Guns, Blood, and Immortality

Or something like that. I didn’t want to write today, but it’s not about wanting or not wanting to. I just have to show up and engage in the craft. If something good comes out of a writing session, wonderful. If I just have two or three pages of dreck, that’s also wonderful. I can’t wait for my Muse to lean over and whisper in my ear (which she doesn’t do anyway; she more apt to whack me in the head). Craft, craft, craft. Inspiration will come and go, but the craft remains. Here’s what emerged from today’s session:  

“Don’t bother with that one,” Old Laura said. “He’s close enough to dead that we’ll just leave him be.”

Greg studied the battered body at the edge of the tunnel. From his vantage point, Greg didn’t think it was clear the man was on the verge of death. He was certainly bloody, but he was half-shrouded in shadow. “You sure?” he asked and held his lantern higher and squinted his eyes at the man.

Old Laura chuckled and placed a hand on Greg’s shoulder, which made him jump. He didn’t like anyone touching him, but that went double for Old Laura, whose hands had dealt more death than…well, anyone Greg knew, and he knew some cold-blooded killers. Old Laura took the fucking cake and then some. He supposed if she said someone was near death, he should take it as gospel truth.

Still, there was something wrong with the situation. Not that the way it went down, of course. That had been sheer perfection, thanks to weeks of planning, his steady trigger hand, and Old Laura’s combination of blood-lust and keen intelligence. Around them lay six bodies, all dead…and soon to be seven if the fucker at the end of the tunnel would get about it, Greg thought.

“I’m not second-guessing you, Old Laura,” he said, “but let me just wander over there and make sure he’s done for. I know you shot him to hell and back again, but something’s making the hair on my neck stick up.”

“We’re wasting time,” Old Laura growled, “but if it’ll stop your goddamn worrying, go over and check. Just don’t waste a bullet on him. If he’s still drawing breath, just crush his windpipe.

“Roger that,” Greg replied, moving  carefully through pools of blood and stepping over what was left of the men he and Old Laura had disposed of. The tunnel floor was like a jigsaw of human body parts, but Greg had an iron stomach. It took a lot to rattle him. Shit, the last time was when that kid’s head landed in my lap, and that was, what, ten years ago? If he hadn’t looked like my cousin Freddie, I could’ve kept my lunch down and–

Greg’s reverie ground to a halt the moment the man at the edge of the tunnel–the man who was supposed to be at death’s very door, expecting admittance at any second–got to his feet and drew his pistol. He was covered in blood and looked like something out of a nightmare, but there he was, quite clearly alive and moving around like the last thing on his mind was dying.

“I prefer my windpipe intact, thank you,” the man spoke and shot Greg in the center of his forehead. As Greg fell lifelessly to the ground, the man moved further down the tunnel and toward Old Laura.

She laughed as the man approached. “Damn, I didn’t think the stories were true,” he said. “Turns out you can’t be killed, after all.”

“No, I can be killed,” the man replied, closing the distance without any hurry. “You’re just a terrible shot.”

“Bullshit,” Old Laura said and leveled her gun at the man. “I hit you at least nine times. You’re just a tough bastard, Wes.”

A thin smile crossed the man’s face. “I haven’t heard my name for a long time,” he said. “So long, I’d forgotten it. Would you do me a favor of telling me my last name?”

Old Laura took a deep breath. Why the fuck hadn’t sheshot him yet? Aside from the fact that nine bullets had only stunned him for a bit, so a few more wasn’t going to spell his doom. Still, at close range, three more would drop him back down and give her time to escape.

And then it hit her: she didn’t want to escape.

“Townes,” she said. “With an e.”

“Wes Townes,” the man said, trying the name on for size. He said it again. “Is Wes short for anything, like Wesley? Weston, maybe?”

“Not that you ever told me.”

“We knew each other?”

“A long time ago.”

Wes scratched at his stubbly face, his expression thoughtful. “You could tell me about myself,” he said. “I should keep you around.”

“If you don’t remember your past, count it a blessing. It was a lot like mine, which was fucking awful.”

Wes kept scratching his face. “I guess you’re right. Well, good talking to you.” He squeezed the trigger one more time, and Old Laura became Dead Laura.

Whistling a tune he knew but couldn’t name, Wes Townes emerged from the tunnel and into the early morning sunlight. He had no idea where he was, but he found he didn’t care. He was somehow alive, and that was all that mattered.


Your Ghost in the Rain

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather, who died in 1994. Over the weekend, I bought a scorpion necklace because it reminds me of the scorpion bolo tie he used to wear. I still wear one of his hats, as well as his watch, now beyond repair. These items, among others related to my sobriety, are my talismans. 

Your Ghost in the Rain

I saw your ghost in the rain today
and it was up to its old tricks again,
blinking into sight, fooling people you’re real
before vanishing into the downpour.

I know you’re there as I walk,
and I wonder if you sense the power
of your old talismans I carry–your hat,
the scorpion necklace,

the broken wristwatch I wear
to remind me time is not important,
and in my pocket, the safety coin from 1954
declaring no accidents in the workplace.

At home, the coins in your change purse
you had the day you died vibrate,
and your wallet glows a deep blue,
speaking a leather language

that I can almost decipher.
When I open it, the image
on your license winks,
and I cry like I did the day

I heard you were gone.
It rained that day, too,
clouds blotting out the sky
with a darkness that never fully lifted.

The Strange Adventures of Eleanor Maythumb (part 1?)

Months ago, my eight-year-old son came up with a character named Eleanor Maythumb. I told him I’d write a story about her. Here’s what I came up. ‘Tis strange.

Eleanor Maythumb had a problem, but it wasn’t a problem she couldn’t solve. In fact, she excelled in problem-solving, whether at school when her teacher presented her with a math problem the other students found incredibly difficult or at home when her parents were confounded by the simplest of things (programming the VCR, for example, to record their favorite TV show Dallas which, as far as Eleanor could tell, wasn’t worth recording in the first place).

Eleanor’s latest problem disguised itself in the form of a boy. But not just any boy…oh, no. The boy into which the problem had firmly and stubbornly rooted itself was Jeremiah Hawthorne, and the problem was the fact that he was dead. Bringing him back to life wasn’t the issue; Eleanor could accomplish that easy as you please.

The problem, you see, was whether or not she should bring him back to life. The truth was, she didn’t like Jeremiah and she much preferred him dead. Still, it wasn’t exactly nice of her to let the boy remain lifeless when she had the power to bring him back and therefore make his parents happy (and, she grumpily admitted, more than a handful of kids at school who, for some inexplicable reason, actually enjoyed Jeremiah’s company).

As it was now, no one knew that Jeremiah was deceased but herself. She stood with the corpse at her feet in a section of the woods where she often wandered through and had never seen another soul. And yet, here was her dead classmate. The world never ceased to amaze Eleanor. It seemed to have an endless assortment of tricks up its sleeves.

Jeremiah didn’t stink and, as she prodded him with her sneakered foot, she noticed he hadn’t gone all stiff like she’d seen bodies do in movies. She reasoned that he hadn’t been dead long, so the prime time for bringing him back was now.

“Oh, come on,” Eleanor grumbled to herself. “Just make a decision, stick with it, and get about the rest of your day.”

The rest of Eleanor’s day wasn’t terribly taxing or exciting. In fact, coming across Jeremiah’s inert form was most likely the highlight. She’d planned on exploring the woods for a while, noting what she found in her journal, and then returning home for a snack. After her snack, she expected she’d probably watch a little TV, eat supper with her parents, do a little homework, and tuck herself in for the night.

She sat beside Jeremiah’s body and wrote in her journal:

Found Jeremiah Hawthorne today, dead as a stump. Cause of death unknown. No visible marks on the body, no signs of injury. Heart attack? Brain aneurysm? Who knows? The question of bringing him back remains unanswered, regardless of how he died.

Eleanor blew out an irritated breath and allowed herself to one a singular curse. She did so once a day (twice, if things got really hairy, which they often did). Jeremiah’s sudden death was a one-curse situation.

“Fine,” she said, rising to her feet. “I’ll do it this time. But if you have some kind of defect that killed you and it happens again, or if you get hit by a car or something, I’m not rescuing you again.”

For good measure, Eleanor kicked Jeremiah hard in the leg just because it felt good. She said a few words passed down to her back her grandmother, who learned them from her grandmother, and so forth. After a few seconds, Jeremiah stirred to life and sat up, blinking confusedly.

“What happened?” he asked. “I feel terrible, and my leg is killing me.”

“You fell and bumped your head, I imagine,” Eleanor said coolly. “I don’t know, I wasn’t here. I just found you lying on the ground like an idiot.”

“Hey!” Jeremiah said. “You little brat, I’ll pound your face in.”

“Doubtful you can catch me,” Eleanor said and ran out of the woods, laughing to herself. She was a slight girl and fast as lightening, and Jeremiah was round as a baby hippo.

After her snack, Eleanor sat on the sofa in the living room of her quiet house. She heard the ticking of the grandfather clock, the drip of the kitchen faucet, and the hum of the furnace her mother insisted on running because she was cold all the time. Her parents would return in a few hours and they and Eleanor would get about their normal routine.

In the meantime, Eleanor found she didn’t want to watch TV or start her homework. Instead, she got on her bike and rode over to Jeremiah’s neighborhood. She arrived at the end of his street just as he huffed and puffed his way toward his house. Before her son got to the edge of the yard, the front door burst open and Jeremiah’s mom yelled, “Jeremiah Wayne Hawthorne, where on Earth have you been? You had me worried sick! You should have been home ages ago!”

Better than dead, you mean old hag, Eleanor thought and peddled back home.

Ramblings of a Sober Man

I started freewriting today and a theme emerged quickly. Shocking, I know, to learn that it involves my journey in sobriety.

My heart’s on display in a weird museum, splayed out for kids, grandmother’s and zoned-out teens to see.

“It’s black,” a kid says, wrinkling his nose.

“It’s damn hideous is what it is,” notes a mustached father, big-bellied and daydreaming of a Latvian prostitute named Melody, but the saddest nurse you can imagine, her tattoos like brands, her voice thick with regret, icing on her burned fingers which he obediently licks like a dog.

The walk away from my heart and tour the rest of the Museum of the Lost, Damaged, and Fucked-Up (LDFU, and the board members grin like safe-crackers when they get together to take shots of blood (“Remember to always B positive!” howls Daniel McCracken, drunk on hemoglobin and starving for more platelets).

“You exaggerate everything,” says the girl from the Mid-West, the one I killed months ago but who stubbornly refuses to die.

“It’s my fatal flaw,” I saw from the kitchen, wishing like hell I was drunk. 95 days without booze or my heart. It’s too much for a man to take, isn’t it?

I read Pema Chödrön and hide in the Earth’s fissures and beg my Higher Power to send an earthquake that’ll destroy everything. I understand destruction, crave it as much as I crave breath.

I break into the museum late at night, silencing the alarms with a glare. I kneel before my heart that sits on a velvet cushion behind a Plexiglass cube.

I tap on the case, but my heart doesn’t respond. Not even one, weak beat.


Uncle James and the Acosta Street Chicken

I like prose poems, but I find them difficult to pull off. When I was visiting my wife’s family on Easter, I watched a chicken wander from yard to yard. It wasn’t a sight I expected to see, and the idea for this poem sprang to mind. For some reason, my great-uncle James came to mind, too. I only met him once, but from stories I’ve heard, he may very well done the following:

Uncle James and the Acosta Street Chicken

Being drunk was nothing new to James or to us, but the chicken raising a fuss at the end of Aosta Street was. “I’m gonna catch the damn thing,” he vowed stumbling up from the easy chair, smoothing his hair and straightening his tie. He swayed his way to the front door, not sure anymore how to get the thing, now fluttering and clucking its way to Mr. Fender’s front yard. Cursing, pleading, he tried once, twice, at least ten times to corral the fowl, but with no luck. He returned in time for supper to burn. He sat at the table, scowling and not eating a thing.

Charles at 89

For those playing at home, I’m submitting to a journal whose current issue asks that poets submit works that contain the following words: miasma, simmer, and whimsy. Here’s my contribution:

Charles at 89

Confusion set to simmer,
he reclined back,
eyes semi-shut,

one a milky planet
that could stare at the sun
full on without blinking,

the miasma drifting
from his whiskered mouth
enough to fell a horse,

and yet he had enough
whimsy in his yellowed bones
to clear his throat and say

Sing something for me
and I’ll do my damndest
to dance in this here chair.