Fanning the Flames

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They never flinched when
the polychromatic peacock dung
hit the Chinese Dynasty fan
in a rainbow of aqua blues
and carmines, off-whites
and soot blacks. They cheered
as “real life” overcame
the fancified image there on
the crescent field of paper.
But this flapping artifice stood
folded and folded and folded again,
each crease one upon the other,
distorting its true image,
hiding slices of itself no matter
if viewed from this angle or that,
never showing you the whole picture.
Was I being cynical seeing
just another colorful load of shit
shot onto a piece of paper
prettied up for public consumption,
a brittle, yellowed air-pusher
given esteem because someone said
it was expensive?
Really, it’s not that much different
from the ones all the carny preachers
sell in their sweaty tent-meetings
where these stem-winders reflect
a cracked mirror image back
to the already converted.

I’m a old cynic who learned to hate politics (both lower and upper case P) as a baby reporter.  This piece could apply to all sides in the battle of the hyperbolic self-flapping fans for the hearts and minds of the overheated faithful. I’m done.

Broken Chains

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Each night’s become another
recitation of a rosary strung
with whispered Ave Marias
disrupted by the calls
from a father never seen,
a judge ever recognized.
This circle of fine filigree
inevitably will lie broken,
perhaps tossed under the bed
with rest of the best forgotten,
like the kind of secrets
that arouse you just before
you come to the crossroad
metaphor of a rising son,
that sacrificial cross, the sign
of death-turned-redemption.
This is the ritual I perform
each night, attached to a chain
linked to the miracle
of that blessed kind of death
lasting only a little while.

Five of the last seven nights have been this way, broken into decades of fruitless near-sleep. Nothing new, just nothing so recent. Once this was my obsession, then my obsessive literary theme. I’m hoping to break THIS particular chain with a new poem from my old, sleep-deprived brain.

You’re Welcome…Welcome…Welcome

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I introduced you
to those who
gave meter to my
iambic shuffle.
Voices, then
names and faces,
who’d accompany you
on your journey
to nameless places
on trackless roads
to destinations
whose way you’d lost
when your heart
tripped over itself
again and again.

They so mirrored
your thoughts,
you’d use them
to smooth those
jagged days
whose dust they’d wash
from your cheeks
as you’d listen
at night and wonder
the why, why, whys.
Perhaps I was unwise
to share, since now
they no longer
belong to me…
never could to us.
I’ll be fine…
echoes follow me
everywhere.

A 100-word free-write I used as a warmup to today’s fiction work. These dreamy pieces seems to open up my storytelling sluices and maybe give a bit of running-water rhythm to my prose.

Cradles

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They each hold their positions
of conscious unconsciousness.
One on her side, her back, her side,
gently rolling in a sea of slumber
only a child floats upon.
The other, in his soft chair,
head back, closed eyelids a’twitch,
whispering the tender tuneN
of the chain saw’s lullaby.
The house is quiet, save for
the call and response of
the gentle snores of toddler,
grandparent and furnace,
all keeping harmony with
the breathing of nearby homes,
each suspended from the dreamy
winter afternoon sky by tendrils
of exhalation from their chimneys
swaying in the breeze
like a nursery of cradles.

Any similarities between this scene and mine and my granddaughter’s afternoon here in cold and sleepy upstate New York are completely coincidental. Yeah…sure.

Echoing Days on the Muhheahkunnuk

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The Cohoes Falls, frozen in winter.

As I count down these,
my dwindling days out here
in the country for old men,
I feel my life closing in
even though here the sky’s
so much wider and higher
than it was over the city.
Even with steely buildings
shouldering me on their
right-angle ways toward
this corner and that,
I always managed to escape
thoughts of fewer tomorrows
to the here and now
of the river the ancients
called Muhheahkunnuk.

We’d wander from the anchorage
at Beverwyck to the falls
of Cahohatatea, in concert,
rippling like an echo south,
then north then south again.
I forgot it’s tune here and now,
where the trees shoulder me
toward another sundown,
whispering and cracking
like these old bones. Can I
head back upstream to my life’s
chiming Cahohatatea, perhaps
to drift on new echoes of this
old journey? The we can back up
to push off again tomorrow.

Cahohatatea is the name for the waterfalls where the Mohawk River drops into the Muhheahkunnuk, the Mahican name for the Hudson. Since I retired, sometimes I think the thing I miss most about working in Albany–Beverwyck to its Dutch inhabitants–are my noontime walks along that historic “river that runs in two directions,” its waters pushed back upstream by the tidal flow from its mouth at Manhattan.

The Flicker of Better Angels

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Needless to say, they didn’t knock.

“Stay where you are. On your knees with your hands on your head,” the biggest one said.

“This is my home. What are you doing? What do you want?” I said as two more pushed me to the floor.

“You know exactly what we’re after, man. Where are they?” the big one said towering over me, his knee bumping my left eye.

“Where are who? Why are you doing this?” I said, wincing as his two partners wrenched my shoulders. I knew who they were and what they were after.

“The books, man. Where are the goddamn books? Our informant ID’d you as a subversive and told us you had a fucking library here. Hundreds, she said. Now where are they?”

It came to this as I’d predicted after He Who Shall Not Be Named was elected our leader and then turned everything over, spilling our constitutional rights onto the floor and, in essence, burning them. We no longer could peacefully gather to discuss, let alone debate, the state of affairs in which our land now found itself. Besides, you never knew who of the people you talked with might be one of their informants.

Within just a few months of taking power, HWSNBN ordered all news organizations to cease operations except for his sycophantic bootlicks at the renamed Supreme Network. He also shuttered all newspapers, except for The Truth and Our Democracy, now our two national newspapers. He had his cyber-cops monitoring all online interaction, again causing fear, anger and doubt among the half of the citizenry who voted for the other side. The First Amendment—-marketed by the government as The Worst Amendment, a true threat to national security—was stricken from the Constitution by ell-armed executive order. And everyone just watched.

Next came book banning, kowtowing to the conservative religious zealots instrumental in getting the Supreme Commander elected. That part was easy, just emptying Libraries, bookstores and even schools of everything from Huckleberry Finn to To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Seuss to, of course, Fahrenheit 451.

With the precedent set, the government decided to remove other sources of education, entertainment and enlightenment from the public. Anything not given an imprimatur by HWSNBN was taken from the owner and destroyed.

I was a teacher, a writer of children’s books teaching youngsters to respect one another, always keep an open mind about someone and not base our opinions on the way they look, speak or pray. Yeah, I was one of their subversives.
“One more time, man. Where are you hiding the books?” the big one hissed in my ear, spritzing it with spit when he pronounced the evil word. The click of his pistol hammer cocking into place may have been the loudest sound I ever heard.

“They’re gone, all gone,” I said.

“You lyin’ son of a bitch. I’m counting to three and you better come clean or I’ll blow your faggot brains all over your nice baby blue carpet. Guys, who in their right mind would have a baby blue carpet in their place?” He laughed the laugh of someone who knew not of freedoms other than his now-inalienable rights to bully, beat and burn.

“I gave some away and destroyed the rest,” I said, half-expecting the next sound I heard, a blast, to be my last.

“Search this place, Lou. Who’d you give ‘em to, author?” He stretched that last word out like it was a vile taffy.

“The school libraries in Beekmantown and Green Island. They had so little to offer their kids and…”

He swung the barrel of his pistol against my cheek, I saw a flash and down I went. But I was till alive.

“You want any more of that, you’ll stop bullshitting us and tell us where they are. The next time I pull the trigger.”

“I’m telling you the truth. Then other books, my collection of histories and classics, I destroyed them with the dignity they deserved. Instead of the brutish methods you…”

The pistol swung again, but a roar accompanied the flash this time. But again I was till alive. I reeled in pain and disorientation from the discharge by my ear as the bullet destroyed the glass door in the empty bookcase across the room my wife gave me on our last anniversary.

“Last chance, asshole. Next time, right in your ear,” the big one said, and I was fairly sure he meant it. I could see that from the barely contained manic anger in his piglike eyes peering from above the black mask covering the lower half of his face.

“There’s nothing in the basement, attic or shed out back,” the one called Lou said as he reentered what was until a fortnight before my study.
“I’m not lying,” I said above the pounding ring in my right ear. They’re all gone.”

“Computer. Where’s your goddamn computer, faggot,” the big one shouted into my left ear.

“One of your colleagues visited me last week and confiscated it at the behest of your informant across the street. The one who used to spend her days listening to talk radio and watching me from behind her curtains,” I said, preparing for the next blow.

“Is that so… You got any other devices you can use to spread your subversive lies with, writer boy?” the one called Lou asked.

“No, your people are quite…thorough.” I had five manuscripts on that computer and another two on my old iPad, which now were chewed up bits of plastic, glass and magnetic inspiration in some government scrap pile.

The one holding me down released his grip and I once again fell to the floor.

“All right, Andrews, we’ll be leaving now. But recognize this is only a warning. We’re keeping you under surveillance on the regular. If you so much as shit we’ll know what color. You get me? I shoulda taken that shot when I had the chance. You elites sicken me,” the big one said, giving me one more punch in the head.

And then they were gone.

That night, after cleaning up the mess as best I could, the blood would always be a reminder of that day, I went to the basement and made sure the curtains were shut tightly. With my penlight, I found the drain in the floor and unscrewed its cover.

Reaching into the pipe, I snagged the hook in the wire from which I’d suspended the plastic bag and pulled it up into the tiny circle of light. My Kindle hadn’t been dislodged in the search. I removed it from the bag and carried up into my darkened study, where I had digitized my library and transferred all my books to this glorious instrument.

I thumbed through the virtual pages and found the volume I was searching. I tapped it open and selected the words from March, 1861 and read them as I had many nights since the election and division of our nation. They gave me hope, as they will so many of us, even those who merely watched while all this happened. Your words once again inspired me:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The next morning the big guy broke in again, kicked open my bedroom door and saw my Kindle on the nightstand. You don’t really hear the shot, do you, Mr. Lincoln?

Some people don’t have better angels. Some maybe don’t have angels at all.

This story was inspired by the quote from Mary Oliver I used for the previously posted poem. This first draft came in a rush and I can’t say it’s my usual theme (if I even have one it would never be politics), but here it came and here it is.

Searching for a Cure for Closed Books

 

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My books squat
in a burgeoning pile,
stratum upon dusty stratum,
each full of words wise
though silent,
save for the imagined
‘tsk’ my mind’s ear absorbs
with crimson shame.

I view them as a tourist
walking past pictures
of le Tour Eifel
or la Torre di Pisa,
glimpsing their images
from the corner of my eye
but never scaling their heights.
Even if that height
barely brushes my knee.

And there lies the blue and
fallow field of my e-reader,
within which I occasionally
climb stunted virtual trees.
Why do I no longer consume
the artfully written word?
Have I lost my appetite,
or am I waiting without recipe
to cook up something
even I would read?

Quickly dashed off poem of sorts inspired by this week’s prompt from Annie Fuller and her Writing Outside the Lines challenge. In this case, it is this quote from the great Mary Oliver (who I DO read):

“I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.”

Once I read on a level akin to respiration or eating, to sustain my life. Today, for reasons I cannot parse, I’ve become an asthmatic anorexic of the written word. I need a cure and I’ve yet to heal myself.