Changing Course on The River That Ran Two Ways

In the western distance,
Hendrick Hudson’s crew rolls
ten-pin balls, the native ghosts
having confirmed the literal
and figurative truth Mahicantuck
The River That Flows Two Ways —
wasn’t yet a one-way float to Glory.
That’s the legend anyway.
But the white thunder eventually
rolled over the red man,
just as this afternoon storm
overruns Today, washing me
another step along this stony shore.
The flood tide of my youth
has changed course, drowning the fire
that blazed within this body
that cracks like thunder whenever
I fight its inevitable course
down this river, which now flows
only one way.

Thirty-Nine Over A Hundred


It seems not long ago
when I traded a life
of deep dark for one
in the twilight with you.
These shadows have always
towered over me, just as
I’ve always dragged them.
I just wish I didn’t
shift them onto Us when
You and I became We.
In the dim light, you pled
not to hurt you.
I didn’t, but it seems
I’ve done not much but
hurt since then.
It’s my darkness,
these cursed shadows,
they dim my sight
and I race headlong
into pain, its burden
holding tight against
the light you shine
to cast them away.

The title? Don’t ask, ’cause I ain’t telling’… 
…As if I know.

The Program


Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

Phillips, or #2730098-RP in New Mexico’s Corrections System, offered up his hands for the shackles attached to the chains already confining his ankles and waist.

“Must feel pretty good about today, eh, greener? Cop killer getting off The Row,” CO Baez said. He guided Phillips by the shoulder as he shuffled along the portico to Admin wing.

“Ain’t seen the sun and those shadows since first day I got here,” Phillips said. “Now I’ll see ‘em every day working Provisions Program, instead of getting the needle over there.” He pointed with his chin.

At the end of the portico, a buzzer sounded and Baez nudged Phillips through the door. A female CO whose tag read Silvana met them at a desk.

“Afternoon, Jaime. This the new one?” she said.

“Yep, all yours now. Says he can’t wait to get started.”

“We’ll process him right away then,” she said.

Silvana guided Phillips down another hall, where COs removed his shackles and told him to strip for a shower. Six jets in the tiled wall doused Phillips with soapy water and rinsed him clean.

“Okay, lifer, the State of New Mexico thanks you for your service to its Inmate Provision Program,” a CO said. “Processing’s through those doors.”

Phillips walked through and dropped without feeling a thing, the captive bolt pistol popping his skull and entering his brain. His final thought was of walking through a tunnel of light and shadow, as his life sentence ended Day One in The Program.

Wrote this for a weekly flash fiction contest in response to the photo prompt up top. Needed to write a flash fiction piece of 250 words or less based on that photo by award-winning author and photographer K.S. Brooks. If you like it enough, you vote on it or others starting Wednesday over at the Indies Unlimited website.

The Sharp Edge of Day

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Breeze combs out the trees’ bed head,
while maple leaves, catching low
morning sun on their top sides,
bob up and down as if dawn’s light
carries weight in addition to
blinding strength.
Dew refracts the sharp edge of day
into millions of diamonds, tiny gemstones,
precious, yet soft as morning kisses.
A hunger-emboldened rabbit, piston legs
slowly pushing out of the shadows,
finds a twig full of sun-laden leaves,
consuming their light like that cloud
the breeze pushes south to north
will eat the sun’s. But not before
late-hunting owl’s taloned shadow
takes rabbit’s light first.

This piece, persistent as dawn through an east-facing window, broke up a potential nap I really needed today. I can always sleep tomorrow.

Memories Stolen of Stolen Memories

Whenever I hear any songs
we listened to that night,
I almost think of you.
These years’ve smeared so much
of my memories, it’s as if
I smudged your pastel portrait.
I regret those tunes we heard
(my knee clumsily nodding against yours)
no longer mine the treasure of your face,
sniff the essence of your perfume,
feel your cheek’s softness glowing
warm against mine,
nor hear your chiming laugh.
See, I never switch off those songs
lest my insensate memory lose
the taste of your mouth I stole,
and ran away with in a sack
made of pounding heartbeats.

Here’s the last, for now, of my exercise in using one sense to takes on the role of  another. I don’t think I really succeeded in this piece, where Hearing takes over for Taste. But the poem, a free write fiction, stands on its own decently enough for a first-draft 100-worder. So there ya go.

Through the Trees to the Morning Side of the River


This wasn’t the first time The Colonel went missing. Not by a long shot. He’d slipped out of the compound before and each time he either wandered back on his own or we found him doing what he tends to do.

The animals get mighty nervous when he does, though.

Colonel Benjamin St. George-Banastre, VC, DSO, MC came from a long line British heroes, both military and civilian. It also was as a long a line of Rhodesian loons, nut jobs, and (with true British understatement) “eccentrics.” The Colonel, as did all first sons of the Banastres, conversed with animals because, as he informed me when I asked why, “They talk back, old boy. And I love assuming their stations to know them better.”

I was told the animals weren’t fond of his coopting their turf and cultures. Who told me? Well…

He wandered off three times while I visited the St. John-Balastre family estate in Zimbabwe to interview him for a Nat Geo piece. I got the assignment because I was some half-assed relative, according to my Grandfather Roy, who had lived in Rhodesia with the Colonel’s uncle back in the 50s.

The first time The Colonel disappeared while I visited, it was for two days. He sauntered back into the dining room at breakfast, covered head to toe with elephant dung and followed by as many as fifty Flightless Dung Beetles. The beetles were putting up a vicious chatter, mostly because, The Colonel translated, he’d decided to deviate from their prescribed and instinctive straight-line course from the elephant dung piles to their home.

Instead, he told me after a good hosing down and triple-dipping in some aromatic fluid (“This isn’t the first time his Nibs has gotten shit-faced, mate,” his valet, Boodles, told me.), he’d had “enough of their cheeky palaver and single-minded, pushy nature.”

“Reminded me of getting shoved into the Tokyo underground,” he added, “only with slightly shorter blighters.”

The Colonel’s sister, Lady Beatrix St. John-Balastre, told me The Colonel, or Buzzy as she called him, had learned of his gift (she called it the family curse) from their uncle, Lord Leo St. John-Balastre.

“We just thank God Uncle Leo was born before Papa,” Her Ladyship said. “Our fist-borns tend to never marry and women of better breeding tend to stay far upwind of them, you understand. Very far.”

Two days later, The Colonel disappeared again and Her Ladyship sent off a cadre of rangers to help ferret him out of the bush. I say ferret with good reason. It seems in August the Yellow Mongoose begin to breed. Boodles told me he’d known The Colonel to get “quite particularly randy” as late as September.

The rangers found The Colonel’s boots sticking out of a large Yellow Mongoose burrow. It took four of them to pull him out of there. When he returned to the estate, his face was a terrible mess, scratched and cut. We thought he’d been bitten on the lip, but it turned out he’d had a row with the male of the troop’s breeding pair and had just run the old boy off when the rangers cock-blocked him.

I wasn’t getting too much information from Lord Buzzy, though I felt an odd kinship with the great man whenever we walked the perimeter of the grounds, each of us with an ear cocked to the sounds around us. At night, we sat upon the lanai and got extremely edgy whenever we heard a pride of lionesses on the hunt in the darkness. And while everyone else in the house would duck and complain as the bugs zzzz’d around us, we tended to hungrily go right at them.

This behavior was only somewhat new to me. I’d always felt particularly comfortable on Grandpa Roy’s farm or hunting in the Adirondack woods with him, even though my dad had been killed by a hunter who mistook him for a buck in those same woods when I was but an infant.

After a week and a half, I thought I’d collected enough information on the African Lord Doolittle. I was packing when Boodles burst into my room.

“Have you seen His Lordship yet today?” he asked.

“No, has he snuck out into the bush again?”

“I fear so, sir. Her Ladyship has sent out two groups of rangers to search for him. The first has radioed back that he wasn’t at the mongoose burrows and now we’re quite worried. It was this time last year suffered a broken leg when he tried gnawing on the ear of a bull elephant over in Chizarira National Park,“ Boodles said, a catch in his throat.

“Would you like some help trying to find him?” I said. “My pickup flight isn’t due here for another four hours.”

“That’d be lovely, sir. Her Ladyship would be most appreciative. She thinks you and The Colonel have developed a special bond during your visit,” Boodles said. He then excused himself and rushed outside.

I decided to shuck the clean set of safari duds I’d put on for the flight home. Yesterday’s were still dry, but folded into my laundry bag. I’d slipped one leg into my shorts when I heard the clearing of a throat from the window behind me.

“‘Scuse, me mate,” an oddly accented voice said, “but can you please fetch this rogue human we just knocked from an acacia tree over the four hills on the morning side of the river? Wouldn’t let the females stomp him into a mud hole because he’s sleeping from landing on his tiny head. The nutter thinks he’s a leopard or something.”

I turned and saw the tawny hide, the red-brown splotches, the great short-horned head and had to compose myself for a second, finally understanding so much of what’d gone on before. I didn’t do so so well, though, giving into the great urge to bite the giraffe’s neck, myself.

Wrote this at the request of my friend Jo-Anne Teal from beautiful Vancouver, BC. She asked that I respond to the VisDare photo prompt from Angela Goff that you see above. They ask that you write something less than 150 words, but the characters and craziness wouldn’t let me go…or so the squirrel on my window says.

Resurrection and Delight


“You’ve got to eat something,”
she said after plying me
with enough tea, soup, broth,
seltzer water, still water
(I even snuck a beer back to bed
on one of my many bathroom runs)
that my stomach sloshed like
a half-full bucket as I rolled away
from her in a miserable display
of modern millennial manhood.

“Doh,” I said. “Dot huggry,
add it dudt make a diff’red.
Cadt s’bell so evry-thid id
gray fladdel id by bowth.”
Congestion robbed smell from
my sensory toolbox converting eating
to a fruitless (literally) exercise
in deciphering gustatory Braille.
It also robbed me of my bed,
these virus germs and I banished
to another room where we laid and
played jazz oboe all night.

As Day Six dawned and I cracked
the crust off my eyes and the
white-caned mucilage off my tongue,
a pot of coffee and pan of sausage
tossed five of their seven veils
in sinewy dance over the transom
to my left nostril and I
slavishly slippered my way toward
their sizzling seductive stage.

My meek effort, was soon rewarded
with a tasteful tease of tomorrow’s
production number of spaghetti
and sweet Italian salsicce,
I requested in sotto voce,
“Two eggs scrabbled, couple dohs
piggies add sub of that coffee,
two sugars, plead.” My taste buds
and I, Lazarus-like, had reemerged
from the stone-rolled sepulchers
of my sinuses and so, to new life…
and breakfast.

Day Four of my mini-arc of one sense taking over the role of another sense. Not sure I hit that mark here, Smell and Taste so closely affiliated, but it’s written and a little fun. One more to go…maybe.

I Didn’t Have To Look


I didn’t have to look.
When Father’s Day came around,
as all those Junes ago did,
I think I recall the Old Man
doing what he mostly always did
on any other Sunday morning.
I knew he’d be there in the kitchen,
the invisible trail of perking coffee
preceding the cloudy footprint
of his first-of-the-day Camel.
And, above it all, the blessed aroma
of smoke, sizzle and salt, the price
some porcine martyr paid for the sins
against the good health gods we’d
soon share. It was Heaven.

Years later, I might sit and talk
with the Old Man, but almost never
look him in the eyes, those
once-scary glowing sapphires I wish
I’d inherited from him instead of
this III at the end of my name.
I never got the chance to wish him
a proper goodbye before he was taken from us,
of course, while he was making morning coffee.
I think maybe that’s a good thing.
I’d never want to trade my final
olfactory image of him I hang in my memory —
of cigarettes, motor oil and cans of Genny —
for some hospital room’s antiseptic memory
of my Old Man. For that, I’m glad…
I didn’t have to look.

A Father’s Day theme to my the latest exercise in my little arc expressing the what one might glean from one sense by using a different one. In this case I used Smell to express Sight. And what I wouldn’t give to get a good whiff of the Old Man one more time. And, yeah, that towhead in the snappy two-tone Thom McAn’s and snap-on bow tie is the same scribbling guy whose hair would turn black as Dad’s and then silver as Mom’s.

The Hapgood and I


She sits there and watches me as I think about her, like some ancient Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. To me, she is a silent litany of mysteries, questions she can never answer and I will never know. And I think I prefer her that way.

She admits being a Hapgood — one of the Boston Hapgoods, a shapely bunch — but she came to me from North Carolina. She’s old, her dark skin cold against my cheek, and I wonder how many cheeks she had pressed against hers in her long life.

Did she ever travel west of the Appalachians? Was the dust of the West brushed from her when our West really was, before it became just another character in a television script, where clean-shaven and well-pressed men never are seen traveling on the trail with one like her. I know the real men of the West did, though. In 1850 they almost all did.

I’m sure she provided for her family, helping bring food to their table, because I can still smell the sulfur on her breath, even after all these years. She still will click back her hammer to half- and full-cock, exposing the nipple that suckled brassy cups of fire in a time before my United States of America went from a plural “are” to a singular “is.”

Did she protect her people from harm? Did she ever spit blind, unfeeling death in anger while in the arms of her man, maybe at another Yankee like her? I hope she never pointed her long brown finger at someone in dusty blue, or at a painted American in red. Even so, that’s why I call her she: Capable of taking care of her family and willing to fight—hard—to do so. I’ve known mothers like that. I sincerely hope she didn’t.

Her silence is probably for the best, though. I know she had no say upon whose arm she rested, how they used her, how they abused her. One of them eventually broke her forearm right where my hand holds her today. Those were rough times.

I’m told she could probably still do what she was brought into this world to do over a century and a half ago. But she’ll never do it while she’s mine. Now she sits and inspires me to think of other years, of other men, of their families and farms. To me, she represents a time when our flags flew fewer stars, when our nights were darker and seemingly flew many more stars than I can see from my porch tonight.

I’m going to find her a simple and elegant place to rest the remainder of our days together. But she’ll never be far from my reach, because to look all the way down to that little bead at the end of her barrel is to look back almost two centuries, to glimpse stories I’ve yet to know from times I’ve never seen, stories the Haploid, in her silent way, will tell me and then we’ll tell others.

I’m by no means a gun guy. Never was. I am an American history guy, one who often writes of those times when this nation still had a frontier. I purchased my antique Hapgood rifle (Maybe it’s a fowler, I don’t know. See? Not a true gun guy.) as a piece of Americana to help inspire my historical fiction. It gives me something palpable from those times to hold, to infuse me with imaginings of what I hope become fictive reality. I wrote this essay last December, as much to spell this out for myself as for anyone else. I needed an explanation for why I — of all people — would own such a device. Simple. To me, the Hapgood is a piece of history I can hold in my hands. This country’s history. Our history. Nothing more.

The Voice


I must admit to feeling the chill
of a February day, followed by the scorch
of an August afternoon, repeated in
sine wave oscillations, like freezing
and flaming merry-go-round ponies,
when you spoke in my presence
that first time. You wouldn’t direct
your voice to me for quite a while afterward.

When you did, I became an ice cream cone
dipped in warm butterscotch,
inevitably, comfortably a puddle
of gooey sweetness. So odd for one
who spent life dispensing vinegary ripostes
to a bitter world of echoes
rippling one over another,
like a pond’s face in autumn rain.

Your voice became my favorite sweater,
warm, soft, an aural hug bringing me
everyday joy I too soon unraveled,
leaving me cold, frozen to the talk of others.
Their voices raveled into confusing,
cacophonous snarls, tripping and dropping me
into the dank well from which we were lifted

If you would speak to me one more time,
I’m might feel some similar feelings
to that first time, probably from fear
and embarrassment. Or perhaps deafened
numbness of a man who never listened
to his own words before they snipped
the knitted purls binding us together,
yarn by whispered yarn.

Poem Number Two in my self-imposed quest to express the senses by using a different sense. In this case I used Touch to express Hearing, though admittedly hearing something quite special that the speaker eventually lost to his own inability to listen.