Caution: Slippery When Wet

I was never comfortable wearing
such look-at-me accessories,
something I’d sport like
a flashy ring or a silk tie.
No, I’ve always hidden
what so many wear as comfortably
as a tee shirt and jeans.
To do so would expose that which
I am uncomfortable showing.

It seems like such an expense
of my life force that might
better be spent on something
I might find more important,
like squaring up the towels
folded on the shelf or
feeling guilty about not doing it.

But sometimes the mass
of my world’s sadness, grief, fears,
loneliness, loss and even joy,
push down upon what I keep
in that deep well within me. And,
like an Archimedean experiment
gone messy, my emotions squish out
from under the weight, displaced
after so long lying misplaced.

I can’t abide a mess like that,
for too long, but I accept
the physics of life and try not
to judge myself too harshly anymore,
most especially if a tear might fall
where you or I could slip on it.
Such accidents happen, like yesterday
and the hundred hundred yesterdays
before that.

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…And Nothing But the Truth

I imagine you can learn it,
though it could be instinct as well,
to just not say anything when
it’s truth you don’t wish to tell.
Just keep shut your mouth
and adopt an innocent mien,
and it’ll all blow over,
your part never actually seen.
See? That was easy,
little me or you might surmise,
and then comes the day a little white one
escapes your lips, quelle surprise.
And if you succeed to
escape Mom and Dad’s wrath,
it isn’t long or too difficult
to follow that path
along the road to where truth, verity
and honesty by wayside lay dying,
because you’ve found you can get more
with mendacity, fabrication, you know…lying.
And now it seems falsehood has
become humanity’s norm,
where from your house to White House
untruths fall like in a hailstorm.
But who am I to judge, since
by definition, I lie for a living,
a teller of tales, a spinner of yarns
all these stories I’m always giving.
So if Diogenes, in the present day
searched for honesty from sea to sea,
and his lamp was filched, most of us would
shake their heads, miming “Wasn’t me.”
And now we’ve reached the end of this
poem you’ve read no doubt sitting,
and please know I’ll never lie
in my heartfelt verse to you…


… Nah, I’m just kidding.

Seriously, lying has never been so easy, easily believed, easily debunked and, unfortunately, easily ignored.  Perhaps we should be like Odysseus’ crew, wadding up our ears lest we are carried away by the Sirens blasting from all the media we consume. And all the lies we tell one another. 

Huzzah for Private Hutchinson

In his patched and soot-stained tent, Colonel Elihu Leslie, his arm draped over his eyes, heard the single muffled drum outside in the twilight.

“Oh, Lord, already?” he said, for he knew what was about to occur. Colonel Leslie arose from his cot, bumping into his field desk where the letter to his wife lay. He pulled up his braces, buttoned on his tunic and stepped outside just as the seven soldiers and a lieutenant were about to march past. He raised his hand and the twenty-two-year-old lieutenant called “Halt!”

“Good morning, sir,” said the pink-cheeked lieutenant, who a year before had clerked at his father’s mercantile in Columbus, Georgia. “Firing party ready to execute your command, Sir.”

Colonel Leslie returned the young officer’s salute and looked at the single soldier, his arms bound and his hands tied in front of his waist, standing between the two files of soldiers with rifles. In the gathering light, Leslie could see the young soldier’s eyes darting right and left, his entire body shaking as if they were back in the snow at Fredericksburg last December.

With a look of pity in his eyes, Colonel Leslie approached the man.

“Soldier, you do understand why you’re here, don’t you?” Colonel Leslie said.

“‘Cause I left my sentry post two nights ago, sir? But nothing bad happened. No Yankees or spies came through. I just needed some coffee to shake off the cold and keep me awake, sir. We been marching for three days straight an’ I ain’t slept since…”

“None of us have, son. But your comrades all managed to stay awake.”

“Yessir. But do that mean I have to die? I been with this army since the bells rang in Atlanta calling us all to defend Georgia and the Confederate states. Why do I have to die this way, sir? I’m a decent soldier,” the condemned man said.

“Son we do this because we have to. Military discipline and all that. But I feel you’re missing the point of this procedure. You shouldn’t look at this as punishment, but as your sacred duty,” the Colonel said in a flat tone.

“Sir, I don’t rightly understand. How’s me gettin’ shot by my own boys line up with my duty?”

“Private, the execution of deserters, and you are by definition a deserter, has been a tenet of strong military discipline since the time of Joshua, the time of the great Assyrian kings, why even the great legions of Rome knew that skirting their assigned duties was punishable by death,” the Colonel said, his voice rising and a crowd of soldiers beginning to mill around the firing party.

“Sir, I don’t know about no Legions from Rome, just a couple of fellers from elsewhere in Floyd County. The Benteen brothers. And I still don’t think I should be shot,” the soldier said.

Leslie bowed his head and smoothed his mustache with his fingers. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then put his hand on the condemned soldier’s shoulder.

“I see your point son, but let me explain some more about what you’ll be accomplishing today. You will not be dying because you left your post, leaving a section of our line without guard. No, you will be going to our Creator as a sign of your fealty to our Cause, protecting your home and family, since all these men here you’ll be leaving behind will see your demise and understand that such a fate awaits them, should they desert their comrades. That is a noble thing, son,” Leslie said.

“Really, sir?” the soldier said, his shoulders straightening and their shaking subsiding.

“Brave soldier, you will be laying down your life for your comrades, as much as if you fell with them in battle. Your name will be spoken of as the impetus of their never shirking their orders, never challenging the authority of their officers, nay, never giving an inch in retreat unless so ordered. Son, if I could, I would give you a medal for this brave act you’re about to commit,” Leslie said as he placed his hand on the soldier’s now-steady shoulder.

“I think I understand now, sir. I’m gonna die so my friends will be better soldiers, makin’ them better able to protect our state and country from the Yankee invaders.”

“Exactly, Private, Private, uh…”

“Hutchinson, sir. Ezra Hutch…”

“Private Hutchinson. Young warrior, I cannot salute you, but allow me to shake your hand, wish you Godspeed and send you on your way to obey your final orders,” the Colonel said.

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” Hutchinson said, his bound hands clutching the Colonel’s hand. He squared his shoulders and stared straight ahead.

“Let’s get this over with, boys,” he said.

“Firing party, shoulder arms. Forward march,” the Lieutenant ordered. The small group marched down the remaining row of tents and through a treeline to a field outside of camp. About a hundred other soldiers who had witnessed Leslie and Hutchinson’s exchange followed in ranks as if marching on parade.

Leslie watched them until the last soldier disappeared behind the trees, then he reentered his tent and stared at the letter to his wife he had almost finished. He dipped his pen into his inkwell and scratched out a final sentence and signed it, “Your loving and devoted husband, Elihu.”

He unholstered the Navy Colt he had used during his days on the prairie with the 2nd US Cavalry before the war and sat on his cot. He thought of all the men he had ordered into the hail of steel and lead at battles for the past year and a half. Thought of his son, killed at Chancellorsville, who had thrilled at the chance to serve with his father, leading other young Georgians in battle against the Federals. He recalled his brother Josiah falling at his side at Gettysburg. He remembered a few of the faces and names, but the rest had become a blur, and that vexed him sorely for the past three weeks.

Leslie heard the volley of six Enfield rifles crack through the trees. There followed the cheers of one hundred men who had witnessed Private Ezra Hutchinson’s passing into the oblivion of a bastardized heroism of the Colonel’s own devise.

As the cheers echoed and faded, he carried out the last of the executions he’d ordered for that day, in that camp, in a war he never wanted to fight. In light of all his decisions, he knew his joining Private Hutchinson in honorable dishonor was an order he could never disobey.

Man, this was a long time coming. First draft, but it gives me a feeling of accomplishment I didn’t think I’d feel for some time. In any revision, I’m not sure if it would get bigger into a more full short story or pruned down into official flash fiction (1000 words or less) territory. I’m not going to worry about it. I’ve written us a story that feels like something different…and that’s a good thing. Be safe out there, erstwhile CSA friends!

Never Again

I often find it fitting,
on the day after my birthday,
that the skies are gray,
gray enough to match my mood.
It’s not that I lament
yet another year passed
of what ever-dwindling,
shabby grab-bag few circles
the fates have left for me
like pieces of day-old cake.
No, I’ll admit preferring
the dark clouds, even rain,
so the heavens would not
remind me even more of the sky
I marveled at on that day-after.
It just seems more apropos
to shroud the sky, since the sight
of that endless September
Carolina Blue hue will forever
be shattered in my memory
by streamers of smoke,
ghastly blasts of flame and
sights I’d prefer to recall in
a dimmer light, but will full-lit.
And whenever on this date I lament
my piddling old aches and regrets,
I yank my head out of those clouds
and give thanks for whatever light
by which I see this day-after,
when others will not. And so many
never will again. Never again.

Just because.

The Road Between Anger and Anguish

Highlighted English word “angst” and its definition in the dictionary

All I do is sit now,
stuck in this seat on my rides
between Anger to Anguish.
I make the roundtrips all day
and all night, never getting off,
barely looking at the dreary scenery,
only staring straight ahead at nothing,
even if something is there before me.
I’ve been making this trip
for almost a year, from one emotion
to the other, my mind mired in ruts
so deep I can’t think above them.
Mud spatters the windows anyway,
so up and down the dictionary page
that’s become the map of my life
leaves me only one other destination –
Angst.

Sorry. Best I can do right now.

The Conundrum of Carin’ From the Cairn

Here on this side of the craggy wall
my voice can barely raise a hum,
the music within me stillborn,
as I try, but any new words won’t come.
Yet still I sense your presence
on the other side of these stones,
idly waiting to hear a new song.
I can feel you in my bones.
I can’t dredge up a care if you’re there
just to hear what I have to say,
or waiting to catch if thoughts of you
I’ve woven in what I might spin today.
So it’s farewell to you and the words
you loved, hated, and even cried to.
My heart, my art, my gifts to you
can’t escape this cairn if they tried to.
Perhaps one day another might unearth
what’s buried ‘neath this rocky rubble,
a jawbone perhaps, which spoke once of love, hope
and grief before they all were too much trouble.

Be Well, Dear Heart

If I had the sun and moon
as flashlights to plumb the depth
of our well of sorrows,
would you be able to see its bottom?
And if I had a line as long
as all the ones I’ve written
put together, could we reach it?
Why would we want to, though?
There’s nothing there but
choking sadness, such that
even if we stood on the bones
covering its floor, neither the dead
nor the living could hear us call.

So I think it’s time we climbed
above our despairing memories,
not hiding them, but keeping them
near as reminders of what love,
even unspoken, looks like.
We could try to fill that space
of sunken dreams with all that love
we shared with the lost.
So be well, dear heart, look to
your right, left, ahead and behind.
We’re together in this, and not
so alone as you think.