Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Any sign will do. A sparrow at my ear, the sound of the C&O bending rails through Terry County, a whisper from something or someone unknown. We're never lost, just misplaced. The top shelf in the kitchen, tucked in a drawer full of thoughts all trying to smother us given the chance. But never lost. Still, a sign would be a welcoming thing, a branch clutched in the sparrow's beak, a wave from the engineer through early morning gloom, a whisper from a father or mother's voice telling us we're walking in the right direction, telling us to run before it's too late. Telling us all the things we've never heard before.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
In my dream, Neva didn't so much cheat on me as she cheated in front of me, with three truck drivers while we ate breakfast at Clay's Kitchen. The four of them did so casually at our booth while my eggs sat untouched in a dirty plate.
I knew certain dreams could be visions from God. Dad dreamed of his own future, had witnessed to it, claiming it a vision, and these gifts were often inherited, the church said. Dad told everyone that his family would be taken from him and that he would not live long, his heart crushed.
There were no instructions in this vision, Dad told the stunned congregation, only the understanding that the Lord will not abandon me during this time. I came away with no instructions and no understanding, but the Neva in my dream was the Neva of my past. And that could never happen.
I met her while playing in a punk-rock band during my rebellious years away from the church. There was mostly pot and then more Budweiser and Old Fitzgerald and Jack Daniels on top of that, but a few years in, the band switched to cocaine. Rooms were left spotted with foul clues that humans might have spent time there, hard and strange time, warped time. I dabbled less with cocaine than some of the others, but during this period the music became a phantom excuse.
The few times I did take part, pinching my nostrils afterwards until it seemed the soft bones might push through the skin, I did so only because Neva was there, staring at me with warm hair and killer eyes. Two three four times she would bend over the coffee table in tight denim and take lines, that warm hair splashed out from her head, a giant dark hand, a claw with thousands of needle-thin fingers, clutching and pushing her head down from above, through the ceiling from some kind of heaven-hell, cheekbone against wood, throat stretched tight.
It was how she had looked in my dream in front of me and my cold eggs.
I decided to take action after my dream, but I spoke to no one about it. Mysterious, mysterious ways. A fanatic, an addict, believes in the excuse more than he believes in anything else. And when I prayed, I prayed very quietly while Neva slept beside me, the easy sound of her breathing steadying my thoughts like something holy, something wrathful.
Monday, December 19, 2011
On Photographing the Archangel Troy
I'm not going to smile while doing this, son.
This is a serious thing you're laying witness to. Faith that the All Mighty will cloak me in angel's armor borrowed from Michael on a slow day in the battle for all above us and all this worldly hardness below.
I won't smile.
I want the All Mighty to know I take his gift and blessing seriously. I want Him to know I'm a tough sonofabitch forged from this hardness, made a part of it, born from and raised in fire, who can join His ranks as soon as He's ready for me to fall in line.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
More tours in Vietnam than he ever spoke of, but most of us knew. A sniper, they said. Never him. He never said the word that I could remember. But at least three tours, and he returned home without injury.
Then, a month after Jerry came home he was hunting with his brother and through unclear circumstances his brother’s shotgun fired, the barrel inches from Jerry’s kneecap. He lost the bottom half of his leg, his brother dragging him across the ridge to the old home place and then to the hospital.
Three tours or more, and then half a leg gone and enough talent with a gun to be dangerous. And left alone.
Jerry made few friends after that.
In the truck, with his near-rotted set of crutches tucked beside him along the driver’s door, Jerry is talking about the roofing job we’re heading out to this morning. He climbs a ladder using the stump, climbs it faster than me or the other workers. He lays down more shingles and faster than any of us combined, using that same stump as a third hand to hold while he tacks.
It’s middle summer and we’re contracted on a small job in Kenton, so we start early, before dawn, to avoid as much of the heat as possible. Jerry is talking about this as the sun appears over the rounded hump of the Appalachians. A small but large-eyed bird begins to circle low in the sky, about twenty feet above us.
Jerry points it out, says for me to watch, and pulls a pistol from under his seat. He situates it in his left hand and sticks the pistol out his driver’s window. When he takes out the circling bird with a single shot, he pulls the pistol back through the window and casually places it under his seat again.
That’s something else, I say. But I’m worried. Jerry is right-handed, but that must not matter when it comes to killing. I’m hoping it’s a short day. Let it rain, let the building catch fire. His stump seems to talk, to motion itself in my direction from the edge of Jerry’s seat, taunting, explaining things I cannot understand.
Midday. Water. Sitting on the ground and off the roof. The ground always felt different after hours on a roof. More water, breathing, free arm dangling and broken it seems from packing fifty pound bundles of shingles to Jerry. Jerry could cover ten squares on a roof in a no time flat, but getting bundles to the roof was not an option.
I drain a second bottle, chew some ice from the cooler and ask where Jerry’s got off to. A couple guys tell me Jerry’s still on the roof, so I climb the ladder.
At the far end of the roof, balanced at the peak, Jerry is staring into the distance. I search for the sky for birds, remembering his shot from earlier that morning. The sky is empty, hot blue and three clouds.
When I make my way to him, Jerry tells me I’m wrong. I asked him what he was looking at, and he told me I was wrong. Wrong.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The icicle tasted like nothing at all. Not at first. Then before long there was the faintest bit of boiled egg, the sulfur from the mountainside where Shepherd pulled it loose easing through the top layer of frost as it gave way to the shine and streaks of mud beneath.
Dougie hadn’t asked Shepherd to stop and get the icicle. He had only pointed them out as they sped along Route 34. A stalactite row of them lined the rock wall and Dougie pointed and said, They look like teeth, Mom.
Shepherd pulled the car to the side of the road, butting against an embankment of snow piled by the county road crew, and parked.
Shepherd wasn’t Dougie’s real dad. He drank. His real dad did not. He was stronger than his real dad. He was taller. He always smelled like beer, but there was no beer belly sagging when he stepped from the driver’s side of the bitty MG they were driving and tromped through the snow to a large icicle hanging about ten feet from the car.
Dougie looked first to his Mom, but she only stared straight ahead through the frost-covered windshield. She was looking for something. That’s how it seemed. He let her look and examined his icicle.
Once, at the Terry County Fair and Bluegrass Concert, he saw a booth with candy that looked like the icicle. Only difference was it was colored all pink and blue, and a lot smaller. He broke the tip off and chomped at it – horse to apple, dog to leftovers.
It tasted strange, like eggs left on the stove overnight. In its slender body he could see bugs caught in the ice, small ones and a large one near the thickest part. Shepherd was yelling at his Mom and his Mom was still looking ahead. He couldn’t tell now what she was looking for, but he took another bite, a larger one this time, and wrinkled his nose.
Making sure he looked away from the rearview mirror when he did, Dougie gagged. If it were blue and pink it might taste better. This wasn’t like the candy at the fair, he finally said. It came out a whisper in the middle of all that talking and yelling and silence and searching.
Shepherd sped along the road until he jerked into Tackett’s Market’s parking lot. The MG door slammed so hard his Mom finally stole her gaze away from the windshield, turned to Dougie.
Watch now what happens, she said. Watch what happens now and see how bad it gets, she said, and Dougie knew what she meant as much as he didn’t know.
The MG door popped open fast. Shepherd tossed a pack of cherry Kool-Aid into his lap, told him to pour it over the thing and see if that helped. That’ll help, he said, and his voice has lowered and Dougie opened the pack and spread the contents across what was left of the icicle.
But soon the icicle was nearly melted. The icicle was more or less gone, a fragile thing in his lap, the raspberry sugar just bright, wet spots on his jeans and hands, the same as he saw later that night across the living room wall, the hardwood floor, across his mom’s high, proud cheekbone.
Friday, December 16, 2011
If I could invent myself, arrive in the world from a blast or by a divine hand, but invent myself, have some say in anything at all.
Bullfrogs and wings and not busting their asses.
After a time, I might reconsider the whole thing, my existence in this world or another. I might begin to wonder if I could reinvent those around me, train them to my will. In short, I might go crazy and stay drunk on creation and power and wrath.
Pillars of salt and fires and floods.
It would be nothing holy, though, unless you look to the heavens and see stars and constellations and then something more, a light brighter than can be seen by those still bitter for having been born without permission.
But I would have chosen to arrive, make my own North Star and follow it wherever my newly made heart might decide.
Solitude and loneliness, beyond imagination.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
You sat for hours days on end for that painting, ma’am. It’s terribly strange you can’t remember. Do you remember the gold, actual gold, he draped you in? Nothing at all? Not the first memory? So strange, and sad, if you don’t mind my saying.
At least you should remember that gold, how it shined. It seemed to make the mop water brighter, better. It seemed to drip like wine from end of the mop. And this old dress even seemed beautiful in its light. You were radiant, ma’am, and you don’t have so much as a single moment of recollection.
Now that I consider it, you were pale and even more pallid now. Maybe a walk would do you good. We should go to the garden. You could stand beneath the peach tree you love so much. Fresh air and peach trees and flowers.
Where is the dress, ma’am? I should like to show it to my daughter when she finishes her work for the day. Not until then, mind you. He would never have that. We are not paid and given food and shelter and clothing to prance around in gold dresses.
But, if we were, we would remember it. So pale, white as a sheet, if you don’t mind me saying. And if you do, I don’t see much of anything you could do about it now.
Where is the dress, so I can show it to my Madeline? I know you will tell me, you ungrateful, weak woman. And if you don’t, then I will let you die here on this crumpled bed and be done with you.
Do you know what it’s like to see gold shimmering up at you from mop water? Of course you don’t. But you know what pain is. We all feel pain. That broken wrist of yours. It is nothing when compared to seeing your child stooped for all of her walking years, her little hands faded and wrinkled as dish towels.
So, I ask again – where is my Madeline’s dress? If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Strike, strike and keep striking. Even when you’re on defense, making a defensive move, your making an offensive strike. War, argument, conversation. It applies to all of them. We won’t always wear these uniforms, but we can always take with us what we learned. What have we learned? Nothing. We’ve learned nothing but this: Mistakes are not made for us to learn from or for any other reason. Mistakes simply happen and we move forward, always striking. Or you can go home now and die.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Everywhere I’ve ever been has tried to eat me alive. How is this place any different? A warm home, working the rails, and now prison. These places are the same to me. They are trying to kill me, these places, these people.
I’m not paranoid. Not capable. It’s just a simple truth, and it’s because of the tamping rod that went through my head on the job.
I never gave that thing a nickname, but I did have my picture taken with it. A couple of times.
But I’m not inclined in anyway whatsoever to go over was is and what was not. What I can tell you is that the dent in the top of my head, where the tamping iron exited when I was setting the powder that day on the cut through.
I was a foreman. Foremen were required to do this. I was admired in this position. That much I remember. Then something went wrong.
To me it was nothing extraordinary, but the doctor who first examined me thought differently. He said the following in his initial report:
“I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct…Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.”
This was Dr. Williams. They took the case over from him soon after that, and it may have been because he was too caught up in the idea of my brain shooting out of my head than he was in helping. Who knows? Who cares?
I killed a man working the sideshows with me. He stole and he smelled bad and just generally bothered most everybody. I thought my fellow workers would understand. But, when they didn’t, I was fine with their crying and calling the authorities.
If you’re wondering, I killed him with the tamping iron. I kept it, until prison, by my side at all times when I could.
It just so happened I had my tamping iron near by bedside on the night this fellow worker, a pinched face man named Claude, tried to rob me in my trailer. I hit him in the chest, and when I saw it wasn’t enough, held him to the floor with my bare foot and shoved the iron through his neck.
I’m Hades bound down, they say, and they can say it all they want. But not a single person in this hellish place is going to send me there. You don’t take a tamping iron through the eye socket and on up through the top of your head to be taken down in such a simple fashion. No matter how much everyone in here wants me dead, everyone everywhere.
Maybe I could sneeze hard or cough and get that pulsing going again and simply get out of this world, this anticipation.
Maybe I shouldn’t be scared of a spoon rubbed down to a point or a toothbrush. I’ve seen worse.
Friday, December 9, 2011
It was no surprise everyone thought Butch was crazy. Opening a zoo for African wildlife on his private property. He tried to explain by saying he had the resources and time, the inclination, and when those three come together there wasn't much more you could do but go with your gut.
It was the inclination most people thought was crazy. The rest worked for them. Butch admitted it made sense, the finger pointing and names. But he couldn't explain beyond the basics. Anything else just made it worse.
During the first week of construction, he talked with a local reporter. The reporter seemed nice enough and Butch opened up, talked about the inner voice telling him to do this. It was the most truthful he’d been about the whole thing.
The reporter ran a story that made him look worse than before. The headline was sensational, the story, the quotes were hand picked to blow things out of proportion.
But weren’t they already? It was his brother who said this, just after he had the giraffes shipped in and placed. Thing is, Butch knew his brother was suspect, wanted money. Worse, needed it. He’d say anything to get him off the zoo idea in hopes his big brother would realize there were better uses for his cash.
All things combined to simply push Butch closer and closer to his project. When it was completed, he invited several of his friends and the public to visit. He hoped all would be understood once they arrived and took in the wildlife.
In the first hour, he knew this wasn't going to be the case. Butch heard the gunshot from his carport as he was walking down to meet visitors. A young man shot one a zebra. Butch had put no security measures in place and the young man, a student at the local college, entered without so much as a frisk.
After he shot the zebra, the young man fled into a nearby cropping of woods and was gone. The police located him the following day, but he never fully explained his actions. Said he didn’t even know Butch Gavin.
People called the shooter crazy and then the press made up names for him when they ran their stories. It was all familiar to Butch. He began the process of breaking down the zoo the following week. The animals went first, back onto trucks and various other vehicles.
Butch watched from his front porch, and found no inner voice keeping company with him. There were answers to it all, but he couldn't figure what they could possibly be or why any of this had happened.
He later visited the young man, now on probation and living back with his mother. The mother apologized endlessly when she opened the door. Butch saw the boy shooter sitting on the couch just above her shoulder. He called out his questions while the mother's eyes searched his own for something close to sanity.