Loom (poem)

Written after reading Andrew Hudgin’s “Elegy For My Father, Who Is Not Dead” and more than a fair share of John Berryman’s work, which is par for the course these days.

Loom

Fathers loom large, not matter what
we do to diminish their giant’s strength
conferred upon them the moment
of our births, when we become acquainted
with air, take it in, scream it out,
and begin our doomed love affair with life.

Some eclipse the sun with guns–
Berryman’s, Hemingway’s, the former
dropping under the young poet’s window,
the latter taking to his marital bed
and ending the misery with a .38.

Others suffer the odd kinks of fate,
like my great-grandfather who survived
being thrown like a doll from a streetcar–
for weeks, body-casted, his turn of the century eyes
peering out for help and solace–
only to die in the ink of night
from a brain hemorrhage,
his two sons coming to rouse him
at first light and finding him still,
his only daughter huddled at the door jamb,
a place she never fully left.

Mine took his chances with drugs
and women and fucked a future
that could have been happy,
though there’s nothing more certain
to ensure the opposite than clinging
to such a hopeless, boyhood fantasy.
My memories of him pulse and fade
like half-developed Polaroids.

What gaps are left behind,
what shoes, empty and cavernous,
are left on porches, drowned in shadow.

Chess, My Father, My Son (Poem)

I’m not entirely sure about the title, but here it is nonetheless:

Chess, My Father, my Son

My father wrangled with chess
the way other men wrangle fish,
hoping to land a giant, one that
fights until exhausted, its glittering
gills heaving with final breath
on the bottom of the boat
that holds just enough water
to tantalize but not prolong life.

He read books, glared at the board,
and muttered as he played himself,
his doppelganger invisible to my brother
and me, but we felt his heat
when we passed the table that held
the sacred altar of dead pawns,
frowning bishops and cruel queens
all scrambling to protect the king
and his one-step, regal self,
the rules of black and white steeped
in centuries of schemes,
moves and counter-moves,
as far from a game as possible.

I set the board up for my bright-eyed son,
and we chatter as pieces move
as they should: some forethought,
perhaps a minute or two of strategy.
Pieces come and go without a curse,
and times passes on gentle heels,
unafraid to voice questions,
unafraid to take the moment
of a hovered hand over a piece
and declare it chance rather than fate.

Home (Short Story)

I recently joined hitRECord after seeing the show on Netflix. The short story below is the result of a writing challenge that asks for contributors to write about a reunion that occurs in a nudist colony.

Ron

First, I should probably correct a commonly-misconception about nudists: we’re not a particularly randy bunch. Sure, you’re going to have the occasional guy or gal who joins up with a group because they think it’s all going to be a bunch of wild, public sex, Kind of like a modern-day festival for Dionysus, replete with endless cups of wine, near-perfect anatomy just ripe for tasting and touching, and a general sense of sexual freedom not glimpsed since the ancient Greeks.

That is, most assuredly, not the case with our group, the Midtown Nudist Collective (MDC). We’re not swingers, for God’s sake, and we take pains to tell people that. It’s on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profile (which is clean, if you want to check it out). Still, some folks think that’s all veneer and we’re secretly wild and up for anything, legal or not.

They get a rude awakening at their first gathering when they see guys like me—I’m forty-two, twice-divorced, a body courtesy of too many trips through the drive-thru, a lazy eye, and hair that gave up the fight to stay on my scalp years ago—and women like my second ex-wife Donna, who’s not going to win a beauty contest anytime soon.

I loved Donna more than my first wife, Gloria, though Gloria had her perks, too. She just wouldn’t fully get onboard with the nudist lifestyle, but she did give it the old college try. I met Donna at another retreat, so I knew she was good to go. We had five good years together before she left me

The hardest part wasn’t the break-up or the divorce, though; it was her leaving MNC. She was a founding member, after all, and she had friends. Close friends who had seen her through cancer treatment, through the loss of her father, and they listened to her when she complained about me. I took that all in stride, having been hitched to Gloria, who you couldn’t please, no matter what you did. I offered to leave the group, but Donna said no, I needed it more.

“I have other support, Ron,” she told me the last time we spoke. “I have my sister and my cousins. Who do you have?”

“No one now,” I snapped. Like I said, she left me. Sure, we had problems, but I was willing to work on them. Donna wasn’t, simple as that.

Donna split two years ago, and though I hadn’t forgotten her, I moved on. I had a fling with a girl named Darcy who got arrested and extradited to Nevada where she had an outstanding warrant for felony shoplifting. Since then, I’ve been solo.
I’m not prepared the day that Donna strolls up to Craig Denver’s backyard, naked as the day she was born and sporting a new tattoo just above her right hip. It’s a crow, and a nasty-looking one, at that. Below the crow are the words FREE AS A BIRD NOW.

She looks good, I have to admit. A few of us stand around gaping at her, not sure what to say. Finally, Lori Singleton laughs and said, “Damn, girl, what took you so long to come back home?”

Donna

God, there’s Ron. I haven’t seen him, naked or clothed, since 2011. He’s kept himself relatively fit, which is good. I thought he’d fall apart when I left. It was sure as hell looking that way for a time. When I was finalizing everything to move in with my sister, Ron started buying ice cream and putting it away like a teenaged girl nursing a heart-break. Of course, Ron has insane metabolism. He can go out and run and bam, it’s like he’s been eating carrots and celery instead of Ben & Jerry’s.

And now that bitch Lori Singleton’s eyeing me. No one else from the old crew has noticed me yet, so either we’ve lost a bunch or they just skipped the hang-out today. Craig’s back yard fence door was open, as always, so I just slipped out of the car and into the yard. I don’t care if his neighbors saw me or not. We’re not supposed to disrobe before we’re on his property, but fuck it. If I’m coming back, I’m coming back in style. If that includes an indecent exposure arrest, so be it. It’ll be the least of my worries now.

“Damn, girl, what took you so long to come back home?” Lori asks, a twinkle in her eye that most people take as interest and friendliness, but I know the truth. Lori would sooner drive a dagger, metaphorical or real, in by back than say one genuinely kind word to me. I have no idea what did to deserve her wrath. She and Ron were never a thing, and I never crossed her at group meetings or anything like that. Lori seems to have just decided I’m not worth having around, and I’m sure she wishes I’d stayed the hell away.

“I’ve been busy,” I say, suddenly unsure of myself. It’s her use of the word “home” that gets me. I know she doesn’t mean it, and I wasn’t sure this was my home until she said the word…and until I saw Ron. I don’t mean the MNC, either, as home, or even the town. Really, it’s just Ron, because I need him. He’s as close to home as I can imagine right now.

“You were staying with your sister, right?” Lori continues.

“Yeah, but I moved out,” I reply, and I have no intention of going into the reasons why, which are many and each one is uglier than the last. “I’m kind of between places now.”

“Where are you staying?” Ron asks.

“At the Continental,” I say. It’s an old hotel on the edge of town where Ron and I used to hook up in our early days. I was married then, though my husband was a piece of shit and was cheating on me with women in three other states, and Ron was still married to Gloria.

“Oh, I got it,” Ron says, and it gets quiet for a few seconds. Before Lori can open her stupid mouth again, I jump and ask Ron, “Hey, can we find somewhere to talk alone for a bit?”

Ron nods and takes me hand, just like old times, and leads me past a startled-looked Craig Denver through the sliding door into Craig’s house. Craig’s house is normally off-limits, but our fearless leader doesn’t say anything. I guess he figures this situation warrants us some privacy.

It’s weird being naked in Craig’s house, and I nearly ask Ron if I can run out to the car and get my clothes, but there’s no time. Ron’s mouth is on mine, and I melt into him. Turns out it’s perfectly fine that we don’t have any clothes on because he lowers me to the floor and we fuck right there on the kitchen floor.

When we finish, we make our way to the living room. Ron grabs two towels from the bathroom so we can clean up. The entire room smells like sex and sweat, and my head starts swimming. I’ve only had sex one time since leaving Ron, and it was a sad little occurrence with a man I let pick me up at a bar. I can’t even remember his name.

“Are you staying?” Ron asks. “I mean, are you just visiting or do you plan to actually move back?”

“I’m dying,” I say. No sense in delaying it any longer. “And yes, I’m moving back for what time I have left.”

Ron goes as still as an animal crossing a road caught in headlights, his eyes fixed and unmoving on mine. He starts crying and buries his head in my hair. I’m cried out. Most days, I just feel cold when I think about death.

“It’s the same cancer that took Dad,” I say.

“They can’t do anything?”

“Caught it too late. I’m stage four, Ron. I told my oncologist to fuck himself when he wanted to put me in hospice, and I told my sister the same thing. So I’m back here.”

Ron moves his face from my hair and looks at me again. “You want me to take care of you?”

The tears I thought that had taken a permanent vacation come back with force. “Yes,” I say, and it’s my turn to hide myself.

Neither of us notice Craig until he clears his throat and says, “This violates one of our major rules, you two. I know you just got back, Donna, and it’s great, but you two just screwed in my house.”

“Jesus, Craig, get out,” Ron growls, and Craig looks like he’s just been slapped. He stares at us nervously, and then turns his bare ass around and goes back outside.

I don’t know how long we stay there, holding each other, watching the quality of light change as it filters through the half-shut blinds of the living room. We make love once more, this time tenderly, the only noise between us the sharp ins and outs of our breath.

And we remain silent, even as we walk, hand in hand, out of the house and to my car.

The Man Who Got Electric

the man who got electric

A few years ago, my son’s six-year-old friend (with help from his dad) wrote a little book called The Man Who Got Electric. The book’s filled with sticky notes of aliens, windows, and a man with a Popsicle, and so on. There’s nothing actually about a man “getting electric,” but the title grabbed me and never completely left my mind. Above is the picture of the front of the book–which I have, for some reason, and should give to the boy’s father–and below is the poem I wrote yesterday:

The Man Who Got Electric

He came in from the rain
and sat at the bar,
his match-stick bones
glowing through his skin,

his hair a nest of wires
sparking and making Nick,
the fill-in bartender,
so nervous we could smell him.

The women started running
sweaty equations through
their heads, the polynomials
of sex gleaming like embers

in their eyes when he spoke,
the Tesla coil of his voice
spinning the room around
and setting our teeth flashing.

Bob couldn’t take it, and threw up
on his brown loafers.
“A shame,” said the man
who got electric, as he finished

his whiskey and ordered a double,
taking his sweet, charged time
as Edison’s ghost looked on
in pale, humming approval.

Rope

Here’s something cheery for you.

Rope

I felt for the end of the rope
but it slipped away years ago,
lost to the mists that God
exhaled in his down time,
a place on no one’s map,

where angels vacationed once
and winged it the hell out of there,
leaving a celestial trail of breadcrumbs
in hopes that their counterparts,
mirrored and mired in cold sulfur,
would slither their way in,
get lost, set up permanent camp,
and rule, rule, rule.

If the end of the rope is there–
slime-coated, blackened, ugly–
where is its beginning?

I don’t know.
I’ve never known,

but I thought I did once,
many particles and iterations ago,
groggy with drink and aflame
with dirty lust.
I thought I knew every word, syllable,
hint, thought, dream, and urge
since time sighed into gear.

But now, holding the rope
in the middle, feeling its alternating
tension and slack, I know nothing,

so I settle deep into the earth
and listen to its creaks and groans,
a tectonic lullaby that lowers me to sleep.

Alan, Troy, and Nora

Alan’s story has taken a few interesting and unexpected turn. Alan’s more of a jazz aficionado than I pegged him to be, and Nora has a great deal more to say than I thought she would. Really, I didn’t have much of an idea about her; she was just going to tag along with Troy.

Anyway, here’s an update for those of you who’ve been kind enough to read thus far. Gone is the creative writing epitaph exercise number whatever-we’re-on, though I’m afraid “Alan, Troy, and Nora” isn’t much. This part’s rather short, too, as this weekend hasn’t been the best for fitting in time to write.

I took Troy’s advice about the shower but skipped it about the food. I always had a hard time keeping up with eating when I was high, but I did okay when I was just drunk. Drunk and high rendered food a veritable poison, but even if I wanted to eat half the country, I would have stopped myself because I wanted to keep the buzz or high as clean as possible. Nothing in my belly to soak any of it up. Every available cell in my body–that is, the ones that weren’t tasked with the tough burden of keeping my organs running in relatively good shape–was chasing that damn dragon.

As the day turned to evening I forgot about Troy and his girlfriend. I was sitting in front of my massive stereo system, a gift to myself when Becky left, listening to Miles Davis. In particular, Cookin’ With Miles Davis Quintet, which came out in 1957. I was on the floor, my back arched, letting “Tune Up/When Lights Are Low” penetrate me, when the doorbell rang. Man, that pissed me off. There was little more in my world of aggravations–and trust me, there were plenty of contenders–than someone interrupting a music-listening session. Becky would think nothing of it, of course. She’d start clattering around in the kitchen, getting ready to make supper, just as I dropped the needle down on an album. How many times did I tell her to at least give me some advanced warning before she did that shit? And did she ever listen? Of course not.

I yanked the door open, wondering blearily if I’d ordered a pizza, even though I wasn’t supposed to be eating. There stood Troy and a girl about his age with long hair dyed black and more piercings than I think an otherwise pretty good should have. Let the ugly ones shove metal in their faces and have neck tattoos. Why do the sexy ones have to follow the trend?

“Hey, man,” Troy said, chuckling a little. He looked nervous again. “You okay? You look a little pissed.”

“No, I’m fine,” I said, shaking my face like it was an Etch-a-Sketch and I was trying to erase my frown. It didn’t exactly work. I was out of coke and I didn’t think I had it in me to drink too much more. Now it suddenly seemed like a bad idea to have invited Troy and his girlfriend. Still, I let them in and gently lifted the arm from the album and shut off the stereo.

“What were you grooving out to?” Troy asked. “Oh, shit, wait. My bad, this is Nora.”

“Hello, Nora,” I said, extending my hand. I suddenly felt like my father, and I laughed. Nora looked at me weird. “Sorry, do you not shake hands? Or is mine in particular off-putting?” I laughed again.

Nora’s hand met mine and grasped it briefly. “No, I’m not scared of germs or anything,” she said, and I decided I liked her voice. It wasn’t what I expected, which was high and flutey with that horrid upspeak and a shit-ton of “ums” girls her age do. She sounded…mature. Much more mature than Troy, for that matter.

“Well, good, because my place is a cesspool,” I said, sitting on the sofa and encouraging them to do the same. “Who knows what you’ll get before the night’s done?”

Troy shot me a knock-it-off look, but I ignored him. Nora kept a noticeable distance between herself and Troy, and she moved closer to me when she said, “So, Troy told me you had some stuff.”

Ah, the stuff. She wasn’t discriminating, which made me like her more. “It depends on your definition of stuff,” I said. “I snorted the coke clean up. I’ve got enough booze to open a quaint little bar and pills of all kinds. If you really want the coke, I guess I could call my guy.” I was feeling much better now that Nora was in the picture.

“No, pills and drink will suffice,” Nora said, almost as an afterthought, her attention drawn by my record collection. “Were you listening to Miles when we came to the door?”

“Yeah,” I said, surprised. I didn’t think kids went for Miles. I mean, it would have been one thing if I’d been playing something off Bitches Brew, which more than one person I knew who wasn’t into jazz big time would recognize. Kind of like people knowing “Take Five” by Brubeck but nothing else.

“I love jazz.” Nora shivered as she said, her eyes still on my collection. I felt myself growing hard, which surprised the hell out of me. As tanked as I was, to even have a stirring down there was a minor miracle, to say nothing of my complete lack of erections since Becky left. I’m talking nothing. I got that I was in my forties and I was probably losing testosterone, but still, I expected to wake up every now and then with morning wood. And now here was this tattooed, pierced girl who said she loved jazz, lustily eyeballing my records, and I started breathing a little heavier.

Nora selected a Charles Mingus record, Tijuana Moods. She slowly ran her fingers over the front, and I licked my lips. “God, what a great fucking record,” she said. I took her point literally; it would be a good record to fuck to.

Sunflowers on Mars

I haven’t been to sleep, and so I’ve been typing up the poems I wrote over the last few days. It’s 4:10 AM, which makes this particular one seem especially bleak. Ah, well.

Sunflowers on Mars

You said our love was as impossible
as sunflowers on Mars and left
me under a sleeping sky.

I was terminally awake,
a doomed butterfly
having just taken flight
in a poisoned dome.

Dying but determined,
I forced myself to the red planet,
ignoring the titled passage of years,
and settled onto the burned soil,
tasting it with my tongue.

I surveyed the copper hills
and sienna canyons,
but there were no flowers,
no Martian seedlings or new blooms–
nothing but blasted, irradiated ruin.

I drifted back toward Earth,
buffeted by indifferent solar winds,
no music of the spheres to comfort me.
I gave up somewhere in the stratosphere.

By the time I connected with the ground,
I was nothing more than a cosmic ghost
watching my body disintegrate, its pieces
as scattered as Osiris.

I knew no one would gather my parts,
cradle them, and do their supernatural best
to breathe and mold me back to life,

least of all you, ignorant as always
to the astronomy of need and the orbit of pain.