She Left by the Servants’ Entrance

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She left by the servants’ entrance,
perhaps because she felt as tied
to the upstairs and downstairs
of the Homestead as any
Bridget who left Éire to spend
life rearranging the dust,
baking the bread and cleaning
the dirty laundry of her
Amherst Anglo clan.

She left by the servant’s entrance,
carried by men with accents
green as the Kilkenny hills,
driven off in a Carriage holding
but three, leaving behind the crypt
of a life,hidden behind walls
of wood and words
and eccentricity,
to live on in another –
its Roof scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
from which Miss Nobody soared,
a thing with feathers,
to perch ever in our souls.

She left by the servants’ entrance,
an enigma to her last, a loaded gun
that stood in the Corners –
till a Day The Owner passed –
And carried Her away.
Her story today told slant,
with explanation kind –
Her Truth to dazzle gradually,
lest the light leaving
by that back door
strike us mourners blind.

My pre-Dawn poem in celebration of Emily Dickinson, born today in 1830. When she died in 1886, her family honored one of her last requests, that her coffin be carried not by Amherst’s leading citizens, but by six Irish farmworkers – all employees of the Dickinson family – out of the Homestead’s servants’ door.

When They Call Your Name

The Angel of Death

Angel of Death by Evelyn De Morgan, 1881

When they call your name,
it’s not like some sort of surprise.
It’s not as if several potential
revelers crouch hidden
behind the furniture and curtains,
some half-drunk, some in closets
already making out, flipping on
the lights and yelling “Surprise”
as you enter that darkened home.

No, when they call your name
you more than likely know it’s coming,
maybe dreading the intonation of
your nom de la vie, the whispered,
“Excuse me, Mr./Mrs/Ms./ (insert name here),
it’s time.” Or maybe you’ll be lying there,
all antsy, waiting for that light to illuminate
your way to where they want you to go.

You don’t have much say, you just
have to wait for its arrival
like the patient drip-drop of an IV bag hooked
to the blue vein in some scarecrow patient.
Or it can come so fast, like lightning
or a runaway semi on the interstate, that
you don’t even have a chance to mumble,
“Who, me?”

When they call your name, they just
call it, maybe mispronouncing it like Hersh
or Heesh. There was a time I didn’t care
if they called, no matter how they said it.
To leave all this would be no big deal.
But now I think I’ve earned the right
to be called my proper name, for a proper
departure from here to there, if there’s
a There there.

So I wait, no longer in a hurry.
I’d enjoy ignoring a first or second call,
like they were lame political pollsters or
credit card scammers. I’d just hit
the button that reads Dismiss. Or maybe
I could hide behind the curtains and yell,
“Surprise” when they come to pick me up.
Oh, I wish I could.

Too-long exercise in which I took the first line of the first song I have queued up on the iPhone to start a poem or story, then finish it with the last line. My Apologies to Ryan Adams for pinching these pieces of Come Pick Me Up.

Lost in My Storm

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Could you ever stop thinking of me
that way because my arms couldn’t
reach out when you needed them most,
bound as they were by bonds I wove
of confusion and fear? If not,
I wouldn’t blame you, though that’s
a heavy load to carry for so long,
cracking backs and taxing hearts
whose clockworks wind down past
their dwindling supply of twelves.
But if you could, it’d be a blessing
in these latter days granted me,
my leaves tearing from the calendar tree
of this life spent blinded in shadow,
blown from one direction, battered
to another. Ever away from the peace
for which I pray before I fall
and lie forgotten, save for fading lines
on pulp, lost in the emptiness between
the zeros and ones I’ve cast like acorns
in a promiscuous gale of words…
sound and fury signifying I’m nothing
without friends I’ve lost in my storm.

Just One More Cup of Coffee ~ A Twitter Story

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Each day Pain ruled more over his mornings than coffee and the meds meant to ease it. Today, a final dose. A smile. The great sigh. Relief.

Catching up today with a request for a Twitter-length story of 140 characters or less. I hit 139 after more revision and editing than I normally do for my full-length stories. Maybe more than even my 100-word poems. Probably a lesson in that somewhere.  Nevertheless, here’s Story #1 for today. I hope to have another for you later. Maybe even a poem.

Taps

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

My brother Eddie and I stared at the backs of the solemn folks in ill-fitting dark suits and veterans’  VFW garrison caps surrounding our father’s old drinking buddy’s casket. Eddie whispered, “I gotta take a leak.”

Typical Eddie.  Total mammal.  If he was outdoors, country road or golf fairway, he just couldn’t help stepping into the brush and watering the flora.

The reverend droned on about a better place and dust.  I couldn’t imagine anywhere better than this military cemetery, welcomed by its perfect white smiles of tombstones.

As gunshot salutes faded, Eddie reappeared, grinning like a fool.

“Where you been?” I said.

“Behind those bushes over there.”

“You were serious.”

“Heck, yeah, I was serious.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

“What’s so funny?”

“Ten years ago I had an argument with this guy at work. When they pulled us apart, I told him if I ever got the chance, I’d piss on his grave. Well, while I was over there, guess what I found?”

“You didn’t.”

“Uh-huh, I did.” He laughed through his crooked smile.

“And you think this is some kind of joke, right?”
“On him, yeah.”

“What if someone did something like that to your grave?”

“I wouldn’t know about it.”

“What if Ma decided to come visit your grave one Sunday and found some guy relieving himself on your head?”

“Never happen.”

“Could. How would you like it if visited Grandma’s grave and found some drunk kid off-loading Milwaukee’s Best on her headstone?”

“I’d kill him,” Eddie said.

“What if someone saw you?” I said.

“Look, I always look around to see if I can take a leak without being seen. I really didn’t piss on his grave. Just nearby. No harm, no foul, okay?” he said.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” we heard behind us. We turned to find a tall, black Marine in dress blues staring hard at us.

“Saw what you did, man,” he said to Eddie. “That’s just wrong and you gotta come correct. Or I’m gonna correct you.”

“I don’t know what you’re taking about,” Eddie said, choking on a dry gulp.

“It’s bad enough you dishonor the brave man who’s being buried here today, but then you go and dishonor another one.”

“My brother is very sorry for his abhorrent behavior.  Aren’t you?”

“Look, corporal, I’ve got a bladder problem and sometimes I just have to go…fast.  This was one of those times,” Eddie said.

“I heard you laugh and say you thought what you did was funny.  You know what I think is funny? When a tough guy gets called out and turns out he’s nothing but a bunch of air.  You a tough guy? Or something else?”

Eddie reached for the car door.

His hand was consumed by a large brown hand that seemed the size of a baseball mitt, only not as soft.

“Ow, leggo,” Eddie said, “that hurts.”

“You know what really hurts? That guys like you can be assholes in this country because of guys like me and the men you disrespected today.”

Eddie tugged, but the Marine just squeezed harder.

“Oh, God,” Eddie sobbed, dropping to his knees.

The sound of breaking china came from where their hands met in what seemed a sign of peace. Tears appeared in Eddie’s eyes.

“That’s the kind of behavior I expect in honoring the dead,” the Marine said. “I think you’ve come to accept disciplined, honorable behavior. Please stop by and honor these brave folks again, sir. Semper Fi.”

He released Edie’s hand, about-faced, and melted into the bushes where this all began.

Eddie tells everyone he broke his hand catching it in the car door. The tool.

A place-keeper story today for my ruptured duck of a Story a Day quest for September. Couldn’t get to the prompted one, but had this in the old sack. Poor story from a stumbling, sleep-starved September writer.

No Tears to Cry

 

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Clusters of black smoke chrysanthemums with red centers bloomed all around them as they roared an unblinking path on the deck toward the Japanese cruiser. They launched their fish and pulled up and away, only to be jumped by a Zero fighter, torn up by its guns and sent into the sea with a wrenching splash.

Far from any American ships, ignored by the Japanese, in the emptiness of the blue Pacific, no one watched the three men in sand-colored khaki crawl from their sinking torpedo bomber into the yellow raft that would be their savior and prison for who knew how many days.

As the sun set in a sizzling glow——the fourth such setting since his Avenger torpedo plane went down——Capt. Fred O’Hara rasped to his two crewman, “Look, we all know there’s no hope for me, so stop with giving me your water.”

O’Hara’s abdomen was cinched into a standard field dressing, which had long since become saturated with blood, the result of a 7.7mm machine gun bullet plowing a furrow into him on its way into and out of his Avenger.

It was his leg, though, that O’Hara knew was not only his death sentence, but probably his crew’s, as well. When the aircraft hit the water, its aluminum skeleton and skin twisted inward on his cockpit and sliced open his leg from hip to knee. Now it was held together with three Navy-issue web belts that served as tourniquets and binding. Blood and sea water sloshed inside the raft.

“No way, Skipper, we’ve got two more days ration of water left for the three of us, and I’m sure the PBYs are out looking for a squadron commander whose plane wasn’t blown outta the sky but was last seen slapping into the ocean,” Ensign Bobby Shaw said. The bombardier/navigator tucked a blanket around O’Hara in the growing darkness.

Despite his pep talks, the nights full of darkness and O’Hara’s painful moaning were beginning to get to Shaw and gunner’s mate Aldo Sciorra. These were the times when they felt most alone, bobbing on the Pacific under the sliver of moon, when sharks would bump the underside of their rubber raft.

Sciorra said, “You saved our asses too many times, Skipper, for us to not take care of yours. The ensign and me are seeing you through, until…well, until whenever.”

“Damn straight, Aldo. Now skitter over here and let’s see if we can get a little more shade on the Skipper,” Shaw said. “I’ll scan the east and you the south. I figure that’s where the carrier felt might be located now. If anything shows, sing out. I’ll pop the Very pistol and then we pray they see our flare.”

“If we have any prayers left in us,” Sciorra said under his breath.

“What, Sciorra?”

“Nothing, sir. Just…you know…sighing or something.”

On the afternoon of the fifth day, Sciorra caught the flash of sunlight on the large domed fuselage port of a Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplane. He fumbled in the wooden box for the flare gun and in his weakness and hurry dropped the box over the side.

“What the fu…,” Shaw said as he saw Sciorra reach into the water and come up with the flare pistol and one flare cartridge.

“God damn you, Sciorra. Now what the hell we gonna do? We’ve got that one flare and no idea if the damn thing’ll even fire now that it’s been in the drink,” Shaw said. Even with the ensign’s burnt and peeling skin, Sciorra could tell Shaw’s face was flushed with anger.

“Easy, Bobby, easy,” Capt. O’Hara whispered. “We don’t know what the flare’ll do, but you still have it, so you still got a chance. But you’ve got to drink more. Just let me go. That’s an order, Mister.”

Shaw looked at Sciorra, but this time not in anger. It wasn’t that he didn’t want more water, but his devotion to O’Hara and devotion to duty would have to determine a winner in their fight before he would write off O’Hara like a crash-landed Avenger.

He gave O’Hara the last of the morphine——which he’d rationed like the water——from their medical kit. Then he sat with his back against the bouncy wall of the raft and stared at his Skipper.

But four days of keeping the Skipper and themselves alive left Shaw and Sciorra past exhaustion. That night, they closed their eyes and gave in to whatever inevitability might come in what few days they had left.

It was Sciorra who first heard the Catalina flying above them the next morning.

“Mister Shaw, Mister Shaw, listen,” he pleaded as he shook Bobby Shaw awake.

Adrenaline and fatigue nearly blinding him to everything but the flare gun, Shaw shoved the flare into the pistol, made the Sign of the Cross, whispered, “Please, God,” pointed it straight up in the air and pulled the trigger.

With a loud pop, a line of white smoke arced above them and then gave another faint pop, blooming into a flame red flare that hung in the sky upon a small parachute.

The men saw the PBY lower its right wing and bank toward them. Sciorra hugged Shaw and cried, “They see us, Mister Shaw. They see us. Skipper, look. They’re com…”

But all they saw was the blood-stained blanket in the spot where Fred O’Hara let himself over the side overnight. He’d abandoned ship, leaving his men to fend for themselves, an anathema to the ethos passed down from his Admiral father, his Annapolis education and his Pensacola flight training.

“Captain O’Hara took the decision out of my hands,” Shaw later told a crewman on the PBY. “He tore up every code, abandoning his men to give us another day to live. And now here we are.” Shaw buried his face in a blanket and sobbed, but he had no tears to cry.

On Day 10 of my September Story a Day Challenge, I’m supposed to write a piece in what Julie Duffy calls a Hansel and Gretel story structure. That’s where the life changing moment that’s the key to operable fiction occurs right at the beginning and then come the tries and failures where every time the characters take two steps forward they take three steps back. I hope I got this structure right. I hope even more I’ve made a viable story.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Because he could, Lieutenant Mal Forbes flipped over his Nieuport 28 fighter airplane and flew upside down. He bent back his head, as to look up, but now up was down. He could feel the strain of his seat belt upon his waist, the blood rushing to his head. He peered over the cockpit coaming at the cloud-plumed blue sky now below his lower wing.

This ability to change point of view with a flick of his wrist and a kick of the rudder made these solo hours in the air, while potentially deadly, his respite from the foes he faced back at his squadron aerodrome.

After righting his nimble, though fragile, French-built aircraft, Forbes took one more swing along the front, hunting German artillery spotting planes. His fuel on reserve, he whispered a “Damn it” that blew away in the slipstream almost before he finished saying it, and headed southwest for the squadron landing field.

Forbes wished he could just remain up there, flying, never having to go back and face those Ivy League pretty boys and their snide jibes about the “half-breed” cowboy pilot. He’d passed five-victory Ace status in the American Air Service two weeks ago, more than anyone else in the squadron, and still they treated him like a stable boy.

Maybe it was his dark skin he’d picked up from his mother’s side of the family. She was half-Ute and he’d grown up on a ranch with his Ute grandmother.

“Hey, Forbes, is it true what they say about Indian women, real wildcats in the l’amour department?” Lt. Edmund Garry said one afternoon in the officers mess. This was the third time he’d made such a statement and Forbes instinctively reached for the Colt on his hip. Instead, he threw a left hook that sent Garry to the hospital and him to the Squadron CO. Other pilots confirmed that Forbes was to blame for the altercation. The incident gave him three days confined to quarters and a reputation as not only an Indian, but also a hothead.

Where more than half of his squadron mates boasted fathers and grandfathers who’d served as state governors, United States Senators, or congressmen at the least, he thought of countering with the fact that his Grandpa Forbes was once the mayor of Winfield, Colorado. He never mentioned that Grandpa was the only mayor of Winfield and that the silver mining boomtown went bust in three years.

They don’t even deserve a lie, he told himself.

After a smooth landing, Forbes taxied the Nieuport to its assigned hanger tent and hopped out of the cockpit to greet his mechanic, Dino Cenci, already waiting with a pail to drain the oil from the Gnome engine and prepare it for his pilot’s next sortie.

“Might be a ring going on one of the pistons, Dino,” Forbes said. “She’d give a pop and sag a little whenever I pulled up quickly to gain a little altitude. Check it out for me, will ya, please?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant. By dawn, she’ll be purring like our cat on mia dolce nonna’s lap,” Cenci said, as the rest of Forbes’ ground crew inspected their respective parts of the Nieuport.

“CO says he wants to see you, Chief,” Forbes’ flight commander, Capt. Benton Stearns, an upstate New York farmer’s son and Cornell graduate, called over from a nearby card table where he was playing penny ante poker with his crew. “I raise two cents,” he said.

“Thanks, Cap. Any idea what the Old Man wants?”

Stearns had to laugh. Their squadron commander was all of twenty-eight years old.

“Nope, just said to send you over to his tent when you got back. Or as he said, ‘If that pain in the ass gets back.’ For what it’s worth, I find you sterling company and a damned calming presence on my right wing. I call,” Stearns said.

“Thanks, Cap,” Forbes said.

When Forbes entered Major Phillip Bush’s office tent, he noticed Bush’s expression change from its normal staid to thinly veiled contempt.

“You asked to see me, sir?” Forbes said with a click to attention.

“Yes, Forbes. I see you made it back. Still flyable? No perforations and broken ribs or such?” Bush said. He meant the airplane. As far as he was concerned, Forbeses were more easily replaced than aircraft.

“Just a little engine trouble, sir. My mechanic will have it in good shape by morning.”

“Good. Now let’s talk about you.”

“Me, sir?” Forbes said.

“I won’t frame this in any coddling way, Forbes. The pilots tell me you’ve become a problem, a distraction, a victory-hogging vulture. In other words, they want me to transfer you to another squadron.”

“Would that request come specifically from Lt.Garry, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“It doesn’t matter, but, yes, he was one of the men who pointed out your consistent lack of team play and flight integrity.”

“Flight…integrity…”

“Yes. It’s said you will break formation to hunt on your own, which I will not allow while a regular squadron sortie is being conducted.”

“Have you discussed this with my flight leader, sir?”

“No. Captain Stearns needn’t be consulted on such a command decision. Therefore…”

“Who’s command would that be…Sir?

“I beg your pardon, Lieutenant? You may have been able to play fast and loose with military decorum in your French squadrons, but not in mine. In the hopefully very short time you will be under my command, you will recognize my authority and that of all your superiors,” Bush said. His patrician pallor shifted to a farmer’s red neck.

“Yessir. And where is it you’ll be transferring me? Sir!”

“There’s an opening at the 103rd. Maybe you’ll fit in with Soubiran, Larner, your fellow Lafayette Corps types under Thaw’s command. I figure anyone who’d buy a live lion as a squadron pet, plus served with Bert Hall without killing him, should handle you and your…proclivities…quite… Well, he has a chance to make you a gentleman,” Bush said.

“When do you wish me to leave, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“After your dawn patrol with your new flight commander, Captain Garry,” Bush said with a smirk. “That’s all.”

Forbes stalked to his tent and began packing his effects into the cases he bought on holiday in Paris after his fifth victory in ’17. The one that made him an ace in his French squadron, Spa. 75.

Stearns burst into the tent and roared, “What in the hell is going on, Chief? I just heard that piss ant Garry whined to the Old Man and, et voila, you’re sacked? Going over to the 103rd?”

“Yep, but at least I’ll be with guys who know what they’re doing, and flying SPADs, to boot. They may have the glide angle of a brick, but at least they don’t fall apart in the middle of a scrape.”

“You’re okay with this, eh?”

“Sure. And you can’t help but love the irony of moving to a squadron whose insignia is an Indian head, can you?” Forbes said.

“These punks wouldn’t be that smart, would they?”

“Garry would.”

“And I heard you’re going up with his flight in the morning,” Sterns said.

“Yeah, a goodbye ‘Fuck You’ from Garry, Bush and their frat brothers,” Forbes said

“Well, bon chance, Chief. I’ve learned a lot from you. And my right wing will feel mighty bare-ass and at-risk starting tomorrow.”

Bon chance, Cap. See you at Maxim’s when this is over.”

In the pre-dawn chill, Forbes met Garry and two other pilots at the flight line.

“Well, Forbes, nice of you to join us. Let’s see you stay with us for the duration of this patrol,” Garry said.

“You know, Garry, I wouldn’t miss this sortie for the world, just to see you oblivious to all the Boche observers with your head up your ass instead of on a swivel. You only join the fray when someone else spots the Boche and then fire off a few bursts and claim their kills. My guess is you’ll be dead soon enough, so this morning I just wanted to say goodbye,” Forbes said and headed toward his Nieuport and ground crew.

“We’ll be much the better for your departure, you half-breed mutt,” Garry yelled at Forbes’s back.

“The crew’s awful sorry to see you go, Sir. We liked to think you were one of us,” Dino Cenci said as he extended his oil-stained hand to Forbes.

As he shook each man’s hand, Forbes said, “I like to think that, too, Dino. Every time I step into that cockpit, we’re all in it together, right?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant.”

“Now let’s twist this pussy’s tail and see if she purrs like your nonna’s cat.”

After a smooth start and climb to the flight’s prescribed altitude, the patrol began. Each man was to hold his aircraft in a specific position for the other’s protection and to multiply the chances of finding enemy aircraft to engage.

Forbes was first to see the seemingly alone German LVG reconnaissance plane five thousand feet below. He wagged his wings to get Garry’s attention, but shook his head “No” and pointed up to the flight of eight Fokker D-VIIs breaking through the clouds.

An obvious trap, but Garry pointed down and the other Nieuports dutifully followed his attack on the LVG.

Forbes lagged behind, knowing that the flight would be under the guns of the Fokkers in moments. He broke off and swung around the diving Fokkers, picking out one with some bird device painted on its side. He may have hated Garry and the Harvard man’s gang of snobs, but he would protect them whether they knew what was about to happen or not.

He touched off his dual machine guns and hosed tracers up the spine of the Fokker to its cockpit, watching its pilot slump and then saw the plane burst into flames.

That’s one, he thought. Look the hell behind you, Garry!

The LVG dove away from the American pursuit planes just as the German fighters opened fire. Chapman, another Harvard man, never knew what hit him.

Forbes flipped his plane and turned on another Fokker as they began leveling off to chop up the over-matched Nieuports. The American planes had a slight advantage of maneuverability in the right hands, but Forbes’s were the only right ones in this fight.

He let go a burst just as the Fokker flashed by and saw its left aileron come loose and float away like a leaf. The Fokker dove in hopes of surviving a landing on the American side of the lines.

Two.

Above him, Forbes saw Garry tailing one of his flight members, who was jinking and rolling madly to elude another Fokker. Garry’s tracers cut through the German’s fuselage, but to no effect. Forbes pulled a twisting climb and caught the Fokker with a burst from beneath.

Three, Forbes thought. Now where the hell are the rest?

Red tracers whizzed past his head, as bullets from a pair of German Spandau machine guns stitched holes through his left wings. Tracers crossed the German’s path and Forbes saw Gerry’s aircraft, flight leader pennants straight out in the slipstream from its struts, flash across their path. With that distraction, he fired into the Fokker’s engine, which began to smoke.

Four.

But Garry didn’t see the Fokker behind him who buried a burst into his Nieuport’s slender, tapered fuselage. He immediately dove in attempt to escape, but the Fokker had the weight and power advantage.

Shit, I should just let the bastard get it and head back to the base, Forbes thought.

But his training, from his Ute Grandmother, his ranching parents and his French comrades wouldn’t let him. He gave chase and potted the Fokker with a burst and then another, causing him to pull away from Garry.

Five. Now get the hell out of my life, Garry, you pompous prick. Where the…

The burst of bullets arced from one of the remaining Fokkers Forbes had lost contact with while coming to Garry’s aid. Forbes felt the burn through his chest and in the briefest of moments saw all the good in his life, then the killing and the bad, then…nothing.

Garry managed to bring his damaged Nieuport down to a French aerodrome. When he returned to his own, he claimed three kills, which were approved and moved him past Forbes on the squadron’s victory ranking.

The two Fokkers who survived Mal Forbes last fight returned to their Jasta. There, a party of fellow Prussian officers clustered around one of the planes, praising its pilot for wiping out the American flight. Forward observers would relay that information to the Jastas.

Down the flight line, only the ground crew of the other pilot, the one that killed the American ace, welcomed their Herr home. They inspected the stripe of bullet holes that pierced the six-pointed star on his fuselage’s side.

From amid the cluster of Prussian officers walking past the lone pilot came a laugh from the other surviving pilot.

“Even the Jew got his Amerikaner today,” he said, just as they always described Leutnant Oskar Schneider, even after today’s fight brought him to ten-victory Kanon status and a sure Pour le Mérite medal of a hero of the German Empire. Even if he was nothing but “the Jew” to his Jasta mates.

Schneider wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, an American, where your comrades didn’t care about your race or religion, just your character and courage.

“Thus it will always be, boys,” he said to his crew, but they ignored him and had already begun preparing the aircraft for its next flight.

Here’s the too-long first draft of Story #2 for my September Story-A-Day Challenge. It’s rough, as any first draft should be, but I think it has “good bones.” I was supposed to write a story using the following words: Blame, State, Frame, Holiday, Relay, Waist, Pail, Gain, Raise, Mayor, Airplane, Remain. 

Pretty certain I did. You check. I’m done for the night.