Rum Punch…Extra Ice

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It was a short, wicked blow
that put him down.
What started at the shoulder,
connected where the jaw
affixes to the skull.
T’was a thing of geometric,
kinesthetic and pathological
beauty, bisecting the great arc
of it’s target’s roundhouse paw,
stopping his forward motion
with it’s direct line of force
to its target of bone,
tendon and nerve endings —
the temporomandibular joint —
the victor knew would drop this bum
like a sack of haggis composed of
offal, Bud Ice, testosterone and hubris.
While the crowd’s hooting
dwindled, she shook her hand
and ordered a rum punch…
extra ice.

Ever a champion of women’s rights to beat the boys at their own games (I coached girls’ basketball for 30 years), this piece flashed out at me from that very first line. I followed it, building upon that short right hand to a summer quaff for its knockout ending, which might please only me. 

Of Pretty Words and Words for Pretty

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You can’t wait for inspiration.
You have to go after it with a club
~ Jack London

The fan rattles away, blowing ripples
into my shirt and goosebumps
on my arms. My hands float poised above
the keyboard awaiting the control tower
to get its head out of the ass
of my head to impart instructions
(I can’t hope for inspiration)
for a landing I can walk away from.
In the monitor’s glass, I see
an expression of flight, but not
a flight of whimsy or artistry,
rather of runaway fear and survival.

But I can’t leave the room, I mustn’t
leave this chair, until words, perhaps
even pretty ones, fall from my heart
to the virtual page. And so I type —
fetching, lovely, cute, captivating
heartfelt all. Now I await another
flight — of fancy or fear it matters not—
while the fan flips the silver on my head
as it oscillates like my creative self,
by and by and by in the lonely monotony of
the writer who’s forgotten how to write.

Where I reside in the literal, literary and physical senses these days.

Straight Down Union Avenue

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They speed up I-87 before dawn, hot hopes and cool beverages in the back of their SUVs, just to get a shady spot at 7:00 AM. Some transport a designer-dudded entourage on a G600 into Albany International from Dubai, or maybe just ol’ Ma, Pa and their millions wing their Citation from the Hamptons into the little strip outside town this morning. But they always come, August after August, and I’ve never understood why.

I am the anomaly, the local who’s never been to the Saratoga Racecourse to see the thoroughbreds run. Back when I worked in The Spa, I drove past the revered track a hundred times, watched the steeds clip-clop across posh, tree-lined, manure-strewn Union Avenue from training on the Oklahoma Track, then kept on driving.

Do I eschew the milling thousands because I hate crowds? Do I stay home in air-conditioning because the sun and heat make me sick? Or am I just too cheap? Not too cheap to bet on the horses, but to lose on them. I don’t know nor care.

I imagine I might — barely — endure the hustle and hassle if someone drove me to the track, feted me with food and drink, then awarded me for my trouble with a little more. Funny thing, though. That itinerary might make me another of you track-goers, but it just as easily could make me another horse. And to both I still say…neigh.

Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?

EH 4449P Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Please credit "Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Photo courtesy of “Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston”

We have only one thing in common really, Papa and I. We both cut our teeth in the word stringing game as young newspaper reporters. I think by that definition,this is where our similarities end. I didn’t go to war,suffer grievous injuries, move to Paris and hobnob with the literati of a Lost Generation, write a seminal novel of the Twentieth Century or live like this is the only day I’m going to get, then make sure it is.

Minor maladies helped me avoid my war, I only suffered a broken heart (chronically), I moved to that other cosmopolitan city starting with P: Plattsburgh, NY, and my ink-stained, scribbly hobnobbing was with characters called Bags, Botsy, and Burly. My brushes with death were a whitecap-skipping airplane flight armed with a camera and an apple farmer threatening me armed with a gun. Oh, and a heart grown too hard that inevitably turned me perhaps too soft.

But Papa’s words in my throat, my heart and a location south of there made me a writing man as much as a man who writes.On this, his birthday, I recognize I’ve never hunted lion in Kenya, never pulled four spouses and God knows how much tail, never drank enough to make a belligerent difference, never forget I’ve outlived him and know I’ll never pen last words of any piece I’ll ever write that are so incongruously sad as, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I just completed my semi-annual reading of the novel that has informed my life as a writer probably more than any other, “The Sun Also Rises.” And today is the author’s 117th birthday. So I share with you a piece of my relationship, personal and professional, with Ernest Hemingway. If he ever read this clap-trap, I’m sure he’d cut 50% of the words and punch me 100% in the jaw.

I Dream of Riding the Treetops from Cahohatatea to Skahnéhtati on Butterfly Wings

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They say, before the White Man came to this place, a squirrel could travel tree-to-tree from the western bank of my great North River the Mohawk called Cahohatatea to the Father of Waters, the Ojibwa’s Misi-ziibi, and never once touch the ground.

The premise that some ambitious arboreal rodent might make that half-continent jaunt upon the green leafy or needled tops of what was not yet considered American timber is hard for me to envision. And that saddens me.

Some fine artist should recognize in poetic imagery that’s how it was, instead of Mountains, Prairies and Oceans that roll upon America’s margins like the heads of nicely poured beers. No purple mountains, and no fruited plains, a lesser writer’s reach for something that bounced on the right beat and rhymed with “grain.”

Yep, someone should address that pre-Columbian Interstate 10 at altitude because we’ll not experience anything like it again. Though how many really care about that lush here-to-there anymore? Our wild trees now exist within dotted-line walls on maps, like deciduous Black Rhinos or coniferous Karner Blue butterflies.

The latter are dainty flappers who once shared my home territory with wild everything elses from the shore of the erstwhile Cahohatatea all the way to the Mohawk’s Skahnéhtati, their “place beyond the pines.” I’ll bet those pines were as thick as God’s hairbrush, though are surely as sparse now as the once-black hair on the back of my head. From where I look, neither will I ever see again. And I dream of experiencing them both a least once more.

As I said, sad.

Songs of the Schoharie

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The interstate rings its constant
chiming of tires on blacktop,
as semis and panel trucks,
SUVs and minivans zip and zing
like bees inside a school bell.

Up on the country road, you can see
the highway in the valley, hear it
hum some country song westbound
from Albany to Buffalo, or even
some sundown-bound town beyond.

As the old F-150 scratches the gravel,
pulling away, dragging its vroom
from Esperance to Cherry Valley,
its sound dwindles with the distance
like time’s sand through an hourglass.

You finally notice the trees ringing
their old songs. The same ones
played in these hills since before
the People of the Flint stalked
the white-tail oskenón:ton here.

Winged singers flit along their
flyways of spruce to maple,
ash to oak, on winds lifting wings
stringing their forever songs
from the Schoharie to the Chesapeake
and never once fish for a toll.

If you’ve read me (or known me) for very long, you know how I feel about where I live, here in what can properly be called Upstate New York. We’ve got a lot of rural country up here between the concrete and steel cities. A couple of weeks ago, I visited my cousin and his family out in the scenic and historic Schoharie Valley. You’ll come over a hill or around a corner and see why people fought and died over centuries for this patch of God’s green Earth. Before any Thruways or I-88s, Route 20, which no doubt followed farm roads, which followed Indian paths, which followed animal trails, is still one of my favorite drives. How some things haven’t changed in all that time is what I hoped to express here. 

No Escape

 REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (ITALY)

REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (ITALY)

I’m captive within this decaying prison,
it’s foundation sinking and windows awry.
Sentenced here for life with the dark
inmates I’d have hoped to have escaped,
but have only seen more threaten me daily.

They go by the name of Secrets and Failures,
gangs that sometimes seem to outnumber
even the Pains and Regrets that have ruled
inside for most of my stretch.

Each day’s another beatdown, another threat,
another shank between my ribs that rips
my scarred place of solitary confinement,
from which another Secret makes a run for it,
leaving me lying, as another Secret takes its place.