She had gorgeous eyes and they were looking at him. He didn’t know why, but they were. He always wanted to tell her how gorgeous she was, but could only find the courage to tell her from time to time as the months carried on. She would smile and then she would blush, but soon find a way to deflect his attention from seeing her so. Though he let such tactics seem successful, nothing she could do could stop him for seeing her as she was and the magnanimity that even the slightest presence of her glance held. Such raw beauty that lay in her gaze made him wonder if there was anything more beautiful to be found in this here life.
Not much to say about this one. I found it in a random journal of mine and was instantly drawn back and reminded of a version of me that was a little more optimistic and youthful in his outlook on the world. A version of myself that I sometimes struggle to be. It is not that I am necessarily a nihilist now as my youth grows shorter by the day, but nihilism is nonetheless an undesirable facet of my life now. I struggle with it and fight it off most days as best as I can, but in the end it is the belief in the beauty of brokenness described below and the overcoming of fear of self that I have faith will win the day. And truly it is in the light of hope and of love in which I am guided to a more blossoming tomorrow.
As I walked out from all those who were still mourning I began to feel utterly bizarre. Clarity… such clarity as I soon became unable to distinguish my voice from one now gone. I knew now what was wrong. Honesty, true honesty. That at first I wasn’t even sad about his passing. Part of me can’t help but feel awful about that, but it was true. No, I was just afraid. So afraid that without him I would have to see what I wished so dearly not to, all that I was and wasn’t ever to be. But… But I’m not scared anymore. For the things that scare us most usually aren’t quite as frightening as they may seem. And though they seem terrifying to us at first, as we work through them little by little, their horror soon fades from sight. We then come to see that what we were in fact scared of was ourselves and who we believed ourselves to be. That we were scared to be let down for we thought ourselves deserving of such. We were scared of being hurt because we ourselves are hurt. We were scared of being alone because deep down we thought we were. But this must not be for I… we are so beautiful in our brokenness, our fallibility, and fault. We are the young and the troubled and it is ourselves that we fear most. But when love… when it comes and we finally share it with ourselves all our fears… they do fade and anxious hearts in bliss are remade.
There is always, when writing, an unending desire to write more. To tell a grander story. To bring so much more to life than even possible by one mind. But alas I lack the diligence or the courage to do such at this moment. This piece of a piece is all I can summon. Maybe there is more to this story, maybe there is not. But then again stories worth writing always start in such a way and there is seemingly always an air of doubtful lust in their stay. Doubt that you can do much more and lust for something so much more.
The night was crisp and full of promise as he walked into the bar. He was arriving late, a fact none of his friends would be to entirely surprised to see. But he wasn’t there to see them, at least not in the grander scheme of things. Why he was there was quite different. He was there, in this place, to meet someone else. To meet a stranger, though strangers they soon would not be.
Upon approaching a group of familiar faces that he knew to be his friends, he smiled. They were a bunch of hooligans and jokers and this they knew. They had never tried to be anything other. As they greeted one another with cheers and insults he continued to smile as they smiled too. Beers were dispersed as jeers and more insults continued to flow, but he began to feel off put, displaced as if he had somewhere else to be. This was an odd feeling for him because this is exactly what he had come to witness. His friends. This sharing of drinks and tales long gone. This was his destination and any goals he had conjured up for the night were set in exactly this context, but it wasn’t… It wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
As the feeling grew more and more distinct he began to absolve into anxieties of a precarious sort. And with these shuttering feelings emerged ever so more a loss of words and he began to shift his gaze amongst the room. First to his friends hoping none had caught a glimpse of his rising dismay. He didn’t want any of them to think something was going on, let alone ask what was wrong for it was a question he hadn’t the slightest answer to. Then he peered outward to the window at the far end of the room. There weren’t many people outside. No, just one man not much older than him. One man sitting there gazing off into the night with a cigarette simmering near the edge of his lips. Go… Go… This word, it was all he could now think. Go… Go…
At first he did his best to ignore this word calling him to the outer realms of the bar. Calling him to dive into the solitude of another, but the harder he tried to shut this calling out the greater the pull came. Go… Go… These words became his reality. They became his all. He couldn’t stop them. They were breathing in him. The best he could do was to hold that breath for a moment or two, but this was just as futile as an attempt to hold his own for too long. For as soon as he could hold it no longer it would release again in rage as the gasping of air came out even louder than before. To ignore them any longer was nothing short of asphyxiation.
GO… GO… He was transfixed. He was ungrounded. All of him was unceasingly taunted by this stranger's call. A call to be with one he knew not. A call to be cast out into the night without the guidance of familiar stars. But he had no choice. He could fight it no longer. Outside of all that he knew and expected this stranger was the only company he now sought.
Requiem. This was the first thing she said to me. Requiem. This was the last thing she said. I did not know her, not in this life at least, but she seemed to know me. It was the way she looked at me, much more than what she had said. No one had made eye contact with me in so long, but when she did I felt recognized for the first time in eternities.
Requiem. This is what she said to me as she passed me in this place of mourning and remembrance. She passed me for I was still and seemingly unable to move from my present position. As I pondered this word more it became more mysterious to why she had said it. It was a word that did not hold much meaning to me, but she said it as if it would. Was she trying to tell me something. Was she trying… The longer this experience lingered in my thoughts the more familiar she appeared to be and the more captivated I was with her word. Her eyes were surrounded with dried tears and her voice was a folly between fear and care.
Who was she, I thought to myself. Who was she and why was she here? I had often drifted to this location to be alone. For in this place I was encompassed in true solitude, no longer surrounded by eyes that would stare right through me. But why was she here? An abandoned sanctuary on the outskirts of town is a rare place to find a companion, even as brief as our interaction had been. Her perfume… It was so familiar. It was as if I was embraced by its aroma and comforted in its stay.
Who was she? Who was she? I was still standing there. Transfixed by the wake of her presence. Human contact can be utterly intoxicating when one is deprived from it for as long as I have been. Requiem. This is what she said to me. This is what she said. An unholy sacrament to those long dead. Was I dying? Was I already dead? I have often thought these things from time to time. Sometimes it’s the only thing that makes sense, but then again what difference does death make to those not seen. Maybe I was dead. Maybe she was just trying to make me aware. Aware of my own untimely condition. Or maybe I was just going mad.
As I sat down on the steps that lay before the altar long empty I found an air of rest. I had been standing for so long I thought I had forgot the comfort that can be found in sitting with one’s legs stretched outward. There was a smooth breeze that rustled in through the broken stained glass windows. It had been blowing on and off for some time now. Every once in awhile its flow disturbing the dust that had come to set in this vacant, holy place. And as the dust gently fell upon new spaces I gazed up at the only thing left hanging. The Crucifix.
The slain God stared at me, just as I was staring at him. His agony… My agony… They seemed so much the same. It is no wonder so many had come to pray at his feet for he was the universality of those who suffer, of those fated to die. Requiem. Her words soon returned to me as I drifted back to thoughts of her. Requiem. Requiem. Who was she? Who am I?
I was overjoyed when my editor and dear friend Eric Cooke first asked me to write a book with him, but, as I should have known, it was no simple task that he was asking me to partake in with him. Eric, who is currently working on his PhD in Criminology (and is probably one of the smartest people I have ever known), wasn't just asking me to write a book about the anxieties of youth, as I am akin to, but something much more complex and demanding. Without giving anything away (if there is much to give away at all at this point in the process) I will say I have never embarked on a writing project such as this. With topics ranging from crime syndicates, human trafficking, Nitzschean Ethics, Post-modernity, and a score of others this novel will require both a breadth of research and a meticulous attention to detail that I have yet to experience in writing fiction. Luckily, for my sake, I won't be going at it alone. As daunting as the task may seem I am overly excited to see Eric's writing style in full force and to see where he takes his brilliant ideas for this story! But in the mean time here's a short teaser for the book. A short glance into the mind of our man antagonist, the Baron.
A cancerous Elysium consumed me as cigarette smoke danced over a pallet long drenched in the blood of red wine. With every inhale I expedited my own demise. With every exhale I smiled. There was a certain impotence to the habits I pursued. A certain blissful folly that most confused with stupidity and ignorance. But I knew what I was doing. I know what I have done. What I have done and continue to do. They say there is no sin in the heart of a good intentioned soul. Well if that be the case count me a sinful man. A soul ever so damned. Horror. Disease. Moral Famine. Of these I count my friends. The devil in man is the devil in I. And oh how charming I can be. Seduction. Erosion. Both I use to play my game. But in the end the sin is all the same. I use you, you don't use me as we dance the dance of satanic serenity.
I don't know how much explanation this particular piece needs. Just came from the heart of one very blessed grandson. Love ya Grandpa.
There was an easing silence between the two of us as we drove along pleasant suburban roads. Our destination was nowhere in particular and our purpose was quite unknown. Well at least that’s what we like to tell each other. Yes, our plans were quite random from time to time and rogues we might have been, but our intention was all too clear and we knew why we were here. We were friends, my grandpa and I. We were friends and being with one another was a celebration of that. Whether it was driving aimlessly by neighboring structures or pontificating out on his front porch together, the only thing that mattered was… that we were together. And when we were time’s expanse slipped away for a moment as youth and age old wisdom became one in spirit while we smiled and we laughed in one another’s company. There is much I learned being with him. He was, if he was anything, a breathing genealogy of all which had come before and all which was on its way. A birthing point of knowledge that I but tried frantically to witness. There is much I learned being with him. Hell I like to think I might have taught him a thing or two from time and time again. But all and all we were friends and that’s not something everyone gets to say. For we were always blessed with each other’s company. Where youthful laughter was shared and life’s mystery were summoned forth and christened by the presence of our joy.
Corbin, Kentucky, a small town of about 10,000, has turned out a wide range of exceptional people. Perhaps best known is Colonel Sanders of Fried Chicken fame. But what I remember are the great football teams of the 1950’s that produce All State and All American football players. There was a spirit in that town. I was about ten years old when move into Corbin and I first felt is presence. I then experienced that feeling for the next seven years. That feeling has never left me. This is a short story written from memories about the spirit and homemade ice cream.
Southeastern Kentucky harbors a town named Corbin. Around 1950, a clearly defined place, Hart Hollow, lay just southwest. An infectious spirit inhabits the area, making great residents greater, lesser ones less so, and the mundane a near impossibility. The infectious spirit first struck the holler’s front end, then spread to the back where my family lived. The spirit, as miniscule as it was powerful, and so fine, a laboratory scale would struggle to measure a microgram, spread and marked us for life.
A boy named Hart spread the infection. He taught me and my brothers about football. He only taught us once, but the micro-spirit, like flint striking steel, showered sparks that kindled fire in our souls. On the way to church, we visited the Hart boy, his mom and dad, and their hound dogs. They shared homemade ice cream the Hart boy’s daddy made. The ice cream, a yearly treat, and friendship, the finest, beats today’s refrigerated and churned vats coldly served. Old man Hart had electricity, but cranked his machines by hand. He possessed unrelenting hound dog spirit. He mentioned his oldest boy was attending Morehead College on a football scholarship. We’d never heard such a thing.
My family moved from Hart Hollow, that heavenly enclave with angels watching over it, or so I reckoned back in 1970, when I took my wife and children to see it. That’s before the Devil took a giant spade and knocked down the south side hill. He’d extracted coal needed to keep Hell burning hot, then covered up the deed with a bypass. I wept, with only the spirit to sooth.
We’d lived “storybook” lives. Dogged by the Devil and strained economics, we moved often, attending South, Central, and Eastward schools. On Ruby Street, behind something called a stadium, we heard, for the first time, drums and trumpets announcing a Friday night football game. Church members said it was the devil. We ignored the comments and played on Eastward’s grade school team, the Green Wave. We sneaked into Friday night football games. With the spirit strong and the Devil in pursuit, we moved to a farm on Cumberland Falls Highway where I could see the backside of the holler, a premonition. Rightly so. The Devil found us. I wondered aloud if we were cursed, my brother’s suggested offering me as sacrifice, instead, my parents spirited the family across the Ohio River, north to Kokomo, Indiana, “a half-hour before the Devil knew we were gone.”
We arrived in Kokomo one week before school started. With 50,000 inhabitants, one high school, and 2,500 students, they cut more freshmen players than Corbin’s team numbered entirely. The spirit was strong, two of us made the starting lineup, one joined the Marine Corp. I remember beating the state’s number one team, Logansport High School, 13 to 6. After season’s end, we quit high school and joined the Air Force and Army. The spirit lives on.
We all struggle in our coming of age. Struggle in ways that aren't fully clear to us in the moment. That become even more mysterious as we grow older and begin to reflect back on all that has happen. Life, our own infinitely complex experience, unfolds itself in manifold ways. Complexity, if anything, is the essential adjective for all that is human. I guess this is what this short piece is about. Its about the ambiguity of the past. Our inability to reconcile with that which has long escaped us, yet an utter necessity to strive towards such an end. That the struggle might not just be growing up and continually growing older, but making manifest a self, a life, that communes with itself a little more fully and sees itself a little more vibrantly.
Light fractured as it passed through cracked glass. Most of the windows were shattered and boarded up except this one. As shards of luminesce danced across me I peered out and into a portal of a life now passed. It was odd looking out at the backyard that was now being ravaged by time and nature. It was odd being in this room again, in this house. I was half expecting my return to this place to reckon forth some semblance of closure, some level of peace that had evaded me all these years. But the other half knew there was great risk in returning home. I had no delusions that my earlier years of life had been completely joyful or completely tragic for that matter, just complicated. So I knew returning here was just as likely to complicate things as it was to set me free, but it was risk worth taking. I needed to find whatever I was looking for if my life was to go forward. For entrenched in the past I was with no future to be had until the past was laid to rest. Laid to rest where the sins of youth could finally be forgiven. Where I could be forgiven. Forgiven… Forgiven for all I had and hadn’t done.
He wanted to hate me. He wanted to hate me because it was easier to hate me than lust for something he couldn't have. I didn't want to have romantic feelings for him. I didn't want to admit that I loved him because it would mean that I had made the wrong choice and that I'd fallen for my best friend. A cocktail that, in this case, wouldn't end well. This poem depicts the magnetic tension that kept us apart and, at the same time circling around each other because, having each other in a dissolute way was better than nothing at all. We danced around our feelings to ignore our desires; an act that bonded us in an unusual way but in the end, lead to our tragic ending.
I quite honestly don't know what drove me to write this piece. Maybe for catharsis in my own entrance into fatherhood. I honestly am not quite sure, but in it lay something I think will be worth writing to a fuller extent someday. It needs a little development and I feel even deserves some extension to get from one section to the next. But alas writing is never completed, even when it is. The eternal recurrence of dispondence in one's creations.
There was stillness in the air, disturbed only by a calm breeze that rustled in from time to time. It was still and you were smoking that last cigarette of yours. While most men take to cigars in moments like this, you found comfort in these just as well. You, then again, have never taken much of a liking to cigars. You don’t know if it was the way they tasted or the perpetuity they encumber themselves in. Too much time invested in what could be more swiftly achieved, achieved in a cigarette. This still night… it was lit only by hospital lights and the ember that now danced closer and closer to my fingers bare. No stars to be found in this moment of new life.
I was bereft of thought in this moment. Bereft of words they too might have engendered. It had been this way the whole night as you and the rest waited. You had all been without true direction this night. Lost in new lands as you had but to wonder what this different frontier might be.
You’re a father… You have a son. You keep saying this to yourself, but it hasn’t quite taken full meaning yet. It hadn’t since you first discovered you were going to be one. It hadn’t even when you held that lil boy in your arms for the first time. No, nothing filled that moment other than awe and utter fear. Awe at the miracle of a child begot and fear of all that could go wrong in a child’s life… all the wrong you could do.
There was joy as well. A joy unknown till you grasp that tiny body for the first time and know that he is yours. But this ecstasy of fathering a child is quickly engulfed with a terror. A terror that dawns on you when a father you truly are. For this whole bundle of life... it is in your hands. And that for every pain he feels. Any neglect he burdens. It’s all your fault or at least you know that is how you will feel. That the tears of the child drench the father’s hands and scars the mother’s heart.
His mother. The woman you were still getting to know. So much had happen between you in the coming of this day. So much confusion. So many mistakes. So much you didn’t know. But in this moment you knew. For all you could know as you watched her hold your baby boy… is that she is perfect. The perfect mother for your son. You may not know her, but of this… nothing could ever be more clear. That she was in love with all that lil boy was and was to be, and was gracious enough to include you in such.
You take one final drag of your cigarette, thinking it will be your last. Your last solace in a substance foreign. That all you’ll ever need again lay inside that hospital waiting. Your family, larger now with the coming of child. Your friend John who, though seemingly just as nervous as you, has been diligent in his love and comradery as the night did progress. Your mother who can barely fathom the exciting days to come as a grandmother. Your brother who is too young to grasp the situation fully, but loved you enough to hunker down with you in the waiting. And then there’s her and there’s you.
Both of you exhausted from the anxious struggle, as the anticipation came to fruitful term. This process had weighed on her more than you will ever know and you could never compare her lot to your own. But even so, as you stood there holding him in your arms, she looked upon you fondly as if she knew you too had worn your burdens up to the coming of this day. You are thankful because you know she doesn’t owe you that. You’re just lucky she even told you about him. That she let you have the chance to be a shitty dad, as much as a good one too. That you got a chance at the prospect of fatherhood and all that it can be, for better and for worse. She let you have that. This was her gift to you. And as you flick that last cigarette and at a slow pace move towards the lighted doors, you breathe. You breathe… Knowing. Knowing your breath will now go on.