The View from Breymann’s Redoubt ~ A Work in Progress

Phil stood there and felt the breeze come up the rise to where the redoubt was to have stood on the rolling terrain near Saratoga and thought he smelled cordite floating on it. Again.

“Phil? Are you okay?” his wife Carrie asked. “You’ve got that thousand-miles-away look you had when we visited Gettysburg.” She knew what was going through his head, so she stayed close.

Phil blinked a pair of dewy blinks, rubbing his hand across his eyes as if they actually stung from the smoke that wasn’t really there. He knew it wasn’t, just as he knew the chatter of small arms fire and the swelling sounds of men in combat weren’t really there. His mind settled upon the wind-blown clatter of nearby birch and maple branches and the jabber of some kids from a school tour.

“I’m okay, Carrie,” he said, wrapping his hand around her arm, pulling her closer. A flash of sunlight off the windshield of a passing car touring the battlefield site brought on a flinch, but no longer did he full-on duck when something broke through the dark blur the world had become. He was improving since he left the VA and began his own form of immersion therapy, visiting battlefields up and down the East Coast. He carried his own battlefield wherever he went.

“What say we stop by the military cemetery on the way back to Albany? I want to pay my respects to a couple of guys there I knew,” Phil said, as they swung back to their car in the small lot near the touring roadway.

“Sure, hon, we can do that. You just tell me their names and I’ll find them for you.” Carrie didn’t flinch as much anymore, either.

Phil slid into the passenger seat and took one more long breath of air. He thought it smelled of autumn leaves and old, old memory, which he found odd, since he hated History as a kid. He hated everything when he got back, including himself, Carrie, home and what they’d all become.

As he buckled in and put on his sunglasses, Phil felt the warmth of his wife’s skin awakening the few hairs left among the expanse of scars on his right arm. He shivered. Not because he was cold, rather because once more he realized Afghanistan may have wrecked his sight, but his vision, the view from wherever he stood, was improving all the time.

This is a couple of minutes worth of free write I wrote for JD Mader’s weekly 2 Minutes, Go! feature on his website, Unemployed Imagination. Not sure where it came from, but it hooked me. So I think I’ll build on this down the road. Thought maybe I’d share it this morning.

411: Swann in the City

When I was a boy, probably long before you were born, I would deliver newspapers in the west end of Albany’s Arbor Hill.

Before I retired from tossing news to writing it, I suffered not much more than bruises and a knife scratch in conducting mobile commerce with the inhabitants of that eroding neighborhood. Needless to say, the tenor of business changed during and since my times there.

So many days now, I read or hear of another young guy, young like I was then, falling to a gunshot wound in my old streets. Some die. Most don’t. I sometimes worry that I don’t wonder much about it, though. I felt it coming.

I felt it in the steel of a razor on my chest. I could sense the momentum of it like I’d smell the miasma of cabbage and weed and spongy diapers in the hallways of Third Street and Livingston Avenue. Later in life, in my newspaper days, I’d recognize its cousin aroma in jails and prisons, the one with a soupçon or so of filthy bodies. It’s not an aroma you ever forget. Some of my old neighbors carry it on them like their tattoos to this day.

Every now and then, I’ll catch a whiff of it, and with a Proustian flash stronger than any almond cake, I’ll be whisked back to those times, a bag of newspapers over one shoulder and half my attention over the other. Today, the memories were dredged up by a request for a city poem. Maybe I’ll write another.

I’ve written plenty of them about my Albany, the city older than any of you live in across this vast land. It’s a small city, often with big city people moving through it on their way to even bigger ones. A lot of us came back here like salmon to spawn.

But there’s some things all cities have in common. We all have histories written in blood and sweat, which continue to drop on the concrete every day. We all know that young men catch bullets as easily in Albany as they do in New York, Detroit or Los Angeles.

I don’t know if that’s ever going to stop. But I understand where it comes from. I saw the snowball become an avalanche. I left only my bloody initials on the declaration of interdependence we call a street, a neighborhood, a city. I just hate to keep reading whole stories written that way.