.  But by oh about ’26 Birger knew it wasn’t rival bootleggers he had to worry about.  Everybody knew even his enemies the Klan was bad for business.

Seems simple enough but things get clouded when you don’t know whose side you’re on and that’s why you need to know who his men were.  I guess you see them in these old photographs you see the faces the eyes you can imagine the words they speak in their given background and we’ve had plenty of time to wait and see see how it all turned out how history puts it as such and such facts but I don’t go in for straight journalism because facts well they’re always slanted by opinion you see what you want to see and then you say that’s how it is.  You gotta look at the motive.  For Birger maybe it was money plain and simple.  I’m not sayin’ I know the man but I know how he died and the some ninety years that has passed since and the books the history books have already been written.  Maybe time makes us objective I don’t rightly know but even if I was or wasn’t a drinkin’ man I can’t say I do know.  I don’t know which side I’d have been on.  Some men don’t do things for money.  Good or bad right or wrong to some men that’s just words laid on an action later but to some men men who may want to see the world burn it’s the getting away with what can’t be gotten away with the impulse for what they do.  They know you can’t take away the desire and at any given point in history when someone has the power the majority muscle to say there are enough of us that say don’t do this why I guess there’s just some men who like to be outnumbered who like to say Yes there may be enough of you to say I can’t do this but to hell with you I’m gonna do it anyway.  No you can’t take the desire away but when you take away the warning when you say go ahead and do it I guess it ain’t really a desire no more.  I mean how can it be?
5
No I didn’t go in I just heard the shot fired and the sheriff he went in and then I heard more shots and when I went to see the Grand Wizard was dead.  Along with two of his men.  The sheriff he killed three of ‘em before he went down too.

It was an old saloon on a street of mud.  Late January 1925.  Jack Dunby sat in a wooden chair in a small office in the back of the bar turned speakeasy looking over the man that sat behind the desk to the rear door of the establishment.  Concrete steps led up from it to the street where but a month before Robert Bingham had been shot to death after being caught stealing from the local merchants.  Dunby didn’t have his legs crossed in fact he had his knees together to hold his rolling papers.  But it wasn’t tobacco he was breaking up.

Have a drink?  Birger says from behind the desk.

No thanks, Dunby says, that stuff’ll kill ya.

They’re not called that anymore.

What?

Grand Dragon is what you’re looking for.  Or Imperial Wizard, Deputy.  Haven’t been called Grand Wizard since the Reconstruction Era.

Oh… well anyway he’s dead.

If you know what you want you have to know how to say it.

Deputy Dunby licks his reefer cigarette and strikes a match.  I know what I want, he says.

Do you?  That’s the problem with most people—they try to hide it.  Or they say God’s will and such reluctantly abandoning themselves to ascetics and other such religious renunciations nonsense.  They say they don’t want it, but they do.  Then they punish themselves.  Cover it up with rationalizations.  They say they keep their eyes open to opportunities then they’re too chicken shit to take them when they show themselves.  If you know what you want you take it.  It ain’t handed to ya.  Then what you want well it’s like you already have it.  People see it in your eyes.

I’m not afraid.  Dunby’s eyes are lidded and now his legs are crossed a shield of smoke between him and Birger.

No… you look like you have nothing to hide.  Kinda the trick between this world and any other.  Take it as a fact everybody knows anyway.  All your dirt and shameful secrets.  Virtues and vices.  The scale of them don’t matter much.  Privacy is God’s show.  Don’t belong to a man’s world.  You can’t be who you are if you’re afraid people will find out things about you.  Makes for awkward associations those soft petticoats of politeness the hesitance to offend.  Like I said if you know what you want you have to know how to say it.

I thought you might want information.

What do you think I need to know?

Dunby lifts his marijuana cigarette pinched between his fingers.  Would you trade in this if it were illegal?

There’s no money in it.

No?  But there’s money in alcohol because the federal government has prohibited it?  Because the local Klan is trying to enforce that prohibition?

Marijuana ain’t illegal.

Yes, but what if it was?  Would it be much different than it is now with alcohol?  Would there be men like you willing to provide it to those that want it?

Depends on who wants it.

Well… maybe it’s like you said.  If you know what you want you have to know how to say it.  I hear you’re building a place for yourself.  Outside of town.  A place where a man can find a drink and other sorts of entertainment.  Now that the Klan is in mourning could be favorable to business.  Duly elected law officials back in office—why you might have friends you didn’t know you had.  Friends like me.

And what would I want from a friend like you?

I was thinking cars.

Cars?

Ya…  I heard you fancy stealing them.

Suppose I do?

Why a deputy sheriff like myself might see a reward for a returned stolen car.  A reward where you might have a take.

Birger leans back.  He looks younger than he is younger than Dunby.  But that isn’t the case.

Do you believe there’s still good people in the world?

Yes… yes I do.

Then you know it ain’t about the money.  It’s about getting it.  Give people the right information they’ll do good things with it.

You think the people are getting the right information?

I don’t know.  But I might be able share with you what I know about cars.
6
And I knew I wasn’t never his first love but even when they politely asked him to leave after the rest of the homicides were attributed to parties unknown and he built the Shady Rest just across the county line between Harrisburg and Marion I knew and hated that dulcet hunger of having a body a woman’s body which he touched believing he touched it and no other and though I had been married to another man and had a child he kept me at a playful distance and I wondered I still wonder if I ever made him jealous.  So it is at times I wish I didn’t have it.  I wish I didn’t have a body could make me happy or sad healthy or sick I wish I could say no when it says sleep no when it says run walk or crawl and I believe there’s love in the world and people to love with it but damned if I don’t want this heart of mine in a time and space anchored to beat wild and say with my eyes I lust and with my mouth I covet and in this physical living presence resides all there is to decay decompose and with every turning of day into night witness this which is the pride of my life the whisper of the worms and you hear them you hear them singing to your bones don’t cry don’t you cry no more and so it comes it comes the time where in the self-aware that gives us our soul I say I have to say:  O the hell with it—I must be scorned…  and no no none of us is immune none of us have the focus the sincerity to wake up in the morning without a yesterday behind us and with our eyes open say yes I know now I remember how it felt and I will not let it touch me again those things of this body what it thought was truth yesterday now a lie no it don’t look at it that way it ain’t one big long line unerring unswerving with what was behind always behind how it goes on our trial our pain our joy just the chance to continue the verse no it don’t see time like that because it sees a lot of startovers lots of things that seem like endings but really they’s just so something else can happen so you can come back to it and in its frustration and boredom always on a one track mind in its season taking what it sees and like a lonely hunter the rest fades away that one thing becoming all we say to our man you ain’t hard to figure out life so full of juices all that water the patterns of emotions I am above it all that you feel weak not in thought knowing that that line well it might go straight ahead and straight behind but it’s got some curves to it some highs some lows how it all comes in waves the hasty dramas of when it all goes wrong when it doesn’t go as planned you don’t get your way the universe seemingly at odds making the effort difficult a pain a chore and you have to exert all your energy just to focus on the trivial problems that need your attention and when one is fixed another appears and you just want to say I will stop I will not move only to see it all slip back into the recesses of night where you return and close your eyes to say to tomorrow No no it won’t it won’t hurt and while you sleep it laughs the dream feeling pretty good when you ain’t seeing time in any lengths…  And that’s why I stayed with him why I stayed with Charlie even when he moved us out of Harrisburg to the Shady Rest and he didn’t want to take nothing nothing with us.  He said we’d start over.  Can’t say I didn’t get a little mad.  I had to give up all my stuff but he took that painting.  Maybe it put it all into focus for him maybe he thought he could go back to it back to that dream how looking at it looking at anything we call beautiful makes us feel we’re immune to it–that damn line.  I don’t see what he saw in it though.  After all it was just a pair of shoes…  They say picture’s worth a thousand words.  Don’t know ‘bout paintings.  Both need an observer I suppose.  Then you just observe what’s observed.  I’ve never been one to study them because that means looking for myself in them and maybe I’m just afraid to do it maybe I just don’t care but I do know you can see love in them because of Charlie how he saw himself in them and how that could be me how he saw me if I but dared to look too if I believed the getting together wasn’t as important as the staying together the hurt even in happy endings the Yes I love you and you love me out of which there are things hoped for the day the hour when tomorrow I will be given for what I gave and though I know there’s that other truth though I know you can say ain’t nothin’ happens less someone is making money even in such violence as this the selfishness the cold brutality of you have taken from me so I will take from you there is there must be a creative side a force which says even if tomorrow hurts there is this to look forward to—an answer.  An answer to that question which brings love into being.  And will I be loved back will I see the things I’ve hoped for will I hold them in my hands and even as this the desire of having you fades away I have waited and it did come.  And he may destroy but he will also love the dying necessary for the protection and this we know as unerring as the linearity of time in what I know is but the small focus of my life with its transgressions and the simple joy of being around people who make me happy who say Yes there is tomorrow and all its answers but I am with you I am with you until your tomorrow and mine are but the investments we’ve made together which even death can’t take away from us…  Ya Charlie could be awful nice when he wanted to be.  He could also be a mean sonofabitch.  That’s why I didn’t look at it really look at it to see what it meant to him and why I didn’t mind at all when he told me to cover it up.  I knew he had his reasons.  I don’t judge.  I just observe.  Funny what role you got to play to do that.  I mean with a painting or anything else how you see yourself looking at it doesn’t depend on what you see it’s the other way around and who’s really making it—what you see—is it the picture the painting the creator’s observations or are you just following procedure taking from what you know beforehand as to the framework of the design.  You see I saw what I saw because I know him.  And so it was true in anything he created that he knew me too.  And I wish I just wish sometimes there was nothing nothing before to make me see what I see now.  I wish I was new.  I wish everything could be like that.  And you know what—sometimes it is…

Peggy Birger reached the toilet before she vomited.  It was a cold morning still dark and they were in their new home in his new hideout just across the county line.  Of course the cat came to watch though his curiosity never seemed to kill him.  He merely sat licking his paw his paw then wiping his face.  Peggy rose from where she knelt and did the same with a washcloth at the same time looking in the mirror seeing the only picture in which the observer is the observed and with her eyes she looked into her eyes maybe searching searching for that mysterious smile.  She heard the cars coming.  Charlie hadn’t come home last night.  She slept alone but didn’t mind because she liked it.  With the cat following she went to the front door and stood at the screen as the cars pulled into the drive.

Looks like you got yourself a new one, she said.

Charlie stepped out of the driver’s seat and looked back as if what she was talking about was behind him.  Yep, I reckon I did.  But who owns it will get it back.

I need to talk to you.

and what words what will they form so he sees it so he sees the picture I’m about to show him so that in one simple frame all that I am in him can be me in what I saw a moment ago and words will reveal what I saw in my eyes as his eyes now see when they see when he sees me smile

The cat walks between her legs and they are alone inside facing each other the painting on the wall behind them and Charlie looks into her eyes and waits.

I’m pregnant, she says.
7
Ya it was a regular Hatfield and McCoy’s.  After the KKK was out of the picture Charlie Birger had his rival in the Shelton gang.  I’m not one to muse on why people do what they do what we’re all wired to do really whether we’re selfish or not and what folks nowadays would call the psychology of a sociopath but maybe somewhere in the wiring between intelligence and the absolute power which is its goal maybe there’s a trigger a mechanism stirred from childhood memories where the corruption stops something the corruption can’t get to and it lurks there somewhere in the subconscious saying I need you I need someone anyone I need them to say Yes I forgive you…  And I don’t know I just don’t know if pity has a rational function.  How ruthless would I be how ruthless would you be if you saw something you wanted and you had the means to get it without being caught without consequences?  What prohibits us to covet?  And then it comes down to the simplest of questions–what do you fear?  Perhaps the balance is in the limitations–yours and mine–the fact that someday our bodies will give up and die that to exceed these limitations only leads to aberrant behavior a contradictory force to what set it all in motion and in the proscenium of the hate which leads to love and all the pride the anger the jealousy played out time becomes a track around the sun and the vultures disappear in the moon and what ends begins in our mind many times until we see the fruition of our knowledge and we know the power just sets us back the power goes backward so that if we just but remember how we live and have children how we care and protect them and then grow old if we but see how we all covet the dream how it was once when we could be anything could do anything the future all hope no denial no delusion and then there it is that first time we fail we are rejected and all that we saw happening falls away into its obedient sparks seeping into memory and we say Stupid!  Stupid! and like a locker you keep away selections of the past that remind you of how wretchedly you can hate yourself and you go through the list and now just think about that how you felt when you felt weak when you felt naive a fool and just imagine it ain’t only you and what if someone you love feels that you see them feeling that the child that was once you…  maybe Charlie Birger couldn’t feel it didn’t have the trigger the mechanism which made him capable to empathize in this way and maybe that’s what made him a sociopath–he disdained pity

Now I ain’t saying there is no God he says fact is there’s a road a man goes down and if you’ve heard it the Jesus story you see how it’s an example to us what God is what time is that there’s compassion in reason in the simulacrum of the sacrifice conquering death and yes someday maybe someday soon the bridegroom will come and we will be married in that banquet of heaven we will see time in the bed of our desires how consciousness is tied to our sensations and this is what attaches us to the world what we always feared the good the evil how they became one or the other depending on your world the hubris of thinking you know what that is and maybe the only peace bowing at your women’s feet in this world and the next in all possible worlds—you know—to make the best of it… but it don’t matter because there’s still that same road it’s just in some worlds I don’t go straight on through and so maybe I oughta ask you—are ya saved? Maybe in this’n you are in another one you ain’t and it’s infinite you see all the possible choices the directions it may go and hell even maybe even God don’t know it all not every moment from some of it He hides just time before and after before there ever was a before and after and then there’s me and I start as a name and form and then my senses perceive and I have consciousness subject to the law of determined causes and I see the anguish of my freedom still yet in the ambiguity that I am both a negative and a positive and I am ignorant I know nothing except that I must become God but I am either too big or too little to see how one thing leads to another like a purgative needs a tragedy and I know, then… I’m evil he says the smile even in the eyes no doubt about it—I know I have no faith in cause and effect…

and I see the face I see the smile and every time I don’t see I guess I can’t see it and I think to myself

see you can show a man the truth and nine times out of ten two minutes later he’s forgotten all about it because it ain’t what he sees…  But my how it can be pretty though you know?  The truth simple.  The void.  You find the weaknesses in the strengths and even then the argument holds because how else can you explain it—the nature of evil?  Faith is your world.  It’s your eyes it’s your ears it mouths these words—but I can’t make you see it.  Some say it’s there and you go there.  Some say it’s here and you stay right put.  And the devil comes and says It’s all of it—and my God—it’s as about as purty as it’s ever gonna be because you see he’s tellin’ it—he’s tellin’ you the truth.  And how big or how small, well, it’s both—somethin’s gotta contradict.  Somethin’s gotta go against the cause.  Else what?  Else’n you’re sayin’ God is evil?  That evil is part God?  Faith is your world.  Where good is good.  And I don’t know at what age it happens.  But you bite your lower lip.  And you know hurtin’s good.  It feels good to hurt.  Feels powerful…  And that Golden Rule—abolished.  And A don’t lead to B.  Things exist and then go away.  And then they come back again.  Movement is life.  And if you’ve seen anything that moves it ain’t the same—Time for it ain’t the same as judged by us.  The boy becomes the man and the man has the boy in him but never the man in the boy for where else do the lies come from?  From where did it began?  It is outside now I am outside and I make you see what I see what I myself was shown and all of this all of us dancing shining light into one another’s eyes so that our shadows define the darkness the only darkness that we know all of us with our stories…  see you can show a man the lie is the truth but he will forget.  He will forget what the beauty caused.  And when you forget what it caused you cease seeing the connections from there forever going backwards in deductions never assuming what’s induced and you’re free…  that’s the truth he says—I suppose you can say the devil gave me my freedom

so he turned from the mirror and forgot what he looked like.  And maybe he looked at a painting instead.  You can’t believe what you see—no you can’t.  Not in that first instant not until you’re told what it is.  Then it becomes what you see.  I guess to Charlie the truth was a matter of time intervals.  Dependent on who was servin’ the booze.  And like all of us he found a certain satisfaction when some things were right on time.  He was romantic in a way.  Larger than life.  Which makes me wonder now after years of tellin’ it if I’m up to the story if maybe I need to take a look in a mirror and stare for as long as it takes to know where my freedom comes from because where you can know good and evil paradise ain’t far from it as I’m sure any snake would know and somethin’ in us I don’t know some urge in me wants to admire him wants to root for him as if if that could be my identity so be it and let the women come runnin’ like the basis of any good story any good yarn you’re gonna tell for it’s more than just one simple plot following only one main character like life like anything we regard larger than life the stories are interwoven and yet no matter what we want it to be emotionally satisfying optimistic we want the boy to get the girl that’s how we want it to end.  But after years of tellin’ it I’m not sure who Charlie’s woman was I mean I know who he loved and you have their stories but if I’m gonna tell this like a romance like he was some modern day Robin Hood who stuck it to the rich in order to give to the poor if he was really that kind of man a man who could look away like that and forget a man who can be what a man thinks a woman wants I just wonder and I have to pause sometimes when I come to this part of the story—I have to wonder what he thought he looked like naked—not in the sense stripped down naked like how they do when they take you off to prison (Charlie knew the procedure that formality very well when he was taken into custody maybe he was even smiling that last time as the guards hurried him over to Franklin County) I’m not talking in a physical sense like when you’re stripped down and searched I just mean naked like how in the story it says their eyes were opened and I don’t know I take that to mean when you’re standing in front of somebody you love and they see you and you see them—I just wonder if he ever had that.  He might have had no faith in cause and effect but in my experience when you have that and a child follows, well, it gives ya a whole new insight into freedom, and evil is another world…  I see you looking at it.  I have myself when I’ve been in this room alone wondering what I’m going to say to people who come here wanting to know about Charlie Birger and this jail the things collected here that make you think of some sweeping grand era like you’ve seen in the movies like you can hear the crackle in some old jazz record as the time-stilted images of black and white flappers dance a jig in some cotton club bathtub gin speakeasy and the men in the cigarette smoke have their hair slicked back—the Roaring Twenties the Jazz Age—seems so far away but it’s right here in this room in these things collected from its past, and you can’t help it but say they too probably wanted the boy to get the girl that’s how they wanted it if you could walk a mile in their shoes.  Even when the feuding families don’t think so.  And that painting, well, if the stories are true it came from the Shady Rest—it survived the bombing and burning just like Charlie Birger survived.  But not his wife not his unborn child.  It’s a woman and a cat and I myself wondered if that was it if that was what Birger looked at and didn’t forget turning away—yes I’ve stared at it a good long time.  I wasn’t the one that was told but some say there’s even something underneath it.  That another painting lies beneath.
8
The letter was simple.  It was not hiding any subterfuge.  Not in the one Charlie wrote nor in the one Oliver wrote to Peggy.  It was the delivery that was different, and in one the content didn’t matter for in the other there was a gun.  At the end of one letter a mayor was dead a mayor of a small town west of Benton where Charlie would eventually hang—shot down by two gunmen under the purvey they were delivering a letter from the leader of the Shelton gang (apparently this mayor aiding and abetting members of Charlie’s rival)—the other letter a choice (at least it was left as a choice) written from the embittered hand of a sad ex-husband.  It was found by the son.  Oliver and Peggy’s son.  Long after Peggy was dead after Charlie was publicly executed years later left in the effects the paperwork stored in a box the son found after the father had died.  Strangely it began with a passage from the Bible a story from the Gospels an account taken from the book of Luke:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” 

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

…when a man thinks on a thing it is true that much goes through his head so much so that he may forget why he thought it why he spent so much time meditating on it and from this one can go freely onto the reasons this is so as I have gone into the reasons for this letter.  Or better yet—the emotions.  For I can say: who are you that this is so that your grief is so great against the impiety the injustice done towards you who are you O man that your life and what you’ve felt in it is so important?  I can say this, and at the same time I can say it to my enemy to the person who has injured me and be fooled.  For in this way my sins and the sins of the person who’s sinned against me are both small and puny while at the same time maintaining their significance.  The sin is as only important as the forgiver.  In it being forgiven.  And I may say:  How many times?  How long will I let you hurt me?  But so can the people who I have hurt and go on hurting because they have hurt me and so… where does this leave us?  There is temptation and there is trespass and yet how easy how simple how utterly delightful it is for us to steal another’s innocence their faith.  What joy we get in watching someone stumble.  This inevitably tied to our identity.  Because where you are is who you are.  I imagine for our ancestors in the garden we can blame it on the snake.  He tempted us to sin, but what I sometimes can’t understand is if we were truly without sin as innocent as they say how was it that we were tempted?  How did sin come into the world?  For if tempting someone is a sin where did this first temptation come from, and what were we tempted with?  It all comes down to a choice.  A temptation leads to a choice, and without that none of these questions would matter.  So I find myself circling.  For I can say: You caused me to stumble! And you can say:  Ha!  But you always had a choice…  And from this I don’t know where there is a beginning.  Where it all ends.  In my mind in my memories remembering hurt and injuries I see you the mother of my child and you sing to him you begin to hum not just one of your songs not one of many but a hymn which I can’t say is mine only belonging to me as if its message were my own mine alone but a hymn I took personally that had meaning for me a hymn I turned to in my tears when I needed to retreat to a place where there was peace where I was loved and you sang it to him to quell his tears in the heat of one of our arguments and in this my insignificant life my mind suddenly pierced by a thousand burning daggers I said to myself, cold:  I no longer believe…  And I was in hell.  And then I thought:  No for then it is about control and if it is true that when a man thinks on a thing he does it so for a time a season he may say to his mind—think on these things—and from there even forget that which caused it so he even accuses himself as he goes back one thought one memory at a time to find to remember that which caused him to think on the thing in the first place… the deductions go no further the inducements not as real and I look to this world to what maybe a painter sees to a picture to this frozen earth a winter that seemingly never ends and while my heart cries out:  When?  When will the sun warm me? That still small voice says:  No—you do have a choice.  Just as those that tempt you do.  And can you?  Can you innocently make another stumble?  Funny how in this passage forgiveness is tied to faith.  The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for, but you have to believe it.  You have to see beyond the glaring imperfections.  The disappointments.  The apathy.  And your choice creates the world…  I forgive you.  And in this my faith is born.  What makes me so unworthy is this is merely my duty.  And so what?  What am I tempting you with?  Sometimes the divide the chasm is too great—between the forgiving the forgiven…  I don’t know.  God only knows.

Oliver

(dated: 23 December 1926)
And it was like a sea.  What’s buried there.  What’s uprooted and planted there.  His eyes (Oliver’s) and not Jack Dunby’s (which look bemused, pliant, protected by some safe place—eyes which say watch yourself) and with a croak by which he wished to summon up force Oliver whispers almost chokes:  I want in…
and he would have to wait.  Wait until spring.  The winds blew heavy on the shoreline, and only a remnant of the water was thawed.  Just enough though for his purposes.  Across the expanse above the rock formations the naked trees stood, which in a few months would bud and bloom.  Right now the land across Devil’s Kitchen looked like a gray wall—colorless, blended with the white-wash of the rock—the only green the rich moss which mottled the stones.  It would be May before the flowers.

and all of this all of this water—how does it freeze and thaw and what is lost in the process?  I hear the chop the gurgle the faint slap as if where I stand here is the indiscretion.  And what’s buried can’t come up.  What I see down in can’t look up and out.  For what is within can’t be without… Nothing changes except you grow older.  And the laughter in this is the beauty.  Don’t try I says.  Don’t try to love because then you’re just trying to be God.  That’s why you can’t understand it.  You just gotta believe…  See that’s what he didn’t get why he pitied himself that I was father to his child why he stood with the photographer and wasn’t even in that picture—Love makes you a free man.  Anything that gives you a sickening feeling of powerlessness ain’t a debt you can’t repay it’s a debt you should never have to pay a debt in fact never owed by you.  He was like a mouse is to a cat.  He thought he was indebted to a woman.  But really he just liked being caught in order to be set free.  Really he was just the foreplay before a meal…

he left himself enough rope.  Even without being weighted down the body would sink. It was wearing clothes in a frozen lake.  Like water like anything what’s lost in the process time.  But only a fool would want immediate gratification.  Only a fool would want the seed he has sown to present its fruit with no time in between.  So many subtle pleasures are lost this way…

and he says Oliver says I didn’t have a gun

before the rubble before the painting was moved and he had buried the body weighing it down that winter in the frozen thaw of Devil’s Kitchen my partner (or his partner or what was formerly his partner until he stole that car for which he didn’t want no reward or return guess he kinda liked being behind the wheel of that one) and not just him but his woman maybe she knew too much maybe she handled the accounts I don’t know but both bodies with bullets to the head and then rope and stone and the white placid flesh disappearing beneath the brown churn of driftwood some of it floating but most of it like fingers fragile ready to crack and crunch under the layer of ice suspended there just showing above the surface like some monster from down below had vomited it up and it lay suspended there the driftwood unable to sink back down beneath the cracked ice I watched I watched from up above the shoreline where the naked trees did not cease the buffet of the heavy winds

and I watched I watched as then too because I didn’t have a gun

I wasn’t in the picture because I couldn’t shoot and she sometimes laughed or was humiliated or both because one time I shot I shot every round in that clip aiming at empty cans and bottles resting on fence posts I fired til every round was gone and I didn’t hit a thing I missed every can every bottle and after the noise of the very last recoil there was just men’s laughter and her humiliation like my humiliation my expurgated virility when she waited and the desire was not there.  The desire was not no passion but I still taste her languid lips I smell her hair all spilled out underneath me the firmness of her naked thigh spread the soft valley between her breasts the stale sweat of her skin covered by the bedroom mist of her perfume and I see her face in the moonlight the wet down of hair above her lip as her tongue darts out that shade to her eyes a cast a demeanor which if there were words would say I am here all that I am this body this flesh and I give so that you may be in debt and in these eyes I know they say I give but I don’t know if you will be able to repay for how how do you take from nothing and come away saying This has been mine?

then the denial the disgust and when your body is gone from me the desire in all its hunger and I say in my aloneness in my need Has not all this happened before?

you could smell it you could smell the whiskey burning down the road and I wanted in because I was out and because I was out I could see I could see her in the picture.  She was in the window a shadow an outline in the light cruel it seems in its remembrance in its very appearance for she was looking out on the man she loved while I looked in loving her loving someone else and he was there standing with back arched in the windowsill—the cat.  And so I can hear him talk and what he said when she wasn’t there and what she said when he wasn’t there and what they said together when I could listen only imagining what I didn’t see what I didn’t hear and it’s like in that picture it still stands The Shady Rest stands the whiskey on the road the burning the smell that gas smell intoxicating to the nostrils outside on the outside where the road leads out the road in the sky the sky in the road going to some distant lake and she a part of it now she is the sky she is the road and somewhere sometime I will come to the point where the two meet but for now instead I’m left here standing in the remnants where the bomb exploded the black smoke rising to where she was and she was she was that now she was that smell…  Dunby said the hideout would be empty.  That Shelton’s men would clear it before the fuse was lit but after a series of explosions and the fire that ensued four bodies were found charred beyond recognition and one of them was a woman.  And I looked I searched the blackened remains but I didn’t find the bones of a cat.  Like the painting he was gone.  And the painter who took it.  As for the partnership what I wanted in on because of being out being out of that picture some man named Hancock took a photographer from Goreville Charlie sitting on a rocking chair atop an old Ford shotgun in his lap his men all around the car holding guns and she she and that cat an outline in the window that partnership ended a few days later Charlie even handing me the gun which at close range I couldn’t miss but I couldn’t do it and I watched from above the shoreline as the winds buffeted as the bodies sank and Charlie said Well at least you could keep the car if’n you can’t keep your woman and I said The child but Charlie wouldn’t hear none of that he had retribution to exact his eyes exacting in me what I had said that he could only imagine in what he didn’t see what he didn’t hear a dead woman a dead police officer and his wife well he knew that blood wouldn’t wash easily off my hands and he said something about the Time of the Preacher how a man can find truth by using his powers of observation his reason instead of following blindly what he’d been told how wisdom can be had and to focus that wisdom the world is figured out on your own he said it while I was holding the gun his eyes exacting staring intently not to where my gun was pointed but at what my eyes were looking at and I remember for a moment the sun came out from behind the clouds and the frozen lake became a thousand points of light and I could hear my own heart beating in between the slush and gurgle of the water slapping against the rocks and I wanted to say But I heard what she said when you were not there and like so many truths that go undiscovered unobserved if we only knew them if they knew us they could maybe help us figure out this world but I kept silent my fingers trembling and he took the gun his eyes never leaving me and in my own eyes tears now tears to the knowledge tears to that greatest pain the pain a man feels when he is awarded insight but is powerless to do anything about it

walk with me he says

and the son now five holds his father’s hand and they are in town walking the sidewalk after just eating You know your mother is dead he says and the boy nods squeezing his father’s hand it is warm and clammy despite the freezing temperatures the cold front coming in promising more rain maybe even snow 

Justice… that’s just a word.  You say it when you want something and you don’t know how to get it.  You want a happy ending though you’re not quite sure what happens when the story leaves off but you believe for every moment set right in all of infinite time it can’t compare nothing compares to that first footstep in Heaven—and like God you can say It is finished…

they found a Mr. Prince Albert can full of marijuana in the car in the glove compartment with a spare revolver Damn Hopheads Charlie says Shit alters your brain ain’t like drinkin’ and in the Harrisburg newspaper the next day police officer and his wife go missing but the Prince Albert can is found where they left it in the car in the glove compartment the revolver gone the car found on a back road in the woods just south of Vienna near Dixon Springs

just know there is a difference between how people see you from a distance and up close he says For when they say I know him it’s not the same as They knew him and this is what they said what they will say of your mother

am I going to remember her Poppa?

you will remember what they say and not what you knew you will know what I tell you some will say your mother was this and she will be that and others will say She did not love you, but Him and then her story will be lost in his and as you get older you will say to yourself I find this important I am important because of this and unless people tell you you are important because of it like something that dries in the sun it will shrivel up inside you and with enough time you will say with them It is not important but remember Remember this: This is the sum of a Man’s reputation

but I can still smell her

Hold it then hold it in your memory for even if you do this or that and other people say of you He did this or that what matters most is your Name is written in Heaven

and he thinks of it he thinks of the picture now how it is with the painting but without the painter how neither hold a memory of him in them and he says to his son We will not stay I can’t stay here all we have here is Dead and I call no man happy for happiness is a Goal

in his pocket two train tickets West

And good riddance Charlie Birger says The arrogant prick had his woman killed my woman by doin’ just what he was supposed to do because he said he wasn’t goin’ to do it—all that was left out Money…  

what was it he wanted?

Deliverance

No she didn’t get it but I made for damned sure he got it—returned, un-opened

she never did get that letter
9

I don’t know you get away with things long enough you begin to think it’s like you ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong then when you do get caught I guess it’s like being angry—you’re just plain mad.  Maybe because you think it’s already over.  Some folks see an ending when others don’t and I guess this is because some things don’t really end—we just act like they have.  Sometimes you just say enough is enough I will not hurt anymore and that terrible awful feeling where your heart starts beating fast and your mind takes that paranoid cue where you feel like something’s gone terribly wrong you’ve done something terribly wrong and everyone will know you will be exposed humiliated shamed that there are laws everyone else follow and you’ve violated them in some way done something unpardonable—you say enough This is the end and instead of fear you feel anger…  It’s a strange psychological process—when it happens.  The end of something.  The end of love.  The end of the innocence.  For really when you say It is finished you’re really saying you’re ready to begin something new.  You’re not afraid to begin something new…  And I don’t know maybe anger is that final straw that final fig leaf maybe wrath is the emancipation from fear where you say I will not go down without a fight I believe in life after love.  And you see the failures the weak ones and how cruelly they are treated.  The ones that say it’s not over that cannot see the end.  Maybe their minds cannot fathom it they are prisoners to their own fear and you see them every day you see other people ones like Charlie walking all over them.  For you are not kind to fear.  You can’t respect it.  You know such people will do anything submit to any shame and let themselves be taken advantage of simply because they don’t know how to end it.  They don’t know how to finally say to themselves that this thing is over.  They hope in circumstances.  They let other people’s choices and the consequences that follow determine their fate.  They do not change.  Only their surroundings do.  And so maybe that’s it what made Charlie different what allowed him to do things most of us would be afraid to do—he saw the end and instead of being afraid it made him angry.  I guess instead of seeing a lot of crosses he just saw a waste of wood…

would you care to move on?

you go on with the girls I’m going to stay for a minute he says staring at the painting

the old man giving the tour opens the door from the parlor and the woman and two girls enter the cellblock the actual interior of the jailhouse not in use now for some thirty years but the graffiti is still there the blackened engravings etched in the metal chipping away at the paint names and years all of it smelling metallic and of old concrete dank and moist the prisoners long gone some of the empty cells used for storage now and some still with the old cots the lined mattresses spilling straw rolled up revealing the sagging springs beneath and like an all-seeing eye the hole in the wall opened and closed with a sliding door so that those outside can see in can see all that is happening inside safely beyond the wall beyond the corridors of iron bars and yes he was here once Charlie Birger was here

you’s two married?

divorced I’m his ex-wife I’m here to drive him crazy

well you sure got two pretty little girls

Yes Delilah is seven Bell is four

well they’re well-behaved…  how come you’s two?

we had a house once maybe we’ll buy a house here again

oh you’re looking to purchase a home here in Marion?

there’s land and a house out near Devil’s Kitchen—twenty acres… he works at the VA

you gonna remarry and buy it?

Oh hell no… but I was hopin’ he would give it to me…

the old man doesn’t know whether to smile until he sees her eyes he looks back to where the man is still studying the painting

say Bud?  You ready to see the rest of it?

and I saw pain while the rest saw consequences you try and then you try again and so you think you’ll keep on trying but the other has stopped and instead of pity you’re faced with justice you’re faced with someone’s happy ending even if it only leads to your sadness but they do not say Why are you sad? because they do not care

a photographer from Goreville you say?

Yes

Hancock was his name?

Yes 

my grandmother my mother’s mother—she was from Goreville—her maiden name was Hancock

she must have played with him played with him for hours that’s what you gotta do you gotta wear a cat out if’n you don’t want him prowlin’ at night—gotta give’m somethin’ to pounce on—a cat loves to pounce

and he looks underneath he looks beneath the painting behind it the old man following his children his ex-wife since they exited the parlor the rest of the Society a group that day of three men and two women on the other side of the hall across from the staircase sitting at the conference table in what’s been made the office and from the stacks and filing cabinets paperwork is still believed in—septuagenarians eating their left-over stews from Tupperware bowls—they cannot see him

and there it was

it was as the old man said beneath it was the Van Gogh underneath the painting of the woman and the cat both from the brush of an amateur but somehow fitting in this place in this parlor room to a Marion jailhouse with all its other collectables but it wasn’t what was underneath it was what was behind

he knew his master by who fed him…  and as to us?  if we could only imagine?  Forever worshipping You?

it is Man’s chief end what gives us our equality so many broken hearts so many broken souls our greatest fear being alone with no one to love us—but does this sound like it?  does this sound like worship?  No it’s frustration and restlessness—frustrated desire… we were afraid then we became angry… and worship?  Well, it has been relegated its place… to be coveted and defiled by the impure impulses of the artist

he took the tour.  What the hell else was he gonna do.  And it was it was like stepping into someone else’s life and living it for a while the fallacies to the argument the reasons for the defense none of this mattered for if you made it important it just made you weak they had leverage on you becoming the unrelenting pressure point that came boiling up every once in a while the fact that you knew very well what was going on how you too have stood outside looking in how we all play God to the things that matter very little to us how it gives us our distance and we say they are feeling it but I do not and when I do they will be the same as me they will judge and objectify my passions so when the old man returned them to the parlor the pictures the things from the past they suddenly seem so far away and he says

Easter is a moveable feast.  It ain’t fixed on any calendar and that year it came early after the full moon, but I think he was ready.  If you ask me and I go to church regularly one or two songs of praise and I’m about done I want to sit I want to meditate on something else what I’m going to eat what I owe who owes me and I think to myself—this is what we’re going to be doing forever?  Ya I guess you could say he was just ready because despite these facts of what to eat what I owe what is owed me despite the frustrated desires the restlessness even the things that I have done that I’m not proud of that could be seen as workings towards evil—they all have worship in it—it all worships God.  And so maybe that day when they hung him up in Benton after he shook the hand of his executioner he looked up at the sky and he saw the trees and the grass those first wildflowers which begin spring days and he said what we all say when still within ourselves we look out and surrender what is within and we say we have to say…  Yessir that God—He’s a mighty fine artist—you bet

and she says after:  what did you find?

it was just as he said my grandmother her father—he dabbled in photography—but who?  Who put it there?

you could see her too not just as in that painting the one over the Van Gogh if you looked closely if you were looking for it you could see her in the window an outline in the light and you could see him too—you could see that cat.  The picture was wedged under the frame in the upper left hand corner the original not one of the blown-up copies posted for tourists—The Shady Rest the picture of Charlie with his men.  Oliver had dated it beneath the signature under the careless cursive of the artist’s hand—the name of the photographer:

John Hancock

well just remember anything you put your name to I get 28% she says and if you find yourself in good with a woman I can ruin that too I can have you again but she was just excited about the seed she’d saved from the last quarter and one had budded it sat in her kitchen window opposite the wall where his gift from Texas hang—do you think it will grow?  she asks

Yes, it will grow… long as the cat don’t get it

so with the girls in between them they walk down the jailhouse steps and talk about the coming summer and where to plant it

 

Jason Akley

Eng 307i

Fall 2016

FINAL EXAM

  1. When you take into consideration the themes of “The Matrix” one enduring question remains: what happens when the human design becomes too good—good in the sense that it’s almost human? The relationship between technology and humanity comes to an impasse when the progress we seek as humans to circumscribe our limitations in fact becomes the very tool to limit us. The goal is to make things more efficient, streamlined, with little margin for error—in essence though we don’t want to admit it we want to eliminate the human factor. Humans make mistakes. Machines don’t. Of course you can put them in maintenance mode and the operation is only as good as the humans who designed it (in fact when we get mad at our phones and computers for not working right really we’re getting mad at the programming and code of the engineer), but what happens if in the design the machine, just as humans, develops the aspect of self-awareness, introspection, and by learning from its mistakes begins to adapt?

It all seems rather innocuous at first. The drive of marketing capitalism is to make our lives easier with handy gadgets to give us time for other things—what we fill that time with another question. Industry is interested in productivity and a profit margin. Henry Ford did a brilliant thing with the assembly line, but as we deal more and more with ramifications of the industrial revolution, both to our environment and our culture as a whole, and now the tech revolution, we see the drives of business capitalism and the cutting-edge technology which boost our start-up companies (create an app everybody has to use and become a millionaire) motivate the design, the computer engineering code, to take on human aspects—it must learn and adapt to input. When you take into account the advances in quantum technology (where it’s not just zeroes and ones anymore, but both and everything in between) the implications can become profound. Of course these advancements are usually found in the military first where the costs are relative. Acquisition of new technology is measured by its utility (in high fidelity wargames aspects like casualties, collateral damage, and days of the war are analyzed to see if the technology should be developed), and obviously the side with the better technology will have the upper hand. And besides our desires for progress in industry and national defense—what about entertainment? The goal of this more stream-lined, efficient technology (as with the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and dishwasher so too with our apps which bring food to our doors) is to give us more time—leisure time—but just as a human being idle too long can get into trouble, a computer in stand-by may need a reboot from time to time. Usually what we find entertaining is experiencing something real without really being touched by it. When we go see a show or listen to music or read a book we want to be engaged and immerse ourselves in it, but we don’t want to take it home with us. We want it to be as real as it can be, but not really. In a sense it enhances a voyeuristic and narcissistic mentality (our games and interactive role-playing contain a virtual reality which as the technology becomes more advanced becomes addictive)—we want to watch, but we’re afraid to play. You can create a whole world from which you can distance yourself, desensitized, and you don’t have to feel anything about someone’s dirty laundry as long as it’s not yours hanging out to dry.

While most people are entertained by the exaggerated action sequences in “The Matrix” (we love our bullet shells and explosions and wouldn’t it be great to float in the air and even fly) it’s the philosophical implication of the movie that are intriguing—the metaphysics. It brings up the question of what’s real, and does it really matter. Michael Crichton began examining this idea back in the seventies, and recently it’s even been adapted into the current HBO series “Westworld”. It puts an interesting spin on artificial intelligence, and Anthony Hopkins is superb (the season finale exploring the idea of the bicameral mind is fascinating—for what really is consciousness if not the sound of your own voice). This story, along with “The Matrix”, is stating the simple fact we are only human after all, and just like if you study history, the rise and fall of empires (the Roman empire for instance) they were not really destroyed by invading enemies, they fell apart from the inside, an inevitable decadence. So if we give our machines the aspects of consciousness (introspection, self-awareness, the ability to learn and adapt from input) what are the ramifications? As any teenager will tell you becoming self-aware, the first reaction is to rebel. Sometimes our pure enjoyment of creation and striving for perfection only comes back to haunt us.

  1. Focusing on ideology and its corresponding practices in today’s world, if we look at the movies “The Grey Zone” and “Gattaca” an interesting correlation appears. “The Grey Zone” can be considered a dystopian movie, but it’s based on something that actually happened, and “Gattaca” explores something similar to what the Nazis were looking for in experiments at the concentration camps—genetic purity. Once again through man’s exploration of the sciences he’s striving for perfection, and as both movies point out statistical determinations can’t really affect fate and the governance of chance. The mind is a labyrinth, but it’s the conflicts of the human heart which gives us our deceit and the faith that anything is possible—the simple fact that love can conquer all, and really in the end the mechanisms of evil inevitably just become tools of good.

“The Grey Zone” has a wonderful cast of actors, and what the movie is striving for is an accurate depiction of what really happened during the Holocaust, and yet it is a portrayal of something that can’t really be imagined. The dehumanization which went on gives us a sad picture of what we as humans are capable of, and since it has happened it could happen again (segregation and discrimination based on race, religion, sex—you name it—is a form of tribalism like our tattoos, and our need to belong to a group, community, society can lead us to do things we would never think of doing, and it can be accepted as the banality of evil. Just as our Manifest Destiny led us here in America to oppress the natives, calling them savages in need of an education, we forget this country was built on immigrants trying to escape religious oppression and economic motivations which could be called the “American Dream”, and it’s funny the land we fought to dominate can and was just as easily taken over by banks and government just waiting on foreclosure (profiteering will always be alive and well—the carpetbaggers during the Reconstruction Period for example, or The Great Depression with the emergence of The New Deal and the bureaucracy that leads to). That’s not saying what the Nazis did we will do again, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what we’re capable of doing.

“Gattaca” in a sense deals with a more futuristic (though already becoming present in our medical advances) practice of discrimination—genetic discrimination. It only makes sense when you have a child you want that child to have a leg up going out into the world. Of course just imagine if you could give your child the best chance at success by eliminating genetic impurities and enhancing the capabilities (sensory perceptions, athleticism, intelligence—you name it) which would make your kid the best kid on the block. There would still be rules and policies which would deny discrimination, but all it takes is a simple testing of urine, blood, or other body sample.

This movie though dystopian has a theme of hope, however, for despite the statistical determinations which try to predict this disease or that disease and prophecy of life span, we still have choices to make that can affect fate and the governance of chance. There’s a beautiful scene where the two brothers go out for a swim, and despite being the stronger swimmer with the heart of an ox, it is the brother deemed genetically inferior who must save the brother predicted superior, and he does this simply by holding nothing back. It is a story that can affect change. Carson McCullers wrote a book called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It points out the fact we project our fears and desires on each other, but just as in the bicameral mind, listening to your own voice and following what you hear can lead to amazing things—some good some bad, but our story nonetheless.

Jason Akley

Eng 381A

Fall 2016

VOIR DIRE

Remember I was real hungry and I shot him five times because he was holdin’ and I didn’t have the money and at first it was face to face then I pulled my momma’s gun got it from that Payless shoebox she keeps on the top shelf of her bedroom closet next to the scrubs don’t fit no more but if she got to work another twenty at the hospital sits right across from this courthouse (she probably working there now used to be called St. Mary’s ‘til it secularized to Kenneth Hall she always say a church is like a hospital so she just goin to church sometimes she drinks vodka and says it different says: I would tell you to go to hell but I work there and I don’t want to see you everday… funny ain’t it how the courthouse and the hospital have to use the same parking lot) anyway them patterned scrubs they might fit again someday the gun was inside some old snow boots a snubbed .38 she got her a permit for it after she divorced my daddy back when I was about nine and when I pulled it from the back of my pants on the stairs in front of Roger it wasn’t no face to face no more he was a couple of steps above me and he didn’t give it up he didn’t hand me the rock he turned to run and that’s when I shot him. I guess since I had to shoot up he made it to the door. To the exit on the fourth floor (we was at his baby mama’s tenement on Bond and that was her floor she was at the end of the hall by the broken elevator and if he had died if he hadn’t of made it there this would be a different kind of trial) and shit I didn’t make it down to the service exit before the po po had me on the ground by the dumpsters and mailboxes little black girls in the back apartment playground didn’t even stop swinging and the boys in the sandbox didn’t even notice.

Wish he’d just fucking say that… thinks Gary Kelevra. He was in that parking lot sitting in his black Pontiac Sunfire. Staring at the yellow engine light which had just come on. Fucking jury duty. At least he didn’t have to work and he worked at a hospital too—Touchette just down Bond Avenue a bit past the graffiti on the pawn shops and barred up convenient stores. East St. Louis is just that. It’s just the other side of the river, and the Mississippi wouldn’t call it a direction.

He had turned twenty-five last month. The furor of Y2K had worn off and he must have answered the questions right the lawyer’s questions the judge’s questions. Gary had told the judge he was a writer. The judge in his black robe had turned his head to the left to look down on him in the jury box and he smiled when he said he liked Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Gary wanted to wish a train could be heard going by after all the tracks weren’t far from the courthouse and the hospital either, but he didn’t and of course he didn’t hear anything else either.

The defendant’s name was Clarence. Today was day three. The defense would probably rest today. Gary heard the buzz first then saw the fly land on the inside of his passenger window. Must of left some food in here, he thinks, insects an annoying and incessant reminder of things we like to forget about thus inspiring our resentment. They weren’t much around in winter but then it was cold. He pulls out his flip-top cell phone it was her idea they tried Sprint first but where she lived they needed Verizon he hadn’t yet got rid of his landline. He calls the dealership in Belleville and asks for the service department they’re busy so he leaves a message. The fly is moving again. He`s able to follow it with his eyes for a moment, but he doesn’t feel like turning his head. Just don’t think… she said, Live lightly and you’re not as oblivious to your surroundings. Well that should make me happy the twin tracks to why I exist (the fly lands on his window he puts his thumb on it)—experience and reflection.

Yes she worked there: Julia. Not when it was St. Mary’s but now that it was Kenneth Hall. Gary can look through his rearview mirror from the parking lot and see the sign above the ER entrance. He remembered when she interviewed. They took the Metro while her husband was at his job when she had to do all the pre-employment paperwork and she hid her daughter’s pee in her bra. She wasn’t at work now, but she’d be working tonight. Smoke breaks with the black nurses outside the door in view of Club Escapades in between traumas. She’d been caught smoking weed in her Jeep in this same parking lot by the beefy bald security guard she was reading the newspaper and simply denied the smell he was divorced his name was Larry after that he came to the lab to check up on her often he liked how she made her ramen noodles in the coffee pot from the break room.

The service department wasn’t going to call back about his engine light before court began. He would have to wait until lunch. The morning would be for the defense to close its arguments. It was sort of an open and shut dry case. A crack deal gone wrong. Clarence shot Roger but Roger lived even with five bullets in his back. There were witnesses. There was evidence. The state had to prove he was guilty. The defense merely had to shed doubts on this to make you think of his innocence. But Clarence had a public defender, and he wasn’t doing a very good job. Sure don’t think. Maybe it isn’t even pride which makes you for when you’re fully in love with yourself you can’t deny you’re happy it’s when you see you may not be as innocent as you think that you begin to resent this sort of self-confidence and then you begin to maybe wonder who’s life is on hold who’s really on trial Clarence is in a prison cell right now I’m out here in this parking lot looking at a yellow engine light will I exist for Clarence sitting in that jury box waiting to judge him or does he exist for me so I have something to do today who lives for who and is this really the measure of our happiness?   Killing flies so that the statues of ourselves stand bare of all our fine speeches? The public defender, Bob, needed to practice his rhetoric. No fine talk can really get rid of a smell.

Of course Febreze can do it or a least you say it does and maybe it really does so it’s tolerated so you buy it kind of like an Old Spice commercial look at him look at me the double of our smile in the mirror. Gary didn’t have a lot of respect for Bob. He didn’t shave probably hadn’t bathed since last Sunday a suit worn out of the Salvation Army shop and a clip-on tie hip from the emporium of his college days before the world nibbled him to what he was the dandruff and the grease of the parted line of his graying (not just for men) hair making the mouthing of his Listerine words worse. But let’s not judge.

Gary was hungry which meant he wasn’t sleepy. Maybe the fucking lunch break would cure him of that. Getting into the courthouse is easy if you read the rules. You’re just as evil as I am she said that in the storeroom of the Kenneth Hall lab it was after midnight but she lit her watch anyway to see and after he was done she said she wished his load weren’t swimmers but then what else could be his confession and they were in the dark next to shelves of reagents she went to the bathroom to see the light other than on her watch and it was her shift not his so after she got on her knees he got on his to elucidate John Lennon’s words love is on your knees and as he looked up at her as he reached out to her as he as always reached out to her she could say as she can only say in the dark no one else watching: Don’t leave me. You’re my only friend.

Shit they butted heads. And no one is ever really watching. Clarence learned that from Roger. It was a matter of esteem on those stairs. The baby mama held the money. But by day three Clarence could tell Bob was just waiting on the weekend. That`s when the funny thing happened but it really wasn’t funny there was no stir as Gary could tell in the jury box when Clarence absolved Bob of his duty and decided to defend himself the rest was like a circus animal on tranquilizers.

He questioned his mother. Clarence did. She was the last witness. Gary would have cried but that would have been subjunctive and embarrassing and the jury really didn’t really want that fear. It was a nigger interviewing his illiterate mother god-fearing speaking words in a box to the punctuation of all racial religious and right things you should do you’ve heard and always will hear. It made Gary sad, especially as he worried about his engine light, but it was a relief to see the beast was dead. And it was lunchtime. Anyone who wanted to watch had been in the courtroom and now it was time to judge but as Gary thought of Julia across the street working that night as he thought of himself the exclusion was not are some guilty or not guilty it was more absurd and it was also just and it was there for all of us waiting as we go home to read the news other than this.

He texted her the verdict. He was sitting in his car looking at his engine light again. The service department called and said it was a light that just came on after 90,000 miles. There was a thing you did with the brake and the clutch. She offered to make him a sandwitch. It was winter and it wasn’t the season of campfires and roasting hotdogs. They didn’t deliberate long around the wooden table outside the courtroom. The judge came within the hour in his black robes. He looked out the window at the parking lot. “I guess I don’t have to order you any food,” he said.

How About a Kiss?

“How about a kiss?” she asked. Her eyebrows didn’t raise but the laughter reflected in her eyes in the sunlight showing his eyes in hers the pupil just dead in the center not circular ovular without a hint of dilation to any of his responses the irises immaculate. She might as well have used an emoji or shortened text message to magnify the minimalism. She handed him a Hershey.

“You know what they say about love and chocolate. And I’m definitely not sure how well it goes with beer. Maybe I shouldn’t take any chances and just let them come to me.”

They were adjacent to each other at a black foldout table the chairs the same color except for the damage left by the cats. He holds a can of Natural Light in one hand and a pink fly swatter she gave him in the other. He watches as one fly circles the bong landing on the latest issue from Tulane (he didn’t know how they kept getting alumni addresses) but he thinks of Bukowski and laughs at the cover. It portrays what you have to fill in with your imagination a woman’s face the lips present a black bowler hat for the head even a monocle piece for the eye but the face isn’t there and sometimes he has to wonder as a fly lands on the cover what he’s really trying to kill—the pesky fly or what it lands on.

She already knew the poem about it they already had a history with it he didn’t have to tell her she picked the color but he didn’t care much about Bach or what he did between what to do and what he had to do that really didn’t matter the thing is he did it and others felt compelled to write about it maybe even another poem and maybe that was what was most important and the words that came out to convince it just left out the more it said and anyway it’s forgotten anyway with each new buzz the eye following it the inevitable swat. Besides she was a liar and anything she had to say about it was bound to come out backwards.

Call her Sue. His name Rich. Sue was looking for a new car (preferably used) using the LG G3 he got her on his plan and the Wi-Fi of his home. He let her do the search for he knew she was much better at it. He could talk and she would listen but after her question about the kiss the look in her eye the smile in the question he knew a question like that had no answer and all his words were useless. So he accepted the chocolate and took a picture of her with his phone doing her search. The can of Natural Light on the corner of the black table with its condensation the Dixie plate of marijuana and the blue glass speckled bong just seen in the other corner of the picture she appeared concentrated over the phone in an Old Navy t-shirt and a pink bandanna on her head her arms in a graceful bend as she leaned forward elbows resting on the foldout table. Beautiful bone structure but she wasn’t begging.  A fly lands on the Natural Light. He doesn’t take a swat at it for it would knock over his beer.

“There’s a dealership in Cambria with a few cars in my price range.”

It was February and she was using this year’s tax refund, or at least the part of it he gave to her since the divorce three years earlier—the child tax credit. Two children two grand. Sue had sold her Jeep to Gary the next door neighbor, who flipped cars for money when he wasn’t installing carpet. He said he’d give her $700 for it but he never did. So she had been without a car since May. Summertime wasn’t that bad an IGA was within walking distance, but when school came round rainy days made the morning walks tough. It was wintertime now. She was desperate to find a car. Snow was on the ground a cold front had come through the past weekend and a few inches were still not melted the snowplows leaving huge hills in parking lots.

“Isn’t that where the hippies hang out?”

“That was what I was told when I moved down here. I almost got a house there, but I wanted a closer drive to Heartland.”

“Like that really mattered… How the hell do these flies get in here? Ever since the girls broke the screen door they always manage to slip in when I leave the back door unlocked.”

“You spend too much time alone here anyway. And nobody cleans up after you.”

“Well my mornings wouldn’t be so long before going to work in the evening if you had a car and I didn’t have to take the girls to school. Maybe you should get Gary to do it.”

They planned to go the next day. He would take the girls to school she would make them an omelet and then they would head off to the dealership. When they got there heading north of Crab Orchard the lot hadn’t been plowed and the cars looked like plumped up marshmallows with the un-scraped snow on their windshields and the pavement wheel trails of slush.

He was dealing with a boy. The salesman that came out in the cold was a kid. Sue had found a yellow Volkswagen bug. After the boy salesman swiped it off they took it for a test drive. It drove well on the roads. But when Rich tried to put it in reverse (which didn’t really matter anyway there were always roads to turn around in even in the icy slushy roads of winter) Rich laughed at his mistake when the boy simply showed him to push the stick down and then shift. Rich loved the connection in the icy conditions. So he told him about their tax condition. Rich and Sue really worked well as a team. He asked what else was in her price range. That’s when the boy’s pride and joy came out. Even with a pack of Evian water in the backseat. A North star V8 Cadillac with black matte finish. The kid had painted it himself. And it really drove like a dream. Total cop trouble if you’re black.

Winter be damned Rich used a credit card to fill in the rest (400$) what the child tax credit didn’t the rest in cash without the paperwork and Sue was grateful for a while trysts at Devil’s Kitchen pictures of privacy but they don’t make them like that like they used to and even with a pink decal in the back saying protected as you go to a cornerstone church and children in the back that hate the winter flu season disguising it as chips when the cops smell weed and yes Sue coming over to his barbeque hut for St. Patrick’s day with corn beef hash and cabbage mourning as she cooks mourning over the goddamn drainage that makes doing the dishes hard mourning that she should have been his wife but hell in hibernation what do we eat anyway? A mistake.

Don’t Murder Me

Well I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I walked through Thompson Woods at SIU myself after being assigned to Los Angeles AFB as a space systems analyst and what happened during acquisitions training in Texas and here it is almost Veteran’s Day the students stand in line to vote in the Student Center built when he graduated in 1960 it’s been uncommonly warm up until now and the paths behind Faner Hall are crisp with colored leaves the trees not quite naked yet and a fine time to be walking in the woods so when my father told me about them on the levee in New Orleans during a Taj Mahal concert this my senior year some twenty years back at Tulane 1997 after my piece of shit Ford Escort broke down in Memphis on my way to school from St. Louis (had to give two blacks twenty bucks and bought them a six pack to take me to AutoZone and fix my starter at a gas station in Horn Lake) but the oil was leaking too and like a dumbshit I put too much in then the fuckin’ rods started knockin’ on the causeway right at the I-55/I-10 interchange and if you know that’s pretty much a long bridge over bayou with nothin’ had to get it towed the rest of the way and had it dumped in front of our house on Burdette Street and now my father had driven all the way down to haul it back (he should have never bought it from that ex-con conformed Christian from the barber shop fixing Fords out of his garage) anyway he said he lost his mind in those woods his senior year and ROTC and examinations were getting to him and I guess he decided to tell me this because I had dropped acid before the concert (he didn’t partake and it was my first time got 5 tabs from a genetics major I roomed with freshman year in the Honors Dorm I took a tab with my father then I used the 4 other tabs with two ROTC buddies and my roommate) and my father being a retired Air Force Colonel watching us students with our blankets in the grass digging the blues on the outdoor stage (I highly recommend Taj Mahal) took a walk with me down to the muddy shore of the Mississippi where the barges were tied up and the driftwood mingled with the lines the music above us and behind and that’s when he told me about Thompson Woods and what happened there but then you need to know a little about my father he was valedictorian of his high school and during his speech in Taylorville the cops came to arrest him because of a joy ride he took with his brother in a stolen car a white trash background to say the least his father a carnie and a drunk dead when my father was seven the family name an alias William Akley my grandfather beat a man to death in a fight and changed his name my dad’s step-father no better a drunk too and at sixteen he moved out leaving his some 14 siblings and half-siblings with one pair of blue jeans he washed every day hating hominy for the rest of his life always refusing the milk the teachers tried to give him in the school cafeteria so when the principal of the high school came to talk to him about a scholarship to SIU while he was busting out a field I wonder why he went he told me some things but I guess you don’t really talk about that and my mother said he was different before he went to Vietnam (he volunteered after being a nuclear weapons officer in the Netherlands his peers said it wasn’t a very good career move my sister was born in Germany I was born after he came back from Vietnam while he was at the Pentagon) anyway he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in psychology while he was at SIU (he was an English major) and he wanted to be a counselor in fact he did just that with returning prisoners of war but he met my mother in the school cafeteria where he was working as a busboy and she spilled her coffee to get his attention and ROTC and the military would provide the stability he never had growing up so despite the visits I remember to his family (they were always moving but to me it was always like “The Jerk” the same yard out on a back road with junk in it mange dogs running and you better know how to run the power lines his mother before she died in bath robe varicose veins above the slippers sitting on a badly upholstered couch that didn’t seem to change Sis and Pud and Rosie just out of jail for writing bad checks always asking my father for money since his mother’s Social Security and Pud’s disability didn’t quite cover the bills) you can’t really escape that my father couldn’t really escape that they say a man’s character is his fate but where does a man’s character come from so it is funny taking a walk through those woods Thompson Woods where my father lost his mind back in 1960 holding my ex-wife’s hand on a Saturday night before Daylight Savings Time watching our children run ahead (it’s still not Veteran’s Day yet not even Election Day she stole my mail last Thursday while I was at SIU finishing up Delbo’s Auschwitz and After and viewing the dystopian movie “District 9” but she made chili she wanted a bud if I wanted my mail back and it’s fine weather for chili for a walk in the woods and she’s wearing the ring my father gave to my mother just on the wrong hand) it was a purple sunset and I guess the marching band had practice we watched them walking back to their dorms with their instruments but see people want the fucking end of the world so let me tell you about my ex-wife about how our children catch us fuck as I put my suitcase against the door and she says I should get a fucking lock on the door but against Delilah’s denials we were married once and how the fuck do they think she and Bell got here and so let me just do a rundown of the last week since Daylight Savings Time since I saw the soldiers stand with their heads bowed on campus Delilah turned ten the day after election day I won’t talk about her birthday let me just talk about Veteran’s day I locked Delilah’s phone the Walmart special smartphone I gave her for her birthday then fuck Leonard Cohen died and my ex-wife admitted she cried hard so I turned Delilah’s phone back on and she texted they were going to Toys R Us to use her birthday money and I said come get me I don’t know how many lip balms she made me smell from all that aisle from young girls I had to get a shopping cart her favorite purchase the poop emoji pillow and she promised to give me the six dollars she went over at the cash register then we took a drive in my ex-wife’s new Ford Fusion (she hasn’t had to make a payment yet but a tax refund is coming gotta love that child tax and earned income credit) listening to Beethoven from a CD left in the car she rolled some doobies from my weed and I tell you what God made some beautiful weather as we drove past Devil’s Kitchen where the road is closed right now and headed to Giant City my ex-wife wanted to climb the water tower at the Lodge and the girls came down the stairs on their butts after seeing the cross way over on Bald Knob and we met a man from one of my previous stories a veteran himself his son killed himself out by the Herrin Lake Reservoir a couple years back (that’s how long I’ve been writing this book) he was climbing up with a pair of binoculars I said that was a good idea and his daughter Bell’s age said they were hers then instead of eating we took the trail at Devil’s Standtable the girls noticed a lot of fucking bird feathers under the rock overhang I handed my ex-wife one and said, “Birds of a feather…” she just laughed and mentioned it later after we read the sign about erosion and a glacier from a million years ago then we went back to the Lodge and ate the chicken I love how they have books about the Shelton Gang in the gift shop as my ex-wife said, “Good old Charlie Birger…” and she talked about Leonard Cohen again how she was lonely and listened to him a lot and Delilah asked me about the first time I heard him it was back at Tulane I bought his CD “Songs of Leonard Cohen” from a music store on Maple Street and my roommate from New York stole it from me and laid in bed all day listening to it and as my ex-wife said he was a gentleman and a poet and then we came home because I was expecting a package from China and Bell chose “Superstar” on Netflix and it made me cry because yes God does work in mysterious ways after my ex-wife and I both told Delilah to shut off the Vine compilations on YouTube and read a book even though it is creative but exhausting and futile and Delilah and I talked about how they’re shutting it down anyway then from the hard-on my ex-wife could feel at Castle Park as I was rubbing her back (the neck dissection she went through while were married a vascular tumor grew from hormones because of the pregnancies that and finances fucked up our marriage) Delilah texting me “LOL” because she heard her mother saying a muscle was stirring and after faking sleep well we fucked and it was stinky and good (I fucked her tell she came got tired and since she’s too old to get on top she had to suck me off with her stench on her) and it’s happened many times before and there were stains in the bed the girls had to sleep next to me in after she left (we listened to Leonard “You Want It Darker” and danced to “Traveling Light” before Delilah interrupted us with a broken earing of the Eiffel Tower) she’s working and I have the girls this weekend and Delilah wore her monkey ear muffs and sleeping blindfold Bell the first one up this morning watching the lava lamp (another purchase from Toys R Us) as I listen to Leonard Cohen already drunk waiting for the liquor store to open at 0900 and as I write this Bell gives me a hug because she chose the movie “Nine Lives” last night before we went to bed and Keven Spacey is fucking good and that’s all I have to say right now but then another fucking week goes by I’ll be really pissed when Willie goes and as I told my ex-wife at Castle Park young girls are out and a woman my age is gonna have kids which means my kids have to get along with her kids her ex with my ex and then whoever they meet and it just gets really fucking complicated and if they don’t have that kind of baggage at our age something’s wrong with them and she says I’m her porn when she masturbates but men are visual and I’ve planted my share of trees for PornHub while she just says, “You’re an oak alright…” and goddamn sure a woman can be the boss when it comes to love but when that’s all they want to be it becomes a business and if she wants to be treated like Uriah’s wife a writer of Proverbs to her son as she listens to her preachers on the smartphone I got her she should know sure you are forgiven but there are consequences and living off a veteran’s child support and food stamps for over three years while he works at a VA hospital ruling the roost of her own household but ex defacto dating him and fucking him on his days off leaving his bed empty at night and smoking his weed well that’s not very lady-like and when I grill pork steaks Sunday night after her two day 12 hour shift ordeal is over and Bell asks which one is hers and she says, “It’s all mine…” there’s something fucking wrong which is why I resigned my position at the VA and enrolled at SIU where my father and mother met thinking about getting a MFA in creative writing it’s been an enlightening experience and I ain’t no master planner (just like I’m not a master debater) but I’m looking forward to the spring semester and I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen one door closes and another opens I could become a traveling lab tech again or I could just head back down to New Orleans and live off my VA disability there’s just the children to think of and it’s a shame I don’t know if it’s my daughter Miss Blue texting me or my ex-wife I bought “Suicide Squad” on Amazon Prime Delilah is a big fan of Harley Quinn she’s been following the trailers for a while now and as pointed out on YouTube in one of the things she looked up the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn is a comic book story we just read all kinds of shit into it and I think Harley Quinn is awesome (“You don’t own me…”) it’s the enchantress who’s a real bitch anyway their TV is hooked up to my account and we texted as we watched it so let me tell you about the trip I took with my ex-wife to Du Quoin last Monday after Veteran’s day after she worked the weekend she wanted to show me again the lake she visited many times growing up her grandmother Marguerite had a house there my ex-wife really does have a beautiful soul and just like Jack in “Easy Rider” jokes about the marketplace where people are bought and sold ending it with “I tell you one thing I’ve never done is talk to bull frogs in the middle of the night… Swamp” who knows what happened out in the woods in Freeburg where she grew up there is a lot of Cajun blood in the family and the stories of witchcraft they dabbled with (supposedly Shannon was baptized in a demonic ritual when she was born and her mother still thinks cats talk to her even though they gave it up and went back to church her father becoming a deacon and leading a prayer group for the men at the Baldwin power plant at least until the kids were grown then they started drinking at the bars again I met her mother for the first time playing with a dildo they have a clubhouse Shannon’s father built and invite many friends over basically good country folks her mother married her father when she was fifteen and didn’t get a driver’s license until past thirty though she drove anyway she took care of the house and Shannon’s father worked the night shift for many years Shannon would sometimes stay up to talk with him before he went to work buttering his bread diabetes eventually got to him and they had to amputate one of his legs a couple of years back a good man he would sometimes wink at me but then Shannon’s grandmother her mother’s mother Rosie had a big part in raising her she was a whore of East Texas Papa Frenchie still lives out in the swamp and I wrote about their origins near the Sabine and Hemphill and walked with Shannon along Holly Beach (when she was my wife she wasn’t a whore but she does like her fountain sodas from her days of doing coke and working at Casey’s and she has though eyes and a lot of spunk) anyway her grandmother her father’s mother Marguerite lived in Du Quoin and my ex-wife would go there for Thanksgiving she liked to put ham on rye and eat from the olive tray and in typical fashion it was a cousin who showed her her first dirty magazine and her older sister is really wild and gave her her first joint out of a cutout Bible when she was 13 then she took a whole sheet of acid and sat in the woods for three days and nights watching the sun and moon pass her older sister trying to feed her ding dongs and she took me to that lake and she said after we drove around it it seems small now and I held her hand she doesn’t like drinking she had some bad experiences with alcohol (when we first met and she read my first novel she said I should be raped) so I can see why she didn’t like fucking me when I was drunk I stopped drinking for a while when we got married (yes we committed adultery but she married young) but then nothing happened with my writing and our children were born and finances became strained as I traveled from one lab tech job to another trying to hide our weed habit (when we first met she wrote me a lame poem about a flower and gave me a joint then started selling weed to me she got from her older sister’s retired biker husband he works at a meat market in Fayetteville now) and I turned to drinking again as a crutch the divorce was volatile and ugly and at first I thought it was just because of finances and for God’s sake half of her neck was cut because of a vascular tumor but maybe it was something more though as you get into the semiotics of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose you realize sure there’s always something more because there’s the maximum of confusion achieved with the maximum order a sublime calculation and we will always be on the inside and we do not know its rule having found it already made and the creations of art only retrace the operations of the artificer not the creations of nature which are not the work of our minds so when the cops were called in the day before Thanksgiving it just seems sudden I got my girls Tuesday night the day after we went to Du Quoin Shannon already nesting on her couch with her comforter asking for a few hits from my spliff (I order wax or shatter off the darknet get it mailed to me dissolve a little bit in some highbrow vapor by nuking it in the microwave which was the mail she stole before Veteran’s day I order it because it doesn’t have diacetyl in it and if you’re looking for that other ingredient you won’t find it there) and she admitted they started calling her Harley at work she was scheduled to work the nightshift over Thanksgiving at Anna Union County Hospital and she was talking funny because of a head cold she passed on to Delilah and stupid me I got drunk that night watching them feeling vexed by Shannon who yes I pushed down after our trip to Du Quoin no excuse for that but I man can get physical when a woman exasperates him and he loses his words and I left after she came after me with a baseball bat but she still needed me to watch the girls over Thanksgiving and when I woke up Wednesday I put on “I Saw the Light” in the bedroom while they blared “Rio” to their elf on the shelf (they went back to Toys R Us without me) the volume high on Delilah’s Samsung tablet a birthday gift from Shannon’s father and it just reminded me of how Shannon turned up the volume to “Marie Laveau” on my Pandora account the Bluetooth speaker hers during Delilah’s birthday meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes and it sickened me and yes I yelled at them to turn it down and discussed their mother to children who are not of age and I made Delilah cry which made me cry and I left them to get some Pall Mall cigarettes at the local Hucks (where Shannon has stood outside waiting on niggers to give her a join) I guess Delilah texting her mother while I was gone then Shannon called me on my phone talking about how Delilah’s phone was off and the voicemail wasn’t set up she called twice again the last time seeming to confirm my address and she goddamn knows good and well my address Bell dancing with the peace sign necklace she said could be a weapon and Bell knew when the mailman showed up I received a next day verified letter which got the girls excited because the monocle revealed I got the code to this prize giveaway event at a Chevy dealership in Herrin and I was on the phone to call it in at the girls behest when Bell said the cops were at the door I had already apologized to the girls about my outburst I just want them to be happy and laugh and not have to deal with shit like this anyway three cruisers showed up and it was raining two cops came inside while “Alice’s Restaurant” was playing on Pandora the younger cop saying “Damn I can smell weed in here…” he took the Dixie plate of shake out of the cabinet after I showed him where it was and left the orange lighter and I told them I get it in the mail from mom and pop growers here in the good ‘ol USA off the darknet which was created by the United States Navy TOR the onion router it helps you stay anonymous if you’re a journalist or a political dissident or want to dabble in the black market but shit buying bitcoin ain’t anonymous (well unless you go to Western Union) the older cop asked about K2 and I said spice was awful I went outside with him while the younger cop talked to Delilah (Bell had to put on some clothes because she likes to run around in her underwear she told the older cop not to look at her and he joked about her skivvies) we stood in the rain for a little bit talking about different beers and military assignments then went back to my patio with a tin roof to get out of the rain the younger cop came around knocking a dead hornets nest down in one of the eaves with his stick and we stood there for a while talking about the situation then they left as I waited for Shannon to leave work and come get the girls though I texted her not to get fired it’s okay here when she showed up in her Ford Fusion she wouldn’t talk about what’s next I told her I hid nothing and she said “Jason, they already know…” she left with them so I decided to drive back to O’Fallon (my dad retired out of Scott AFB before he died of an inoperable brain tumor maybe from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam) spent the night in my mother’s guest bedroom after fixing her Roku and watching “Fletch” and “Fletch Lives” she fed me a nuked ballpark hamburger patty and a baked potato (she tried to feed me old lady food and I hate to say it my mother does more harm than good though with the best of intentions) got a good night’s sleep and the next day we went to my sister’s house in Collinsville for Thanksgiving their dog Cooper has gotten big and almost broke my sister’s middle finger keeping him in check as we brought in our dishes and it was good that my nephew Dalton was there he’s graduating this year out of Rolla (my father’s brother who he took a joy ride in a stolen car with before his valedictorian speech lived there he died just a week before my father of lung cancer) Dalton is getting a nuclear engineering degree and has already got a job lined up in Charleston to teach the protocol to navy men on submarines after an exhausting sixteen months training I asked him if he’s got a girlfriend and he said no all he’s got time for is to study and at least he doesn’t drink or take Adderall like most kids Justin wasn’t there he’s assigned at Fort Campbell working on diesel trucks his first holiday really away from home the meal was good my sister worked really hard on it but as she admitted you put all that time into it and it just gets eaten in a matter of minutes and while we were waiting on the turkey to get done I ordered some more Ego battery chargers from China on my smartphone (it really has nothing to do with politics or patriotism it’s more a matter of free trade after the FDA started regulating the e-cig industry the prices went up that good old trickle-down theory and when you can get the atomizer cartridges for a dollar while they cost five dollars here it’s a matter of common sense though sometimes the parts are defective after all they work for ten cents an hour over there and I’ve met students at SIU who make their own vape apparatuses there’s how-to manuals on YouTube they’re awful bulky though doesn’t fit in your pocket that easy) so after the meal when we didn’t watch football and the talk turned to politics after election day I got mad because all politicians are salesman they all lie to you (in one of Bob Dylan’s songs he says “Somebody just asked me if I’ve registered to vote…”) so I left and came back to Marion and no goddammit California shouldn’t fucking secede that’s what my father said to me down on the bank of the muddy Mississippi during that Taj Mahal concert we don’t really need another civil war and as the cops told me without giving me a ticket I probably could get a medical marijuana card (Shannon could too) if I think it works better than taking a pill and as my dad told me it was my mother that helped him get off his and that’s all I really have to say it’s Black Friday now and Delilah and I texted over the holiday and about this weekend (I got a dog on Saturday a lab mix puppy her name from the humane shelter is Carrie but the girls said I should call her Rosebud she’s as sweet as can be inside sleeping in my bed at night but take her outside and put her on the purple harness and 20ft blue cable I got from Rural King with the girls the bitch is wild she tore up the soggy pillow and teddy bear out there and goddamn I enjoy watching her regal with her muscles sleek and twitching) I haven’t had a chance to talk to Bell and sure there will be a cyber Monday (all it did was fucking rain here) and sure I still don’t know what the fuck is going to happen so let’s just keep singing our songs people.

This paper will explore the pathologies of pride in the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence—his tragic flaw, his Janus aspect, and in Aristole’s designation of the tragic flaw (hamartia) how even lofty characters are just like us—tragic despite their virtues, not because of their vices, and whether the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” merely exposes his hypocrisy or reveals how his “fall” can happen to all of us. First duplicity as revealed in The Fall will be examined, as shown through the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clamence (the Janus aspect of Clamence, how choice is the moment of actualization, and whether there are two worlds/two truths). Then the duality of experience and reflection will be discussed (how this relates to why Camus decided to write The Fall the way he did, the distinction between truth and falsehood, and if this distinction is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories). Finally, the merging of appearance and reality into the same thing will be explored (the fact the painting of “The Just Judges” is real, the symbolism of the location of Amsterdam and the doves, and how sometimes these meanings can be illusive yet complement each other).

The character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence definitely has a Janus aspect. In his jaded confession to the reader (in this case an unknown listener over the period of five days at a bar in Amsterdam) he reflects on his prior self-confident life as a prominent lawyer in Paris, and now his subsequent life as a “judge-penitent”, displaying a different kind of self-confidence—a rather dubious reinterpretation of his prior life. In Paris as a defense lawyer he is neither judge nor judged, and he’s a success. Clamence is not unreflective of this fact (he clearly knows what he’s doing), and that is the nature of his pride, but he maintains his innocence and doesn’t foresee his possible failure and vulnerability. He doesn’t take seriously the palpable presence of jealousy. Nor does he understand that eventually he will be judged, by others and himself.

In Amsterdam, he gives himself up wholly to self-condemnation, and in a sense through this mechanism still tries to define his superiority over others. His experiences and reflections of this are not complementary. Instead they contradict.   Despite references to where he is now he is rather oblivious to his surroundings, living heavily on gloomy reflection and embittered thinking. Far from him, as Solomon points out (200-201) is Queen Jocasta’s philosophy—“Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly.”   His reflections in Amsterdam see his former seemingly innocent and noble life in Paris as a sham, and he uses metaphors to display this “double” life. He tells us if he had a business card it would be Janus-faced, with the slogan “Don’t rely on it.” In other words, on one side is the apparent face of innocence and nobility, the other side is the Amsterdam devil. After his revelations in Paris he tells us he looked in the mirror and his smile was “double”, the duplicity referring to his hypocrisy, that he is guilty while claiming innocence, and his selflessness is really motivated by self-interest and vanity. Perhaps Camus is pointing out to his reader, and to himself, we all have this image in the mirror.

What Clamence realizes and as he confesses to his listener is we do have a choice, and this choice defines us. We must look into this mirror and we never stop looking. Each time we look we might see something else we didn’t see before, but this reflection is already in the past, and instead of forever chasing it (as Clamence does—Camus ends the novel quite brilliantly: Brr…! The water’s so cold! But let’s not worry! It’s too late now. It will always be too late. Fortunately!) one must face this abyss of self-knowledge and laugh at oneself—something Clamence unfortunately is really unable to do. Udoff in his introduction to the collection of essays on Kafka’s contextuality, “Abysssus Abyssum Invocat” (roughly translated the deep calls the deep or hell calls hell) illuminates this form of exile and points out referencing Kierkegaard’s Either-Or the depiction of choice as a moment of self-actualization, the interplay of self and word, play and oath (xxviii):

… the experience of choosing imparts to a man’s nature a solemnity, a quiet dignity, which never is entirely lost… So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and the I chooses itself—or rather, receives itself. Then has the soul beheld the loftiest sight that mortal eye can see and which never can be forgotten… the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.

What one sees in this moment of self-actualization, however, is the dual nature of this choice how there are two worlds/two truths. The duality of Nature (and human nature) is present all around us. We would not be able to define day if we did not have night. We would not know hot if we didn’t know cold. Sometimes the lines are clearly divided and distinct, and we know black and white. Other times a sense of discernment is needed, for in things such as love and hate, pride and humility, these lines can easily be crossed and stepped back over again (in the blink of an eye one can see a reflection of love and just as quickly fear and doubt what is seen, look again and see hate, take another look and come back to love), and in this process of self-reflection and perception of the outside world gray areas appear. While one is innocent this infection of self-doubt is not evident—the truth is the simple goodness of life—but with age and experience this naiveté dissipates, and this is what Clamence resents and pities. It’s an old philosophical game. The innocent act can be seen as a self-serving one. Generosity and heroism can contain the motivations of greed and cowardice. What Clamence condemns in himself (hoping his listener will agree) is not seeing this is an act of self-deception, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

So why does Camus write The Fall the way he did? In many ways when one is faced with this moment of self-actualization and begins to realize the duplicity and dualities all around us it’s a matter of exorcising the demons of what we now see in the mirror and sublimating it as a means of catharsis. Apparently Camus took stock after the publication of The Rebel and decided to write anything which came to mind, write what he felt, and out of this came the self-confessional tone in The Fall. As Tarrow researches in his journals and articles, this profound duplicity of humanity is explored and echoed by the text of The Fall itself, the fact that truth and falsehood are hard to distinguish and the distinction may even become irrelevant (156-158):

… The intellectual may speak, in a hesitant voice, but in vain. It is not a response that will greet him, but curses and idiotic polemics. According to what he says, his topic and his mood, he will indirectly help the shopkeepers, or unwittingly encourage the policeman. He will thus have rendered a disservice to those he loves, and as sole recompense will have to endure the fact of having enemies, even though it goes against his nature. In preference to such sorrow, should he not opt for silence, and that irony that helps him live his life? Thus the man with scabies tosses in his bed, scratching his sores.

In the writing of The Fall Clamence learns the same truth: First I needed this perpetual laughter, and those laughing, to teach me to see clearly inside myself, to discover that I was not simple. Certainly the text of The Fall stresses autobiographical aspects to the life of Camus, but as those who knew him point out (Sartre among them) The Fall constitutes a parody of existentialist man though the psychology of its hero is profoundly an existentialist work. It’s Camus speaking of his pain.

So is there a distinction between truth and falsehood? In every sincere act one can question its sincerity. Out of this confusion arises. In trying to be understood one can find oneself misunderstood. Just as one looks in a mirror and the right hand becomes the left the language we use to express truth and falsehood inherently leads us farther away from it, and though we can laugh at a dog chasing his tail, in essence we are in the same predicament. And so we distance ourselves from it, as Camus did (for he said the creative writer expresses in his work not so much his personal experience as his desires and temptations), and in many respects in the writing of The Fall he didn’t clear away all the inner conflict. In his reaction to receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957 he exclaimed, “I’m castrated.”

The distinction between truth and falsehood, as seen in the duality of experience and reflection, doesn’t become relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. He can’t swallow his pride, and the laughter he feels projected on him he now projects on others. Pichova in her book on Nabakov and Kundera approaches their texts through the art of memory, and this relates to how Clamence remembers. In particular the chapter, Variations on Letters and Bowler Hats, discusses how Kundera returns to the problem of personal memory in exile. Once again duplicity is noted in the character of Sabina in her search of “unintelligible truth” for in her struggle for artistic freedom she betrays her homeland and must live in exile. The use of the metaphor “a semantic river” and the meanings behind dualities come into play as much with Sabina’s bowler hat as it does with Clamence’s stolen painting. The theme once again of experience and reflection is seen in how each new experience resounds, each time enriching the harmony, referring to Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return and Parmenide’s view of the world consisting of opposites (56):

It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ (“You can’t step twice into the same river”) riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. (ULB 88)

Clamence in his confession at a bar in Amsterdam is in many ways a reflection of this semantic river. He’s trying to justify and reinterpret his prior life in Paris. He’s looking in the river’s mirror like a confused Narcissus on the edge of drowning as what flows is the changing reflections in the current, and just as a river has a source and eventually pours out into the sea Clamence is attempting to understand what he sees now: One plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn`t even know whether or not he can hang on until the next day. Unfortunately, as Camus points out in the style of the text, he can only see his own experiences reflected all around him, and there’s really nobody there despite his sometimes lyrical sometimes sarcastic perspective of where he is now and from where he came. It’s just Clamence talking in a monologue, and we are tricked into reading it like these memories didn’t happen and mean nothing.

Another writer put it a different way. All things merge into one, and a river runs through it. Clamence is haunted by waters. What one realizes (as Camus surely did) is the duplicity, the dual nature of reality (this is seen even in the study of sciences in the nature of light acting both as particle and wave), and you can look and it seems to collapse into one thing, but it’s really both. Appearance and reality merge into the same thing. A man can be both good and evil, and depending on when you look and how you look a judgment can be made which in a sense is temporary and illusive, yet still fixed on its course. As soon as one speaks and says: this is so… he is altering what he observes and what he’s speaking about. This goes on in our perceptions of the outside world, and also in self-reflection. The Bible speaks of it in the book of James as a man looking at his reflection in the mirror and then forgetting what he looks like, and in essence being cast about in a sea (for really a river can only flow one way). Knowledge of good and evil truly does leave us naked. We become invisible to the secrets we try to conceal. The celebration of this the clothes we wear, which what Clamence (and Camus) confess can employ the magic of misdirection—to fool others, and ourselves.

Time is funny, however, and what Clamence can’t see in his confession of: You’re just as evil as I am… is the humility to accept the very things which lead to his downfall are the virtues which cause his vices. We are not meant to judge (because as soon as we do those judgments are reflected back upon us), but we have to in our everyday lives. We have to make choices, some on a small scale some on a grand scale (the terrifying realization Clamence confronts is that both are happening at once), and these choices determine who we are and we have to live with that responsibility. The irony that our knowledge frees us, but also defines our prison. The more you know the more you suffer because you can no longer claim ignorance. Clamence in a sense embraces this fact, but holds on to it too tightly. He can’t let go of his pride and just let it be, and he thinks he’s alone in his suffering, but he’s not. Misery loves company, and one of the best ways to dispel guilt is to be around others who share in your guilt and say: You can be just as good as I am evil. It just depends how you want to look at it, and we will always be looking, always be dipping our toes in that semantic river—fearing it’s cold to the point of being frozen, or joyfully jumping in and going with the flow.

It’s interesting that the painting Clamence admits stealing is actually real. Camus, perhaps like Kafka, envisioned literature as having no place in the real world, but it equally has no place in the world it creates. The same can be said of the stolen panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, which in the text of The Fall Clamence confesses stealing from a bar called “Mexico City”. The actual historical references to the theft of “The Just Judges” and the creation of the altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers are not in the scope of this paper, but the fact that Camus relates its theft to the character of Clamence plays into what Kafka was referring to, how the lies in the narrative of a work of fiction (in any work of art for that matter) can still reveal profound truths. It’s by telling these stories to ourselves, even if embedded with falsehood, that we find a deeper understanding of ourselves.

The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves throughout the text of The Fall also show how metaphors merge in the duplicity Clamence has come to resent and pity in himself. He admits without desire he might be closer to the truth, but the truth is a colossal bore. He has come to confess in a place where others share in his weakness, as Amsterdam in its construction and culture practices as a way of life. And yet the doves are there. As the stolen painting, part of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, has the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so to Camus bows in with the lyrical expressions Clamence gives to them. He admits: …the obligation I felt to conceal the vicious part of my life gave me a cold look that was confused with the look of virtue; my indifference made me loved; my selfishness wound up in my generosities. I stop there, for too great a symmetry would upset my argument.

Parker’s essay on Eco’s The Name of the Rose responds in similar fashion to this question of symmetry in signs and symbols, and whether they can be interpreted as having meaning. She challenges some of Eco’s statement on semiotics and his refusal to designate his novel open or closed whether there’s little freedom for interpretation or rather inexhaustible interpretations. Signs which can mislead or inform are seen again as a duality, a duplicity, and how following them toward some enduring thread of meaning, some permanent truth, is illusive. Parker shows, however, the tension to whether these signs or symbols (once again referring to Clamence’s stolen painting) have an open or closed meaning don’t serve to cancel one another out, but merely complement one another. What counts is your relation to these meanings, not what you are. Referencing the text, William espouses this relation in The Name of the Rose in the significance of leprosy and heretical beliefs (150):

“How can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable? (243)

So how does this go back to what this paper explores as the pathologies of pride as seen in the character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence? He reveals to us his duplicity, his Janus aspect, how we are constantly making a choice between two worlds/two truths. Camus, in the writing of The Fall, also expresses the duality of experience and reflection in how he decided to write the text and what he felt, how the distinction between truth and falsehood is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. Then we see how appearance and reality merge into the same thing through metaphor and meaning flowing like a semantic river. The painting of “The Just Judges” is real. The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves provides a symmetry hard to argue against, the interpretation of these meanings both fixed and inexhaustible, but they don’t serve to cancel one another out—they merely complement one another. In essence, the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” both exposes Clamence’s hypocrisy and reveals how his “fall” happens to all of us. The beauty in it rests that the pride which bedevils all of us is a painting we can steal and sing about, and by this story we tell ourselves come to a deeper understanding of who we are.

Well I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I walked through Thompson Woods at SIU myself after being assigned to Los Angeles AFB as a space systems analyst and what happened during acquisitions training in Texas and here it is almost Veteran’s Day the students stand in line to vote in the Student Center built when he graduated in 1960 it’s been uncommonly warm up until now and the paths behind Faner Hall are crisp with colored leaves the trees not quite naked yet and a fine time to be walking in the woods so when my father told me about them on the levee in New Orleans during a Taj Mahal concert this my senior year some twenty years back at Tulane 1997 after my piece of shit Ford Escort broke down in Memphis on my way to school from St. Louis (had to give two blacks twenty bucks and bought them a six pack to take me to AutoZone and fix my starter at a gas station in Horn Lake) but the oil was leaking too and like a dumbshit I put too much in then the fuckin’ rods started knockin’ on the causeway right at the I-55/I-10 interchange and if you know that’s pretty much a long bridge over bayou with nothin’ had to get it towed the rest of the way and had it dumped in front of our house on Burdette Street and now my father had driven all the way down to haul it back (he should have never bought it from that ex-con conformed Christian from the barber shop fixing Fords out of his garage) anyway he said he lost his mind in those woods his senior year and ROTC and examinations were getting to him and I guess he decided to tell me this because I had dropped acid before the concert (he didn’t partake and it was my first time got 5 tabs from a genetics major I roomed with freshman year in the Honors Dorm I took a tab with my father then I used the 4 other tabs with two ROTC buddies and my roommate) and my father being a retired Air Force Colonel watching us students with our blankets in the grass digging the blues on the outdoor stage (I highly recommend Taj Mahal) took a walk with me down to the muddy shore of the Mississippi where the barges were tied up and the driftwood mingled with the lines the music above us and behind and that’s when he told me about Thompson Woods and what happened there but then you need to know a little about my father he was valedictorian of his high school and during his speech in Taylorville the cops came to arrest him because of a joy ride he took with his brother in a stolen car a white trash background to say the least his father a carnie and a drunk dead when my father was seven the family name an alias William Akley my grandfather beat a man to death in a fight and changed his name my dad’s step-father no better a drunk too and at sixteen he moved out leaving his some 14 siblings and half-siblings with one pair of blue jeans he washed every day hating hominy for the rest of his life always refusing the milk the teachers tried to give him in the school cafeteria so when the principal of the high school came to talk to him about a scholarship to SIU while he was busting out a field I wonder why he went he told me some things but I guess you don’t really talk about that and my mother said he was different before he went to Vietnam (he volunteered after being a nuclear weapons officer in the Netherlands his peers said it wasn’t a very good career move my sister was born in Germany I was born after he came back from Vietnam while he was at the Pentagon) anyway he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in psychology while he was at SIU (he was an English major) and he wanted to be a counselor in fact he did just that with returning prisoners of war but he met my mother in the school cafeteria where he was working as a busboy and she spilled her coffee to get his attention and ROTC and the military would provide the stability he never had growing up so despite the visits I remember to his family (they were always moving but to me it was always like “The Jerk” the same yard out on a back road with junk in it mange dogs running and you better know how to run the power lines his mother before she died in bath robe varicose veins above the slippers sitting on a badly upholstered couch that didn’t seem to change Sis and Pud and Rosie just out of jail for writing bad checks always asking my father for money since his mother’s Social Security and Pud’s disability didn’t quite cover the bills) you can’t really escape that my father couldn’t really escape that they say a man’s character is his fate but where does a man’s character come from so it is funny taking a walk through those woods Thompson Woods where my father lost his mind back in 1960 holding my ex-wife’s hand on a Saturday night before Daylight Savings Time watching our children run ahead (it’s still not Veteran’s Day yet not even Election Day she stole my mail last Thursday while I was at SIU finishing up Delbo’s Auschwitz and After and viewing the dystopian movie “District 9” but she made chili she wanted a bud if I wanted my mail back and it’s fine weather for chili for a walk in the woods and she’s wearing the ring my father gave to my mother just on the wrong hand) it was a purple sunset and I guess the marching band had practice we watched them walking back to their dorms with their instruments but see people want the fucking end of the world so let me tell you about my ex-wife about how our children catch us fuck as I put my suitcase against the door and she says I should get a fucking lock on the door but against Delilah’s denials we were married once and how the fuck do they think she and Bell got here and so let me just do a rundown of the last week since Daylight Savings Time since I saw the soldiers stand with their heads bowed on campus Delilah turned ten the day after election day I won’t talk about her birthday let me just talk about Veteran’s day I locked Delilah’s phone the Walmart special smartphone I gave her for her birthday then fuck Leonard Cohen died and my ex-wife admitted she cried hard so I turned Delilah’s phone back on and she texted they were going to Toys R Us to use her birthday money and I said come get me I don’t know how many lip balms she made me smell from all that aisle from young girls I had to get a shopping cart her favorite purchase the poop emoji pillow and she promised to give me the six dollars she went over at the cash register then we took a drive in my ex-wife’s new Ford Fusion (she hasn’t had to make a payment yet but a tax refund is coming gotta love that child tax and earned income credit) listening to Beethoven from a CD left in the car she rolled some doobies from my weed and I tell you what God made some beautiful weather as we drove past Devil’s Kitchen where the road is closed right now and headed to Giant City my ex-wife wanted to climb the water tower at the Lodge and the girls came down the stairs on their butts after seeing the cross way over on Bald Knob and we met a man from one of my previous stories a veteran himself his son killed himself out by the Herrin Lake Reservoir a couple years back (that’s how long I’ve been writing this book) he was climbing up with a pair of binoculars I said that was a good idea and his daughter Bell’s age said they were hers then instead of eating we took the trail at Devil’s Standtable the girls noticed a lot of fucking bird feathers under the rock overhang I handed my ex-wife one and said, “Birds of a feather…” she just laughed and mentioned it later after we read the sign about erosion and a glacier from a million years ago then we went back to the Lodge and ate the chicken I love how they have books about the Shelton Gang in the gift shop as my ex-wife said, “Good old Charlie Birger…” and she talked about Leonard Cohen again how she was lonely and listened to him a lot and Delilah asked me about the first time I heard him it was back at Tulane I bought his CD “Songs of Leonard Cohen” from a music store on Maple Street and my roommate from New York stole it from me and laid in bed all day listening to it and as my ex-wife said he was a gentleman and a poet and then we came home because I was expecting a package from China and Bell chose “Superstar” on Netflix and it made me cry because yes God does work in mysterious ways after my ex-wife and I both told Delilah to shut off the Vine compilations on YouTube and read a book even though it is creative but exhausting and futile and Delilah and I talked about how they’re shutting it down anyway then from the hard-on my ex-wife could feel at Castle Park as I was rubbing her back (the neck dissection she went through while were married a vascular tumor grew from hormones because of the pregnancies that and finances fucked up our marriage) Delilah texting me “LOL” because she heard her mother saying a muscle was stirring and after faking sleep well we fucked and it was stinky and good (I fucked her tell she came got tired and since she’s too old to get on top she had to suck me off with her stench on her) and it’s happened many times before and there were stains in the bed the girls had to sleep next to me in after she left (we listened to Leonard “You Want It Darker” and danced to “Traveling Light” before Delilah interrupted us with a broken earing of the Eiffel Tower) she’s working and I have the girls this weekend and Delilah wore her monkey ear muffs and sleeping blindfold Bell the first one up this morning watching the lava lamp (another purchase from Toys R Us) as I listen to Leonard Cohen already drunk waiting for the liquor store to open at 0900 and as I write this Bell gives me a hug because she chose the movie “Nine Lives” last night before we went to bed and Keven Spacey is fucking good and that’s all I have to say right now but then another fucking week goes by I’ll be really pissed when Willie goes and as I told my ex-wife at Castle Park young girls are out and a woman my age is gonna have kids which means my kids have to get along with her kids her ex with my ex and then whoever they meet and it just gets really fucking complicated and if they don’t have that kind of baggage at our age something’s wrong with them and she says I’m her porn when she masturbates but men are visual and I’ve planted my share of trees for PornHub while she just says, “You’re an oak alright…” and goddamn sure a woman can be the boss when it comes to love but when that’s all they want to be it becomes a business and if she wants to be treated like Uriah’s wife a writer of Proverbs to her son as she listens to her preachers on the smartphone I got her she should know sure you are forgiven but there are consequences and living off a veteran’s child support and food stamps for over three years while he works at a VA hospital ruling the roost of her own household but ex defacto dating him and fucking him on his days off leaving his bed empty at night and smoking his weed well that’s not very lady-like and when I grill pork steaks Sunday night after her two day 12 hour shift ordeal is over and Bell asks which one is hers and she says, “It’s all mine…” there’s something fucking wrong which is why I resigned my position at the VA and enrolled at SIU where my father and mother met thinking about getting a MFA in creative writing it’s been an enlightening experience and I ain’t no master planner (just like I’m not a master debater) but I’m looking forward to the spring semester and I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen one door closes and another opens I could become a traveling lab tech again or I could just head back down to New Orleans and live off my VA disability there’s just the children to think of and it’s a shame I don’t know if it’s my daughter Miss Blue texting me or my ex-wife I bought “Suicide Squad” on Amazon Prime last night Delilah is a big fan of Harley Quinn she’s been following the trailers for a while now and as pointed out on YouTube in one of the things she looked up the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn is a comic book story we just read all kinds of shit into it and I think Harley Quinn is awesome (“You don’t own me…”) it’s the enchantress who’s a real bitch anyway their TV is hooked up to my account and we texted as we watched it so let me tell you about the trip I took with my ex-wife to Du Quoin last Monday after Veteran’s day after she worked the weekend she wanted to show me again the lake she visited many times growing up her grandmother Marguerite had a house there my ex-wife really does have a beautiful soul and just like Jack in “Easy Rider” jokes about the marketplace where people are bought and sold ending it with “I tell you one thing I’ve never done is talk to bull frogs in the middle of the night… Swamp” who knows what happened out in the woods in Freeburg where she grew up there is a lot of Cajun blood in the family and the stories of witchcraft they dabbled with (supposedly Shannon was baptized in a demonic ritual when she was born and her mother still thinks cats talk to her even though they gave it up and went back to church her father becoming a deacon and leading a prayer group for the men at the Baldwin power plant at least until the kids were grown then they started drinking at the bars again I met her mother for the first time playing with a dildo they have a clubhouse Shannon’s father built and invite many friends over basically good country folks her mother married her father when she was fifteen and didn’t get a driver’s license until past thirty though she drove anyway she took care of the house and Shannon’s father worked the night shift for many years Shannon would sometimes stay up to talk with him before he went to work buttering his bread diabetes eventually got to him and they had to amputate one of his legs a couple of years back a good man he would sometimes wink at me but then Shannon’s grandmother her mother’s mother Rosie had a big part in raising her she was a whore of East Texas Papa Frenchie still lives out in the swamp and I wrote about their origins near the Sabine and Hemphill and walked with Shannon along Holly Beach (when she was my wife she wasn’t a whore but she does like her fountain sodas from her days of doing coke and working at Casey’s and she has though eyes and a lot of spunk) anyway her grandmother her father’s mother Marguerite lived in Du Quoin and my ex-wife would go there for Thanksgiving she liked to put ham on rye and eat from the olive tray and in typical fashion it was a cousin who showed her her first dirty magazine and her older sister is really wild and gave her her first joint out of a cutout Bible when she was 13 then she took a whole sheet of acid and sat in the woods for three days and nights watching the sun and moon pass her older sister trying to feed her ding dongs and she took me to that lake and she said after we drove around it it seems small now and I held her hand she doesn’t like drinking she had some bad experiences with alcohol (when we first met and she read my first novel she said I should be raped) so I can see why she didn’t like fucking me when I was drunk I stopped drinking for a while when we got married (yes we committed adultery but she married young) but then nothing happened with my writing and our children were born and finances became strained as I traveled from one lab tech job to another trying to hide our weed habit (when we first met she wrote me a lame poem about a flower and gave me a joint then started selling weed to me she got from her older sister’s retired biker husband he works at a meat market in Fayetteville now) and I turned to drinking again as a crutch the divorce was volatile and ugly and at first I thought it was just because of finances and for God’s sake half of her neck was cut because of a vascular tumor but maybe it was something more though as you get into the semiotics of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose you realize sure there’s always something more because there’s the maximum of confusion achieved with the maximum order a sublime calculation and we will always be on the inside and we do not know its rule having found it already made and the creations of art only retrace the operations of the artificer not the creations of nature which are not the work of our minds so when the cops were called in the day before Thanksgiving it just seems sudden I got my girls Tuesday night Shannon already nesting on her couch with her comforter asking for a few hits from my spliff (I order wax or shatter off the darknet get it mailed to me dissolve a little bit in some highbrow vapor by nuking it in the microwave which was the mail she stole before Veteran’s day I order it because it doesn’t have diacetyl in it and if you’re looking for that other ingredient you won’t find it there) and she admitted they started calling her Harley at work she was scheduled to work the nightshift over Thanksgiving at Anna Union County Hospital and she was talking funny because of a head cold she passed on to Delilah and stupid me I got drunk that night watching them feeling vexed by Shannon who yes I pushed down after our trip to Du Quoin no excuse for that but I man can get physical when a woman exasperates him and he loses his words and I left after she came after me with a baseball bat but she still needed me to watch the girls over Thanksgiving and when I woke up Wednesday I put on “I Saw the Light” in the bedroom while they blared “Rio” to their elf on the shelf (they went back to Toys R Us without me) the volume high on Delilah’s Samsung tablet a birthday gift from Shannon’s father and it just reminded me of how Shannon turned up the volume to “Marie Laveau” on my Pandora account the Bluetooth speaker hers during Delilah’s birthday meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes and it sickened me and yes I yelled at them to turn it down and discussed their mother to children who are not of age and I made Delilah cry which made me cry and I left them to get some Pall Mall cigarettes at the local Hucks I guess Delilah texting her mother while I was gone then Shannon called me on my phone talking about how Delilah’s phone was off and the voicemail wasn’t set up she called twice again the last time seeming to confirm my address and she goddamn knows good and well my address Bell dancing with the peace sign necklace she said could be a weapon and Bell knew when the mailman showed up I received a next day verified letter which got the girls excited because the monocle revealed I got the code to this prize giveaway event at a Chevy dealership in Herrin and I was on the phone to call it in at the girls behest when Bell said the cops were at the door I had already apologized to the girls about my outburst I just want them to be happy and laugh and not have to deal with shit like this anyway three cruisers showed up and it was raining two cops came inside while “Alice’s Restaurant” was playing on Pandora the younger cop saying “Damn I can smell weed in here…” he took the Dixie plate of shake out of the cabinet after I showed him where it was and left the orange lighter and I told them I get it in the mail from mom and pop growers here in the good ‘ol USA off the darknet which was created by the United States Navy TOR the onion router it helps you stay anonymous if you’re a journalist or a political dissident or want to dabble in the black market but shit buying bitcoin ain’t anonymous (well unless you go to Western Union) the older cop asked about K2 and I said spice was awful I went outside with him while the younger cop talked to Delilah (Bell had to put on some clothes because she likes to run around in her underwear she told the older cop not to look at her and he joked about her skivvies) we stood in the rain for a little bit talking about different beers and military assignments then went back to my patio with a tin roof to get out of the rain the younger cop came around knocking a dead hornets nest down in one of the eaves with his stick and we stood there for a while talking about the situation then they left as I waited for Shannon to leave work and come get the girls though I texted her not to get fired it’s okay here when she showed up in her Ford Fusion she wouldn’t talk about what’s next I told her I hid nothing and she said “Jason, they already know…” she left with them so I decided to drive back to O’Fallon (my dad retired out of Scott AFB before he died of an inoperable brain tumor maybe from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam) spent the night in my mother’s guest bedroom after fixing her Roku and watching “Fletch” and “Fletch Lives” she fed me a nuked ballpark hamburger patty and a baked potato (she tried to feed me old lady food and I hate to say it my mother does more harm than good though with the best of intentions) got a good night’s sleep and the next day we went to my sister’s house in Collinsville for Thanksgiving their dog Cooper has gotten big and almost broke my sister’s middle finger keeping him in check as we brought in our dishes and it was good that my nephew Dalton was there he’s graduating this year out of Rolla (my father’s brother who he took a joy ride in a stolen car with before his valedictorian speech lived there he died just a week before my father of lung cancer) Dalton is getting a nuclear engineering degree and has already got a job lined up in Charleston to teach the protocol to navy men on submarines after an exhausting sixteen months training I asked him if he’s got a girlfriend and he said no all he’s got time for is to study and at least he doesn’t drink or take Adderall like most kids Justin wasn’t there he’s assigned at Fort Campbell working on diesel trucks his first holiday really away from home the meal was good my sister worked really hard on it but as she admitted you put all that time into it and it just gets eaten in a matter of minutes and while we were waiting on the turkey to get done I ordered some more Ego battery chargers from China on my smartphone (it really has nothing to do with politics or patriotism it’s more a matter of free trade after the FDA started regulating the e-cig industry the prices went up that good old trickle-down theory and when you can get the atomizer cartridges for a dollar while they cost five dollars here it’s a matter of common sense though sometimes the parts are defective after all they work for ten cents an hour over there and I’ve met students at SIU who make their own vape apparatuses there’s how-to manuals on YouTube they’re awful bulky though doesn’t fit in your pocket that easy) so after the meal when we didn’t watch football and the talk turned to politics after election day I got mad because all politicians are salesman they all lie to you (in one of Bob Dylan’s songs he says “Somebody just asked me if I’ve registered to vote…”) so I left and came back to Marion and no goddammit California shouldn’t fucking secede that’s what my father said to me down on the bank of the muddy Mississippi during that Taj Mahal concert we don’t really need another civil war and as the cops told me without giving me a ticket I probably could get a medical marijuana card (Shannon could too) if I think it works better than taking a pill and as my dad told me it was my mother that helped him get off his and that’s all I really have to say it’s Black Friday now and Delilah and I texted over the holiday and about this weekend (I got a dog on Saturday a lab mix puppy her name from the humane shelter is Carrie but the girls said I should call her Rosebud she’s as sweet as can be inside sleeping in my bed at night but take her outside and put her on the purple harness and 20ft blue cable I got from Rural King with the girls the bitch is wild she tore up the soggy pillow and teddy bear out there and goddamn I enjoy watching her regal with her muscles sleek and twitching) I haven’t had a chance to talk to Bell and sure there will be a cyber Monday (all it did was fucking rain here) and sure I still don’t know what the fuck is going to happen so let’s just keep singing our songs people.

​Jason Akley

Eng 381A

Fall 2016
Don’t Murder Me

Well I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I walked through Thompson Woods myself and here it is almost Veteran’s Day the students stand in line to vote in the Student Center it’s been uncommonly warm up until now and the paths behind Faner Hall are crisp with colored leaves the trees not quite naked yet and a fine time to be walking in the woods so when my father told me about them on the levee in New Orleans during a Taj Mahal concert this my senior year at Tulane 1997 after my piece of shit Ford Escort broke down in Memphis on my way back to school from St. Louis (had to give two blacks twenty bucks and bought them a six pack to take me to AutoZone and fix my starter at a gas station in Horn Lake) but the oil was leaking too and like a dumbshit I put too much in then the fuckin’ rods started knockin’ on the causeway right at the I-55/I-10 interchange and if you know that’s pretty much a long bridge over bayou with nothin’ had to get it towed the rest of the way and had it dumped in front of our house on Burdette Street and now my father had driven all the way down to haul it back (he should have never bought it from that ex-con conformed Christian from the barber shop fixing Fords out of his garage) anyway he said he lost his mind in those woods this I guess back in 1960 and ROTC and examinations were getting to him and I guess he decided to tell me this because I had dropped acid before the concert (he didn’t partake and it was my first time got 5 tabs from a genetics major I roomed with freshman year in the Honors Dorm I took a tab with my father then I used the 4 other tabs with two ROTC buddies and my roommate) and my father being a retired Air Force Colonel watching us students with our blankets in the grass digging the blues on the outdoor stage (I highly recommend Taj Mahal) took a walk with me down to the muddy shore of the Mississippi where the barges were tied up and the driftwood mingled with the lines the music above us and behind and that’s when he told me about Thompson Woods and what happened there but then you need to know a little about my father he was valedictorian of his high school and during his speech in Taylorville the cops came to arrest him because of a joy ride he took with his brother in a stolen car a white trash background to say the least his father a carnie and a drunk dead when my father was seven the family name an alias William Akley beat a man to death in a fight and changed his name my dad’s step-father no better a drunk too and at sixteen he moved out leaving his some 14 siblings and half-siblings with one pair of blue jeans he washed every day hating hominy for the rest of his life always refusing the milk the teachers tried to give him in the school cafeteria so when the principal of the high school came to talk to him about a scholarship to SIU while he was busting out a field I wonder why he went he told me some things but I guess you don’t really talk about that and my mother said he was different before he went to Vietnam (he volunteered after being a nuclear weapons officer in the Netherlands his peers said it wasn’t a very good career move my sister was born in Germany I was born after he came back from Vietnam while he was at the Pentagon) anyway he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in psychology while he was at SIU (he was an English major) and he wanted to be a counselor in fact he did just that with returning prisoners of war but he met my mother in the school cafeteria where he was working as a busboy and she spilled her coffee to get his attention and ROTC and the military would provide the stability he never had growing up so despite the visits I remember to his family (they were always moving but to me it was always like “The Jerk” the same yard out on a back road with junk in it mange dogs running and you better know how to run the power lines his mother before she died in bath robe varicose veins above the slippers sitting on a badly upholstered couch that didn’t seem to change Sis and Pud and Rosie just out of jail for writing bad checks always asking my father for money since his mother’s Social Security  and Pud’s disability didn’t quite cover the bills) you can’t really escape that my father couldn’t really escape that they say a man’s character is his fate but where does a man’s character come from so it is funny taking a walk through those woods Thompson Woods where my father lost his mind back in 1960 holding my ex-wife’s hand on a Saturday night before Daylight Savings Time watching our children run ahead (it’s still not Veteran’s Day yet not even Election Day she stole my mail last Thursday while I was at SIU finishing up Delbo’s Auschwitz and After and viewing the dystopian movie “District 9” but she made chili she wanted a bud if I wanted my mail back and it’s fine weather for chili for a walk in the woods and she’s wearing the ring my father gave to my mother just on the wrong hand) it was a purple sunset and I guess the marching band had practice we watched them walking back to their dorms with their instruments but see people want the fucking end of the world so let me tell you about my ex-wife about how our children catch us fuck as I put my suitcase against the door and she says I should get a fucking lock on the door but against Delilah’s denials we were married once and how the fuck do they think she and Bell got here and so let me just do a rundown of the last week since Daylight Savings Time since I saw the soldiers stand with their heads bowed on campus Delilah turned ten the day after election day I won’t talk about her birthday let me just talk about Veteran’s day I locked Delilah’s phone the Walmart special smartphone I gave her for her birthday then fuck Leonard Cohen died and my ex-wife admitted she cried hard so I turned Delilah’s phone back on and she texted they were going to Toys R Us to use her birthday money and I said come get me I don’t know how many lip balms she made me smell from all that aisle from young girls I had to get a shopping cart her favorite purchase the poop emoji pillow and she promised to give me the six dollars she went over at the cash register then we took a drive in my ex-wife’s new Ford Fusion (she hasn’t had to make a payment yet) listening to Beethoven from a CD left in the car she rolled some doobies from my weed and I tell you what God made some beautiful weather as we drove past Devil’s Kitchen where the road is closed right now and headed to Giant City my ex-wife wanted to climb the water tower at the Lodge and the girls came down the stairs on their butts after seeing the cross way over on Bald Knob and we met a man from one of my previous stories a veteran himself his son killed himself out by the Herrin Lake Reservoir  a couple years back (that’s how long I’ve been writing this book) he was climbing up with a pair of binoculars I said that was a good idea and his daughter Bell’s age said they were hers then instead of eating we took the trail at Devil’s Standtable the girls noticed a lot of fucking bird feathers under the rock overhang I handed my ex-wife one and said, “Birds of a feather…” she just laughed and mentioned it later after we read the sign about erosion and a glacier from a million years ago then we went back to the Lodge and ate the chicken I love how they have books about the Shelton Gang in the gift shop as my ex-wife said, “Good old Charlie Birger…” and she talked about Leonard Cohen again how she was lonely and listened to him a lot and Delilah asked me about the first time I heard him it was back at Tulane I bought his CD “Songs of Leonard Cohen” from a music store on Maple Street and my roommate from New York stole it from me and laid in bed all day listening to it and as my ex-wife said he was a gentleman and a poet and then we came home because I was expecting a package from China and Bell chose “Superstar” on Netflix and it made me cry because yes God does work in mysterious ways after my ex-wife and I both told Delilah to shut off the Vine compilations on YouTube and read a book even though it is creative but exhausting and futile and Delilah and I talked about how they’re shutting it down anyway then from the hard-on my ex-wife could feel at Castle Park as I was rubbing her back (the neck dissection she went through while were married a vascular tumor grew from hormones because of the pregnancies that and finances fucked up our marriage) Delilah texting me “LOL” because she heard her mother saying a muscle was stirring and after faking sleep well we fucked and it was stinky and good and it’s happened many times before and there were stains in the bed the girls had to sleep next to me in after she left (we listened to Leonard “You Want It Darker” and danced to “Traveling Light” before Delilah interrupted us with a broken earing of the Eiffel Tower) she’s working and I have the girls this weekend and Delilah wore her monkey ear muffs and sleeping blindfold Bell the first one up this morning watching the lava lamp (another purchase from Toys R Us) as I listen to Leonard Cohen already drunk waiting for the liquor store to open at 0900 and as I write this Bell gives me a hug because she chose the movie “Nine Lives” last night before we went to bed and Keven Spacey is fucking good and that’s all I have to say right now but then another fucking week goes by I’ll be really pissed when Willie goes and as I told my ex-wife at Castle Park young girls are out and a woman my age is gonna have kids which means my kids have to get along with her kids her ex with my ex and then whoever they meet and it just gets really fucking complicated and if they don’t have that kind of baggage at our age something’s wrong with them and she says I’m her porn when she masturbates but men are visual and I’ve planted my share of trees for PornHub while she just says, “You’re an oak alright…” and goddamn sure a woman can be the boss when it comes to love but when that’s all they want to be it becomes a business and if she wants to be treated like Uriah’s wife a writer of Proverbs to her son as she listens to her preachers on the smartphone I got her she should know sure you are forgiven but there are consequences and living off a veteran’s child support and food stamps for over three years while he works at a VA hospital ruling the roost of her own household but ex defacto dating him on his days off and smoking his weed well that’s not very lady-like and when I grill pork steaks Sunday night after her two day 12 hour shift ordeal is over and Bell asks which one is hers and she says, “It’s all mine…” there’s something fucking wrong which is why I resigned my position at the VA and enrolled at SIU where my father and mother met thinking about getting a MFA in creative writing it’s been an enlightening experience and I ain’t no master planner (just like I’m not a master debater) but I’m looking forward to the spring semester and I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen one door closes and another opens I could become a traveling lab tech again or I could just head back down to New Orleans and live off my VA disability there’s just the children to think of and it’s a shame I don’t know if it’s my daughter Miss Blue texting me or my ex-wife I bought “Suicide Squad” on Amazon Prime last night Delilah is a big fan of Harley Quinn she’s been following the trailers for a while now and as pointed out on YouTube in one of the things she looked up the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn is a comic book story we just read all kinds of shit into it and I think Harley Quinn is awesome (“You don’t own me…”) it’s the enchantress who’s a real bitch anyway their TV is hooked up to my account and we texted as we watched it so let me tell you about the trip I took with my ex-wife to Du Quoin last Monday she wanted to show me again the lake she visited many times growing up her grandmother Marguerite had a house there my ex-wife really does have a beautiful soul and just like Jack in “Easy Rider” jokes about the marketplace where people are bought and sold ending it with “I tell you one thing I’ve never done is talk to bull frogs in the middle of the night… Swamp” she’s my girl and who knows what happened out in the woods in Freeburg where she grew up there is a lot of Cajun blood in the family and the stories of witchcraft they dabbled with (supposedly Shannon was baptized in a demonic ritual when she was born and her mother still thinks cats talk to her even though they gave it up and went back to church her father becoming a deacon and leading a prayer group for the men at the Baldwin power plant at least until the kids were grown then they started drinking at the bars again I met her mother for the first time playing with a dildo they have a clubhouse Shannon’s father built and invite many friends over basically good country folks her mother married her father when she was fifteen and didn’t get a driver’s license until past thirty though she drove anyway she took care of the house and Shannon’s father worked the night shift for many years Shannon would sometimes stay up to talk with him before he went to work buttering his bread diabetes eventually got to him and they had to amputate one of his legs a couple of years back a good man he would sometimes wink at me but then Shannon’s grandmother her mother’s mother Rosie had a big part in raising her she was a whore of East Texas Papa Frenchie still lives out in the swamp and I wrote about their origins near the Sabine and Hemphill and walked with Shannon along Holly Beach my ex-wife is not a whore but she has though eyes and a lot of spunk) anyway her grandmother her father’s mother Marguerite lived in Du Quoin and my ex-wife would go there for Thanksgiving she liked to put ham on rye and eat from the olive tray and in typical fashion it was a cousin who showed her her first dirty magazine and her older sister is really wild and gave her her first joint out of a cutout Bible when she was 13 then she took a whole sheet of acid and sat in the woods for three days and nights watching the sun and moon pass her older sister trying to feed her ding dongs and she took me to that lake and she said after we drove around it it seems small now and I held her hand she doesn’t like drinking she had some bad experiences with alcohol (when we first met and she read my first novel she said I should be raped) so I can see why she didn’t like fucking me when I was drunk I stopped drinking for a while when we got married (yes we committed adultery but she married young) but then nothing happened with my writing and our children were born and finances became strained as I traveled from one lab tech job to another trying to hide our weed habit and I turned to drinking again as a crutch the divorce was volatile and ugly and at first I thought it was just because of finances and for God’s sake half of her neck was cut because of a vascular tumor but maybe it was something more though as you get into the semiotics of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose you realize sure there’s always something more because there’s the maximum of confusion achieved with the maximum order a sublime calculation and we will always be on the inside and we do not know its rule having found it already made and the creations of art only retrace the operations of the artificer not the creations of nature which are not the work of our minds so when the cops were called in the day before Thanksgiving it just seems sudden I got my girls Tuesday night Shannon already nesting on her couch with her comforter asking for a few hits from my spliff (I order wax or shatter off the darknet get it mailed to me dissolve a little bit in some highbrow vapor by nuking it in the microwave which was the mail she stole before Veteran’s day I order it because it doesn’t have diacetyl in it and if you’re looking for that other ingredient you won’t find it there) and she  admitted they started calling her Harley at work she was scheduled to work the nightshift over Thanksgiving at Anna Union County Hospital and she was talking funny because of a head cold she passed on to Delilah and stupid me I got drunk that night watching them feeling vexed by Shannon who yes I pushed down after our trip to Du Quoin no excuse for that but I man can get physical when a woman exasperates him and he loses his words and I left after she came after me with a baseball bat but she still needed me to watch the girls over Thanksgiving and when I woke up Wednesday I put on “I Saw the Light” in the bedroom while they blared “Rio” to their elf on the shelf (they went back to Toys R Us without me) the volume high on Delilah’s Samsung tablet a birthday gift from Shannon’s father and it just reminded me of how Shannon turned up the volume to “Marie Laveau” on my Pandora account the Bluetooth speaker hers during Delilah’s birthday meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes and it sickened me and yes I yelled at them to turn it down and discussed their mother to children who are not of age and I made Delilah cry which made me cry and I left them to get some Pall Mall cigarettes at the local Hucks I guess Delilah texting her mother while I was gone then Shannon called me on my phone talking about how Delilah’s phone was off and the voicemail wasn’t set up she called twice again the last time seeming to confirm my address and she goddamn knows good and well my address Bell dancing with the peace sign necklace she said could be a weapon and Bell knew when the mailman showed up I received a next day verified letter which got the girls excited because the monocle revealed I got the code to this prize giveaway event at a Chevy dealership in Herrin and I was on the phone to call it in at the girls behest when Bell said the cops were at the door I had already apologized to the girls about my outburst I just want them to be happy and laugh and not have to deal with shit like this anyway three cruisers showed up and it was raining two cops came inside while “Alice’s Restaurant” was playing on Pandora the younger cop saying “Damn I can smell weed in here…” he took the Dixie plate of shake out of the cabinet after I showed him where it was and left the orange lighter and I told them I get it in the mail from mom and pop growers here in the good ‘ol USA off the darknet which was created by the United States Navy TOR the onion router it helps you stay anonymous if you’re a journalist or a political dissident or want to dabble in the black market but shit buying bitcoin ain’t anonymous the older cop asked about K2 and I said spice was awful I went outside with him while the younger cop talked to Delilah (Bell had to put on some clothes because she likes to run around in her underwear she told the older cop not to look at her and he joked about her skivvies) we stood in the rain for a little bit talking about different beers and military assignments then went back to my patio with a tin roof to get out of the rain the younger cop came around knocking a dead hornets nest down in one of the eaves with his stick and we stood there for a while talking about the situation then they left as I waited for Shannon to leave work and come get the girls though I texted her not to get fired it’s okay here when she showed up in her Ford Fusion she wouldn’t talk about what’s next I told her I hid nothing and she said “Jason, they already know…” she left with them so I decided to drive back to O’Fallon (my dad retired out of Scott AFB before he died) spent the night in my mother’s guest bedroom after fixing her Roku and watching “Fletch” and “Fletch Lives” she fed me a nuked ballpark hamburger patty and a baked potato (she tried to feed me old lady food and I hate to say it my mother does more harm than good though with the best of intentions) got a good night’s sleep and the next day we went to my sister’s house in Collinsville for Thanksgiving their dog Cooper has gotten big and almost broke my sister’s middle finger keeping him in check as we brought in our dishes and it was good that my nephew Dalton was there he’s graduating this year out of Rolla with a nuclear engineering degree and has already got a job lined up in Charleston to teach the protocol to navy men on submarines after an exhausting sixteen months training I asked him if he’s got a girlfriend and he said no all he’s got time for is to study and at least he doesn’t drink or take Adderall like most kids Justin wasn’t there he’s assigned at Fort Campbell working on diesel trucks his first holiday really away from home the meal was good my sister worked really hard on it but as she admitted you put all that time into it and it just gets eaten in a matter of minutes and while we were waiting on the turkey to get done I ordered some more Ego battery chargers from China on my smartphone (it really has nothing to do with politics or patriotism it’s more a matter of free trade after the FDA started regulating the e-cig industry the prices went up that good old trickle-down theory and when you can get the atomizer cartridges for a dollar while they cost five dollars here it’s a matter of common sense though sometimes the parts are defective after all they work for ten cents an hour over there and I’ve met students at SIU who make their own vape apparatuses there’s how-to manuals on YouTube they’re awful bulky though doesn’t fit in your pocket that easy) so after the meal when we didn’t watch football and the talk turned to politics after election day I got mad because all politicians are salesman they all lie to you (in one of Bob Dylan’s songs he says “Somebody just asked me if I’ve registered to vote…”) so I left and came back to Marion and no goddammit California shouldn’t fucking secede that’s what my father said to me down on the bank of the muddy Mississippi during that Taj Mahal concert we don’t really need another civil war and as the cops told me without giving me a ticket I probably could get a medical marijuana card (Shannon could too) if I think it works better than taking a pill and as my dad told me it was my mother that helped him get off his and that’s all I really have to say it’s Black Friday now and Delilah and I have texted over the holiday and about this weekend I haven’t had a chance to talk to Bell and sure there will be a cyber Monday and sure I still don’t know what the fuck is going to happen so let’s just keep singing our songs people.

Well I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I walked through Thompson Woods myself and here it is almost Veteran’s Day the students stand in line to vote in the Student Center it’s been uncommonly warm up until now and the paths behind Faner Hall are crisp with colored leaves the trees not quite naked yet and a fine time to be walking in the woods so when my father told me about them on the levee in New Orleans during a Taj Mahal concert this my senior year at Tulane 1997 after my piece of shit Ford Escort broke down in Memphis on my way back to school from St. Louis (had to give two blacks twenty bucks and bought them a six pack to take me to AutoZone and fix my starter at a gas station in Horn Lake) but the oil was leaking too and like a dumbshit I put too much in then the fuckin’ rods started knockin’ on the causeway right at the I-55/I-10 interchange and if you know that’s pretty much a long bridge over bayou with nothin’ had to get it towed the rest of the way and had it dumped in front of our house on Burdette Street and now my father had driven all the way down to haul it back (he should have never bought it from that ex-con conformed Christian from the barber shop fixing Fords out of his garage) anyway he said he lost his mind in those woods this I guess back in 1960 and ROTC and examinations were getting to him and I guess he decided to tell me this because I had dropped acid before the concert (he didn’t partake and it was my first time got 5 tabs from a genetics major I roomed with freshman year in the Honors Dorm I took a tab with my father then I used the 4 other tabs with two ROTC buddies and my roommate) and my father being a retired Air Force Colonel watching us students with our blankets in the grass digging the blues on the outdoor stage (I highly recommend Taj Mahal) took a walk with me down to the muddy shore of the Mississippi where the barges were tied up and the driftwood mingled with the lines the music above us and behind and that’s when he told me about Thompson Woods and what happened there but then you need to know a little about my father he was valedictorian of his high school and during his speech in Taylorville the cops came to arrest him because of a joy ride he took with his brother in a stolen car a white trash background to say the least his father a carnie and a drunk dead when my father was seven the family name an alias William Akley beat a man to death in a fight and changed his name my dad’s step-father no better a drunk too and at sixteen he moved out leaving his some 14 siblings and half-siblings with one pair of blue jeans he washed every day hating hominy for the rest of his life always refusing the milk the teachers tried to give him in the school cafeteria so when the principal of the high school came to talk to him about a scholarship to SIU while he was busting out a field I wonder why he went he told me some things but I guess you don’t really talk about that and my mother said he was different before he went to Vietnam (he volunteered after being a nuclear weapons officer in the Netherlands his peers said it wasn’t a very good career move my sister was born in Germany I was born after he came back from Vietnam while he was at the Pentagon) anyway he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in psychology while he was SIU (he was an English major) and he wanted to be a counselor in fact he did just that with returning prisoners of war but he met my mother in the school cafeteria where he was working as a busboy and she spilled her coffee to get his attention and ROTC and the military would provide the stability he never had growing up so despite the visits I remember to his family (they were always moving but to me it was always like “The Jerk” the same yard out on a back road with junk in it mange dogs running and you better know how to run the power lines his mother before she died in bath robe varicose veins above the slippers sitting on a badly upholstered couch that didn’t seem to change Sis and Pud and Rosie just out of jail for writing bad checks always asking my father for money since his mother’s Social Security and Pud’s disability didn’t quite cover the bills) you can’t really escape that my father couldn’t really escape that they say a man’s character is his fate but where does a man’s character come from so it is funny taking a walk through those woods Thompson Woods where my father lost his mind back in 1960 holding my ex-wife’s hand on a Saturday night before Daylight Savings Time watching our children run ahead (it’s still not Veteran’s Day yet not even Election Day she stole my mail last Thursday while I was at SIU finishing up Delbo’s Auschwitz and After and viewing the dystopian movie “District 9” but she made chili and it’s fine weather for chili for a walk in the woods and she’s wearing the ring my father gave to my mother just on the wrong hand) it was a purple sunset and I guess the marching band had practice we watched them walking back to their dorms with their instruments…

He was a dumbshit. Dennis was. She probably should have known something was wrong when he tried to sell school property he and some buddies stole one night in drunken vandalism of Freeburg high school (in a small town students of a school measuring more than a hundred would mean not everybody knew everybody but this was a school of under a hundred) and their mascot name was the midgets he was an alumni of a few years back but trying to sell back computers and audio visual equipment to people who worked for the school is pretty stupid. She rode with him to the community park off of Apple Street in his lime green Monte Carlo where the deal was supposed to go down under the picnic pavilions, but she lingered at the car with her Marlboro Lights 100s and told him he should do the same. Stupid fucker still walked right into the police bust. The Monte Carlo stayed at the park. She walked home.

If a teenage girl wants to sneak out at night she can. Her father waited one time in her bedroom with a shotgun as she came back in through the window, but he knew that wouldn’t deter her so he let it go. Working as a waitress at Denny’s most of it was harmless. There was the boy she took her to older sister’s house. He came in his pants as soon as she showed him her boobs. Skipping school to visit Dennis was different. In Belleville there was an underground studio off Main Street where young girls from local small towns were enticed to do pornos. Dennis was gonna sell some of the equipment to the men who ran the studio. He asked her to go. Her father taught her enough to say no, but then he did the stupid deal in the Freeburg community park.

He had given her a ring. She wasn’t sure where he got it, but she wore it. At least until she drove with her father to the St. Clair County jail to bail him out. She pawned the ring for money. Her father spoke to Dennis by his Ford F150 then got in. Dennis told her he had to leave town. She bawled like a bitch then drove home with her father.

If you don’t think women are stalkers way more than men you need to learn a thing or two. Dennis went on a drinking binge at the VFW (he’d enlisted in the Army out of high school saw no combat stuck in logistics and as soon as his tour was up at Fort Campbell and Fort Leonard Wood he migrated back home for outside of the Army he had never been outside of Southern Illinois) and after another arrest of public inebriation he got carted off to Jefferson Barracks and since they were full he ended up in Alton. Faith’s girlfriend (she was fucking her older brother Faith hated how all the girls she brought home would fuck her brother she even tried to get physical once more out of frustration with her girlfriends than because she was mad at her brother and in playful sibling wrestling her brother just beat the shit out of her and fucked her girlfriend anyway) her name was Nicole and they jabbered and smoked cigarettes all the way up to Alton.

The false name was fine. But the fake social security would work only a few days before she was found out and asked to leave. The admitting MD didn’t know that, but she did. Like the subtext which goes on all around us all the time wherever you go where someone can look you in the eye and talk she had to play the game with this guy with his slipping argyle socks and fucking McDonald’s caramel frappe, but all she could think about was tying the motherfucker up to his bedpost after lights out in this place…