The Cost of Lying in the Land of the Free

I’m so tired of it all,
even to watch my ribs rise,
then watch them fall, only to rise again.
But any fool can make an exhalation,
even if only one more, and
if you need an explanation
then we’ve truly inhaled enough.
There’s no place left to rest my head,
one final time, one final bed.
not in any of those holes
where the blankets come by the rolls
of grass, and their headboards, you know it,
once were targets for the carver
and the poet. So if the dead
have overgrown this field’s weeds
leaving no dirt free upon which
to cast some seeds, I suppose
I can lie like one more supine shell,
push another aside, I’m sure
he won’t tell. And we’ll stare
at the sky unblinking, at moonrise
come as old Sol’s sinking.
Perhaps I’ll feel free at last
from so much of my worry,
just another of the numbered,
the unencumbered they’ve yet to bury.
I’m just so tired,
I’m broken and so damn uninspired,
lying here among the hallowed,
lying to myself, my breath
shallowed, until such time as
the upright folk so aggrieved
and the marks who so willingly believed,
unite again, all part of the soil,
united in this land of the free.
Pray not free of this mortal coil.

Hell Hath No Fury

“You don’t have to do this,” Lottie said as I was about to finish Landro in the alley.

“After what he did to you?” I said. If Lottie wasn’t there, I’d have killed him already. But with her it was like having a good angel on both shoulders. She was my worst good influence.

“I don’t want you do it.”

“I don’t want you to either,” Landro said through lips I’d split five ways.

“I don’t want you to get in trouble for something I…”

“You didn’t do anything, Lottie. He’s a coward and needs killin’,” I said.

“I didn’t mean it,” Landro said, a tear in his voice and a torrent streaming from what was visible of his right eye.

I should’ve shot him when he came out of the bar, but I was walking Lottie home, still jumpy as a kitten.

“Her thtockings showing, riding astraddle that plug with the missing shoe, giving me the eye. She was asking for it,” Landro said.

I kicked him again. He was asking for it.

“Ted, take me home. Please.”

“All right. Landro, you’re lucky this girl’s more forgiving than any saint.”

I guess my threat worked. Landro was gone in the morning. Never saw him again.

Week later, some Buffalo Soldiers found a body about twenty miles from town. Said Apaches left him naked, face smashed in by a rifle butt, manhood tossed in a patch of cactus. Two sets of tracks.

Funny, one of them had but three shoes.

A 250-word story drafted for Siobhan Muir’s weekly Thursday Threads contest. Had to use phrase “You don’t have to do this.” I led with it and followed that trail. This one will be expanded into something even more grown-up someday.

Full Circle

“What do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, his benevolent demeanor, but with a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe.

You never think about making the ultimate decision for someone you love. You divert yourself with other thoughts. What’ll the family say? How can I face myself after this?

“There’s no coming back for her,” the doctor said. But there’d be no coming back for me, either.

You stand still for that second, three heartbeats replacing the one normally filling that space.

“Okay.” My throat locking in that word and out the air.

The doctor does what he does. Then we wait. Not long. But a whole life together in an instant. She closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and… Gone.

But in that instant everything changed. All from one second of indecision to decision.

I had to make the same decision for my Dad, a year later. Everything comes full circle, they say. But you don’t want on this ride more than once.

I’m sure the weepers thought me an unfeeling bastard. The doctor gave the same rap about no coming back, for the best, no-resuscitate order. Then…

“Well?”

In that second, the guy for whom agreeing to have his dog put down changed everything, nodded and said, “Okay, Let’s do it.”

Then I began to breathe again, as others began sobbing. They could never make this decision. But, like I said…in less than a second…changed everything.

I’d cry later.

Like A Picture Drawn In Lavender

The fields of lavender stretch like bolts of corduroy from where we bask in summer sunlight. Their perfume wafts sweet and intoxicating, when we need not their breath, for she knows we must be living in a dream.

A breeze combs the wales this way and that. They dance like rows of tiny willows, swaying to the tunes of that aeolian flute rising from the sea, that brilliant mirror of the sun’s face. Does she know it can never be my face?

“Where are you?” she asks, as if my thoughts are always somewhere else. But I’ll be with her all day. “The light is perfect. Do you wish to draw me? Shall I disrobe?”

Within these purple fronds I’m sure she cannot see my smile. Neither is it lecherous nor amused. She’s not some whore like in the village tavern, nor is she some silly child. She is earnest, yearning, waiting for me to memorialize her today. Some instrument of recollection for when she is old and alone.

Then the tear forms at the corner of her eye, as realization crosses her mind like a cloud.

She’s recalls I’m heir to the darkness, yang to shining yin of this Provence light. I can record my chiaroscuro impressions of her, but they’re fleeting. I’m leaving, evening drawing me in its charcoal-covered hands, drawing me as a stick man of two-dimensions, drawing me longer and narrower as I near my vanishing point out there beyond these fields of lavender.

 

Total Failure

Where humans are concerned,
there’s no such thing as perfect,
no total either. The problem is,
most of us are totally convinced
there is.
See?
Maybe that’s why we love all
to express the notion of “all.”
“I’m with you 110%,”
said the eager beaver, who’s
0% a beaver but is,
ummm,
allegedly, totally invested
in whatever he’s with you about.
Am I sure? Not 110%, not even 90%,
but I’m fairly sure.

When someone says they’re
totally in love with another
someone, (You know, “She’s
perfect!”) that’s really
a manifestation of
a pheromone-besotted brain
(honest, the heart’s part in this
is a poetic construct).
But isn’t it nice to think
of “total” in this context
rather than such affronts
to word nerds as:
“totally destroyed,” “sum total,”
or that singular affirmation
of a bygone era “Totally!”?

So why do we use a word having
such little basis in actuality?
Maybe it’s because we humans
would like things to be total.
Some word has to capture life
filled to the brim, Nature
abhorring a vacuum and all.
I’d like to think my love
is total for those closest to me.
As is their’s for me.
But we’re humans, pretty much
incapable of certainty or
perfection, so there’s going
to be some wiggle room.
The smaller the better, though.
I’m sorry. I’ve totally wasted
your time with this total failure
of a poem. Rest assured, friend,
I’m totally done now…

No, now that I’ve totaled
250 words I am.

Day 29 of April’s poem-a-day caravan. Today’s effort had to take the word “total,” add something to it to make a title and then write something to that title. And I do consider this spew a failure, so I’ll try again this afternoon.

Hoka Hey ~ A Prose Poem


We spend our lives competing in a litany of engagements versus Nature. They’re held in Hamlet’s penumbra between the light and shadow of being and not-being. We join most of these struggles without even realizing if they’re flapping retreat or slapping leather. Call that growing, aging, maturing. Surviving. Then, one day, Nature begins filching pieces of us, shorting our strength in muscle, sinew, memory, beauty, being-ness. Worth. Such encounters inevitably become confrontations, confrontations become duels, duels become skirmishes, clashes, battles. They multiply into siege, then war. Then Nature takes the field. Nature always takes the field. It’s her field, full of beauty, grandeur, filth, terror, the simple-to-complex machinery cranking sunup to sunup to sunup, even up to and beyond my ultimate sundown. The might and light are fading now. Will my head rise with the sun tomorrow? Will I charge over the top to fall at last in a shell hole in Nature’s No Man’s Land? Maybe one gouged there by my own side? No, I think I’ll dress my line, dig in deeper. To fight on is MY Nature. Where I stand is MY field. I’ve planted MY seeds here. I built MY fortress on this ground. I fly MY banners of defiance, art and love above all this mud and blood churned by the savage Nature of Humanity and the all-too-human Humanity of Nature. I sing the body electric, not the death song. “Hokahey” doesn’t mean “It’s a good day to die.” It means, “Let’s do this.”
“Hokahey.”

Just too worn out by several things yesterday to participate in NaPoWriMo, but I was ready to fight on today. Asked to write a Nature poem, of which I’ve done a ton, I instead sat to my keyboard and “let Nature take it’s course.” The result is this, which I shall call a prose poem. I think it hits a couple of meanings of the word “nature.” 

A Matter of Honor

They think I don’t hear them, but I do. Or at least I hear the hum of their talk with words bobbing up every now and then.

It certainly bests the sound of breathing, the crackle of my neck turning left and right on the cot, or the heartbeat that longs to feel hers, just to make some poetry that probably doesn’t rhyme anymore.

But out in the hallway, I’m pretty sure the guards are talking about me. I hear “bastard.” And maybe that was a “poor,” which I’d appreciate if this wasn’t the eve of the dawn we’ve been waiting for. Or dreading.

There! I’m pretty sure that was a “governor,” but it just as well could have been a “southerner,” or a “lovin’ her.” They all could apply to me. Though I’m not sure Yankees understand family and honor like we do.

I probably deserve the dance I’ll do when the sun clears the horizon. Eye for an eye and all. Carpetbaggin’ sumbitch deserved every last ball I put in him. Wish’d I had Daddy’s LeMat to wipe the grin off his face with a shotgun blast, too.

But some Yankee’s probably got that, too. Took everything, eventually, didn’t they? Saber, gun, horses, farm, Mama’s honor, my…

I heard the lock clank.

“All right, I’m afraid it’s time. Ya know, I’d have shot that scoundrel, too, Missy. If it’s any consolation. I take no solace in hangin’ a twelve year old girl,” the glossy-eyed, red-nosed sergeant said.

When there are no more of their culturally established defenders around, some women grow up fast to protect themselves and their own. Especially in a mid-19th Century rural society. This 250-word story reflects such a young woman doing what she decided needed to be done in a family whose men were erased by war. It’s in response to that first sentence up there, the prompt for this week’s Thursday Threads feature from author Siobhan Muir.

Spatter of Memories, Fusillade of Regrets

Caleb Downey heard the sound and turned to see Edwin Howard’s head flung backwards and his body sag to drape the ground like a sack of rags. He felt the spatter of Ed’s memories on his face.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” Caleb said, knowing the men to either side of him in the Union line couldn’t hear him. Just like they never heard the .50 caliber slugs from Rebel Enfields come fetch them to Jesus. Wide-eyed, Caleb skittered back from the makeshift breastwork of a rotten hickory as more Reb bullets chopped it to tinder, let alone kindling.

“Where’re you going, Downey?” he heard Captain Mayfield yell, the flat of his sword spanking Caleb like his Pa would with a switch back in Indiana. “You get back to your position and hold this line with your squad.”

“Cap’n, I ain’t got no more squad. The last of ‘em, ‘cept for me, just lost the top of his head not three feet from my own.”

“You mean…”

“Yessir. All dead.”

“…you completely abandoned that position?”

“Only of the living, sir.”

“You get back up there and hold that post while I find some men to fill in the line.”

“I don’t think so, Cap’n.”

“What? Think of what you’re fighting for, boy. Think of the Union, Indiana, think of your family,” Mayfield said.

“I am. The feller to my right was my cousin Edwin. On the left was my brother, Charles. They never signed up for this, neither,” Caleb said.

Wrote this 250-word mini-story in response to the prompt of using the phrase “I didn’t sign up for this,” for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. Thanks, Siobhan and judge Silver James. Now, on to tomorrow. Another chance to climb into my desk chair and attempt staying there.

Zero-Six-Ten at LZ-Boston

Their five-day mission complete, LRRP Team Cobra rested silently but alertly within the jungle 20 meters from the edge of a small open space where they were to be extracted from “Indian Country” back to their base. This was Landing Zone-Boston.

“Okay, it’s zero-six-ten. Now what?” Sgt. Eddie Jones whispered.

“Orders were to wait here at LZ-Boston. So…” Lt. Ben Sharper replied.

“And when was that supposed to be?”

“Zero-five-hundred,”

“Christ, over an hour ago. And here we sitting like a pimple on Cramer’s lily white ass. He must want me dead,” Jones said.

“C’mon, you’ve been in-country for what, eight months? They’re just late. It means nothing,”

“LT, call in and see where our birds are. I mean before this extraction becomes a dust-off,” Jones said.

“Shut up and relax. We’ve got good cover and security’s tight. Besides, why would they ignore us?“ Sharper said.

“Maybe ‘cause Captain has throbs for Jonesie’s moose, Bian? That’s no hooch girl. She fine. An educated babe, no doubt. And man, she puts out like a five-dollar piece, but only for Josesie,” radioman Bernie Cioppa said.

“That’s ‘cause, while Cramer’s got a lotta swing with Supply, can get her anything from nylons to napalm, he ain’t got a lotta swing in this department,” Jones said.

“Put that away, Jones. I doubt Cramer’s jealous of your Johnson. Chopper, radio,” Sharper said.

Cioppa stood, then dropped like a sack of camouflage fatigues, cut down by an AK-47 round.Two seconds later the first mortar round fell onto their position, lobbed in. by the North Vietnamese LLDB special forces squad that had been tipped to their LZ.

In a couple of minutes, it was over. Much as was the sex between Jones’ girl and Capt. Cramer, happening at that same moment at Team Cobra’s base.

“Your name, honey. Bian. I’m sure it means something beautiful as you are.” Cramer said.

“In English I it means ‘Woman with secrets,’ lover.” Then she laughed the laugh that used to remind Eddie Jones of bamboo wind chimes. Jones was a good listener. SO was Bian.

“Ooh, me likee,” Cramer whispered in her ear.

“Mmmm…tell me more, mon chéri.”

This is a goosed up first draft of a story I wrote in response to author Cara Michaels’ Menage Monday contest, where she sets up three prompts and the writer must write a piece of flash fiction of 250 words or less using all three prompts. This week’s contest presented that photo at the top the story, plus exact use of the phrases “It means nothing” or “it means something.” Being a wise-ass, I did both. Finally, Judge Teresa Eccles wanted a conspiracy theory to be part of the story. I’m not sure how I managed to use that, but I’m equally stumped about where this story set in the Vietnam War came from. But here it is.

Act of Contrition

In the deep-rooted shadows upon which the forest stands, where nothing grows but moss and the debris of winter-felled branches, Scott Lang and his brother Tony heard the stuttering k-r-r-r-k like someone opening the door to a derelict shack.

But near all around them, there were no such homes except last spring’s birds’s nests and the torn-up insect domicile buried within a pine upon which a woodpecker hammered another k-r-r-r-k.

“This noise where there’s nothing around creeps me out, man,” Tony said.

“Some of us, little brother, find such ‘noise’ a blanket of comfort, the caress of natural music far from the crash and soul-crunching violence in city life, the promise of peace,” said Scott.

“Okay, I get it, but does it take sloshing all the way out here just to find your precious quiet? Besides, it’s so damn dark here, how the hell am I supposed to see anything well enough to shoot it?” Tony said, swinging his rifle in carefree arcs.

“Your life always comes down to noisy violence. It killed Mom. I don’t want to know who else. Can’t you just enjoy some serenity for once?”

“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that? Now where to something I can enjoy?”

“You’ll never get it, will… Wait, what was that?” Scott said.

“Where?” Tony said, swinging the muzzle of the 30.06 toward the shadows.

When the echo of the k-r-r-r-k made by four rapid shots from the .22 Scott pulled from his pocket faded, he sighed. After a few seconds, he heard the birds begin singing again. He could actually hear his heartbeat settle down as the wind strummed the tall pines like harp strings. And he was pretty sure there had been only two witnesses to what he’d done.

He made a silent Act of Contrition to one.

“Peace, Mom, just like I promised. At last, some peace,” he whispered to the other.