Friday, January 5, 2018

Ongoing Cavalcade

     I'm not asking for anything anymore, except to keep going. You can take it or leave it, makes no difference to me. I've seen people I started out with rise to unbelievable heights, at least by the modest standards we all started out with. I've come across their faces on magazine covers in foreign airports, watched them glide across movie screens, found their poetry in books picked up at random. I've seen people I started out with crash and burn way too soon. Heroin, gunshots, cancer and car wrecks. It's been an ongoing cavalcade of burials and praise.
     The blackbirds hop from branch to branch outside my kitchen window. There are blueberries in a bowl on the table and far off in the distance an airplane leaves a vapor trail as it makes its way from London to New York. It's January and it's cold, but here's a pen and here's some paper and I suppose that's enough for now. But believe me, I'm not asking for anything anymore. Take it or leave it, makes no difference to me.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Life So Long

I used to walk five miles just to stand outside your house, every night for a year. And you never knew. This was back when we were kids, you understand. It's not like I'm like that now, not like I'd do that now. Because I'm not, I wouldn't. Believe me, I've learned my lesson. That's all in the past. But back when we were kids I used to walk to your house after dinner, from my side of town to yours. Past the Texaco, across the river, along the train tracks, through the greenhouses. To your house, standing there.
     What I ended up seeing most of the time was your grandfather, sitting in his wheelchair in the living room. I'd watch from across the street as he'd sit there spitting out pieces of his lung into a nearby plastic pail, parked alone in front of the TV. The TV was always on in your house. He'd stare at the weathermen when the news was over. He'd stare at Johnny Carson. He'd stare at old episodes of "Gunsmoke" and "Columbo." Except for the spitting he never moved, he never said a word. Nobody there for him to speak to. He was wrapped up completely in a green plaid blanket, except for his dry little feet at the bottom and his shrunken  little apple of a head at the top. His ears stuck out. His hair was matted down. His teeth were gone and his face collapsed in around his mouth.
     He'd fall asleep in his wheelchair eventually and eventually you'd come in to wheel him away, I could never see where you took him. You always left the television running. I'd wait there across the street, waiting for you to reappear, but you never did. Just an empty room with the TV running, and after a while I'd start the walk back home. You told me once that he'd been in the First World War, that he had fought in France and was some kind of hero. You told me that he always told the same stories and that all his stories were all lies. And I couldn't imagine being that old, of willing myself to live a life so long, unless you were living it with me. And you never even knew.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Roadmaps




The uncle who married the Irish nurse in Boston. The uncle who drank himself to death after his own son died in a car. The uncle who died in the war. The uncle who took his father's job at the Feed Co-Op. The uncle who lived in Korea. The uncle the judge. The uncle the mechanic. The uncle the priest. The uncle the travel writer. The uncle the spy. The uncle who was rode out of Frankfort on a rail after flashing a negro schoolgirl. The uncle who moved to New York, got locked up in the stockades, and ended up driving a cab over on Hudson Street. The uncle who moved to New York and lasted a week. The uncle who moved to Budapest chasing a girl. The uncle who moved to Scotland chasing a girl. The uncle who moved to California chased by a girl. The uncle who still lives in Nashville with his husband. The uncle who quit drinking. The uncle who didn't. The uncle who taught you how to drive. The uncle who taught you how to shoot. The uncle who taught you how to siphon gas out from an old International Harvester. The uncle who fell off a train and died. The uncle who fell off a horse. The hands and the knuckles and the bones in the faces. The shoulders and the teeth and the blood.  Bellies and livers and lungs. The smell of coffee and cigarettes and whiskey. Trucks and the cars and pocketknives and rifles and cameras. Wristwatches. Buckshot. Birdseed and dog food. The uncle who showed you what your own father knew but couldn't show you. The uncle who shows you what his own brother can't.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sparrow Thin

     When she died she died angry, to nobody's surprise, and when she left she left it with us. "Bad checks written that couldn't be cashed," as someone said somewhere about somebody else. I stayed up late reading her letters, listening to her messages, studying her photographs, and that anger continued to rise off of the page like a fire. Those were scores we couldn't even hope to settle, scores that were firmly in place before we even came along. We knew it, she knew it, but she couldn't stop it. Just knowing it was there wasn't enough. When she died we were just climbing down from one of those big fights we'd periodically have. One of those explosions followed by months-long silences, neither of us willing to put up with the other one's shit. Even after she died, especially so, I searched myself for any signs of remorse and came up mostly clean. Not entirely clean. It was another in a series of fights that made me grateful for the width and breadth of the ocean that separated us. She'd sent us all scattering. Her grandfather used to fly into homicidal rages, incoherent fits of absolute anger that would make him go blind and once landed him in a Gainesville prison. Her father, fueled by speed and evil design, fell into spells of total fury and violence that made her retreat to the relative calm of that same raging grandfather a smart move by comparison. So just knowing it wasn't enough. I look at myself now and I see it right there. I listen to myself now and I hear it. I smell myself now and I can smell the anger off me. I can taste it on my tongue. I can feel it through my uncut fingernails, through my badly shaven face. I can smell it off my skin. When she died she was tiny, sparrow-thin. You could see her heartbeat echoing through her chest. When she died she was tiny. All that anger coming out of a body so small.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Cold Clear Night

     He thought he could outrun it, and for a little while he could.

     He thought he could outsmart it. Thought he could outdrink it. Thought he could outwork it. Outswim it. Outwalk it. Outeat it. Outsmoke it. Outfuck it. Outdrug it. Outshout it. Outspend it. Outpace it. Thought he could outdrive it. Thought he could outread it. Thought he could outwrite it.

     He thought he could wait it out, but in the end it couldn't wait.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

South of Chattanooga

     Her uncle was a drunk, there's no nicer way to say it. Used to disappear all the time. Used to say he had to go "see a man" and disappear all the time. Wind up in some new ugly situation, jail or hospital sometimes, and her and her mother, your grandmother, his sister... they'd have to go get him. This was a regular thing whenever he was back in Louisville. She saw some interesting things for a girl that age, I can tell you. Anyway, like I said her uncle was a drunk but he had a car and he could drive and so whenever her father got really crazy and they needed to get away from him, get out of town and back down the road to St. Augustine, they called on him, were dependent on him. He had this Cadillac he was so proud of. How he got it is another story for another day.
     This was before the interstates, you have to remember. This is the early 1950s, back in the time of Route 66, and the drive down from Louisville was no joke. No straight shot down I-75 back then. No gas-station Starbucks/Hardees rest-stops along the way. No GPS. No satellite radio. This was two-lane piney-woods highways, a couple of closed up little towns and long stretches of nothing in-between. Farms. Woods. Creatures in those woods.
     Your grandfather, I don't have to tell you what he was like. He was crazy, and the older she got the crazier he got. I'm sure you can put it together yourself. I used to shy away from terms like "evil" - he was crazy and he was out of his mind on speed most of the time, but other people are crazy and other people are stoned and they don't do what he tried to do. He's be OK for a while, then he wouldn't be OK again and then she and your grandmother would head back down to St. Augustine, her uncle at the wheel of his dumb red Cadillac. I suppose she was probably around eight, maybe ten? This one time we're talking about? Eight or ten. Let that sink in for a minute.
     So your Mom and her mom and her uncle cleared Kentucky and were heading down to the Sunshine State. Highway X to Highway Y. Highway Y to Highway Z. Her uncle sweating behind the wheel of his car, her mother talking and talking and talking. Middle of the school year but that didn't matter. Knowing her she probably brought her books along. Her mom and her uncle in the front seat, her working out math problems in the back. This ride already familiar to her. Tedium and radio and cigarette smoke and sometime towards late afternoon she needs to pee. She lets them know, but there's no place to go, so just hold it for now. So she holds it and she waits and the wheels keep turning but she really needs to go and she tells them again. An again, no place to go just hold on. More miles pass and eventually she shad no choice. She tells them again and I imagine there was something in her voice that told her uncle that if he really loved that dumb red Cadillac he'd better pull over quick so he pulls over quick and out she pops. Practically flies out the back seat. Her mom gets out of the passenger side. Middle of nowhere, somewhere south of Chattanooga.
     It's getting dark, but not dark enough, and her mom, your grandmother, looks for somewhere to take her that isn't the side of the highway in plain view of her uncle and the rest of the world. She deserves that much. So she looks around as her uncle gets back behind the wheel of his Cadillac, lights himself another Chesterfield, and waits. He's pissed off, just sick of this shit. Sick of these debts he owed his sister and her angry little bitch of a kid, sick of these drives, sick of this nowhere Georgia heat. Just sick of this shit.
     Meanwhile her mom, your grandmother, spots a clump of trees about twenty yards up off the shoulder of the road, under the most primitive of fences, and the two of them pretty much run for it. She just about makes it. Her mom is close behind. When she's done and she's hitching up her underwear your grandmother has a go. Then they're finished, puddles running down into the dusty red Georgia dirt. Then they're finished, this girl and her mother, this mother and her girl. They stand there looking at each other and dizzy with relief, surrounded by trees somewhere deep in Gordon County.
     They hear the Cadillac's engine turn over while they're still standing there, and whatever smile your grandmother might have been smiling just drops. As they clear the trees, hurrying back towards the highway on the other side of the fence, they catch the sight of her uncle shifting the Cadillac into first. They're running now, but they can't catch up. Her mother cries wait and her uncle calls back out through the passenger-side window that he'll be back, that he can't wait any longer, that he's got to go see a man. And the Cadillac pulls off the shoulder and on down the road, leaving your mother and your grandmother behind. They watch it go until the road curves, then they watch it disappear.
     They walked about three hours south down that same highway until they found the next open town, and then they searched every bar in town until they finally found him. And that's a true story. That's what happened when your mom was a kid.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Vast Distances

Wake up. Make coffee. Stare out the window.

Quarter to five. No need for the alarm. Wake up. Make Coffee. Stare out the widow. Again.

Kids asleep. Wife's asleep.

Radio on. Local news and weather from thousands of miles away. Farm reports. Livestock auctions. Radio used to sound like vast empty distances. Now it sounds like wires. Up close. Too up close. Radio off.

Wake up. Make coffee. Stare out the window. Not waiting. Not thinking. Staring. Again. Still.