27 April, 2011

Excerpt From The Muckraker's Chronicle: It's Hard To Be Humble

Denise. That was her name. It stuck with me. It woke me up at night. Denise Gunnersaun, the woman who hanged herself in the Arliss County Jail rather than stand trial for defending herself. I had a girlfriend once named Denise. She was Denise the amazonian from the wrong side of town. None of the popular boys would admit they liked her, but they all stared at her boobs. We were in 7th grade. I was too timid to do anything but hold hands. Denise, who liked me because was I gentle and kind and because I wasn't mean to her the way the rest of the kids were. Denise who broke up with me using a note she had her best friend Becky give me in Ms. Algers math class. Denise Riddley. I didn't like her enough to be broken up about it. I was more annoyed that Becky got caught passing me the note; we both ended up getting detention for it. Becky spent the entire hour after school giving me dirty looks. To this day I'm still not sure what it was I did wrong.
That wasn't the only reason Denise Gunnersaun stuck in my mind; the whole story seemed absurd. Drunken asshole of a husband comes home, wants to take his bad mood out on his high school sweet heart and mother of his sons. She has enough, swings at his bloated head with a frying pan. Yet she's the one that gets arrested. She's the one that's left alone, deserted by her few friends and the community of women who have been turning a blind eye to the suffering of their own gender for years... decades, maybe even longer. I sit in on town council and county board committee meetings where they complain about drug traffic and the riff raff and how people are poor because they're not willing to work. Mothers will gossip about the alleged sins of other mother's sons but defend their own children's obvious improprieties with a “boys will be boys” attitude. Better to marry an abusive asshole if you get knocked up rather than take on the stigma of being an unwed mother in a town that prizes the appearance of things over their content. Of course, the church matrons will never forgive you anyway and still think you're a dirty whore... but as long as you seem willing to not ever forgive yourself either, it makes the whole thing go a bit easier.

The article was a short one; took me less than a half hour to write, including interviews. The coroner and the sheriff both made statements, I typed the story up, turned it in. It was one of the easiest articles I'd ever written. Ever.

And then the old men at the Moose Head started talking about it. Don Parton was the most vocal. He was vocal about his support of Daniel, the husband. The poor guy who now had to raise his two sons alone after that psycho bitch of a wife did herself in. It was maybe the best thing for everyone, though; after all, Parton said, the negative effect she was having on those boys might have ruined them. Of course, that Daniel married her at all amazed everyone; when the oldest boy, Jesse, was born, there was no way of knowing whether Daniel was even the father, Parton said. “The way SHE got around,” he said, shaking his head. Judgment. It's so much easier to judge the dead since they're not around to defend themselves. Not that anyone waited that long to judge Denise Gunnersaun.

And of course, no one other than Sheriff Cleary – who was actually pretty broken up about it – and the coroner – who was annoyed that her death interrupted his golf game – would talk to me on the record. I tried talking to her friends … the few that would claim to be, anyway … and while I heard several ear fulls of information, the only way any of them agreed to talk to me was if I left their name out of the paper. Great. “An unidentified friend of the deceased claims...” Right. Or maybe I could go all Woodward and Bernstein and give each of them code names. Flappy Jaws, Trailer Queen, and Stovepipe. The three of them still lived in Denise's Gunnersaun's old stomping ground: the trailer park at the end of Wakarusa Road. For many of the the upstanding citizens of Mount Arliss the trailer park was a symbol of the epidemic of laziness, communism, and liberalism that was spreading like a virus across the nation... leaching out from Chicago like some hideous kudzu like weed, taking over everything. Southern farmers hate kudzu because once it takes up residence in a field, it's almost impossible to kill. And it takes over everything. Entire hill sides in Eastern Kentucky are eaten up with the stuff... it kills everything else by using up every bit of nutrient in the soil and propagating. It grows the way cancer grows.

Which is how people who didn't live in the trailer park saw the trailer park. In one trailer alone, they would say, the (unmarried, of course) woman had seven kids. And she wasn't even 30. Seven kids, seven different fathers. Hers and the bastard children of the other trailer park whores running around town like a plague, destroying things, taking up room the schools that should have been saved for upstanding children from good families. Not that many of the good families were staying, since there were no jobs to had in Arliss County that didn't include underpaid menial labor or seasonal farm work – and the seasonal farm work inevitably went to the migrant workers pouring over the Mexican border like a punishment from Heaven. Naturally people made biblical parallels. How could they not? It was so easy. The entire world was going to shit. Gays wanting to get married, Mexicans taking American jobs, and the whores in the Wakarusa Trailer Court. And Denise Gunnersaun, for the sin of trying to get out the only way she knew how – which was admittedly not the best or smartest of ways – was symbolic of Heaven's judgment against the whole country.

Or so Don Parton thought and said. And when Parton talked people tended to listen... mostly because he never let anyone else talk that didn't agree with him.

Her friends... the ones that wouldn't talk to me on the record... gave their point of view on Daniel Gunnersaun. He'd been the favored son of a well known and respected property owner... which in Mount Arliss meant a farmer. A favored son, a farmer's son, and the star Varsity quarterback... which put him somewhere on the same level as God for most of the adults in town. He always had the prettiest girl on his arm – never the same one for very long and almost always a cheerleader. Always won the crucial football game. Always managed to get by in his classes. A 4-H award winner. President of the Mount Arliss Future Farmers of America, and the youngest member of the county's chapter of the NRA. He was actively recruited by Illinois State University and Michigan State; he was a hometown boy with a bright future.

And then he met Denise Favre.

Her mother had lived in the trailer park for years and before that she had lived above the laundromat on the corner. The only thing certain about Denise Favre's parentage was that Rachel Favre was her mother; who her father was had only been the the topic of idle gossip and conversation. The upright uptight church matrons called her the Whore of Babylon and every man in town, married or single, had at some point walked through her door and laid down in her bed. Who her parents had been, no one knew; she wasn't from Mount Arliss; Rachel had simply appeared in town one day and proceeded, to hear the God-fearing women tell it, to dig her claws into their husbands and sons. The less than God-fearing women didn't especially like her either. And each and all of them passed on their dislike to her only daughter.

How's that song go? Same old story, same old song and dance. Being from the wrong family in a small town is like being the middle child; no matter what you do, you always lose. And when you're from the right family, no matter what you do, your shit doesn't stink.

“Why are you letting this bother you?” Maude asked me when one of my insomnia nights woke her up. “Why do you let any of this bother you?”

I told her I didn't know. “It just doesn't seem fair. Or something.”

“You get too involved,” she said. “And it ends up keeping you up at night; or it gives you another excuse to get drunk and pissy.”

“I don't recall ever needing an excuse,” I said. “And I'm never pissy.”

“If it bothers you,” she said, sitting down in her chair and lighting up a cigarette, “why didn't you write a longer article on it?”

She's right, of course. But there's no point in saying that out loud. I didn't write the longer article... the one I should have written … because I waited until the last minute to write it. Squeezed it in right over deadline.

“I was working on other stuff,” I said. “That was a busy week. I wish I COULD just focus on one story at a time. I'd have been awarded a Pulitzer by now.”

“And yet,” she said, “you're still so humble.”

She loves me. I know she loves me because she picks on me. Most of the time it makes me laugh. It did this time, too. “I know, I know,” I said. “It's a burden being this brilliant still be an everyday normal guy.”

“You've never been normal.”


“What about this is bothering you, though? I mean it's not like you knew her.” She looked over at me with that inquisitive look she used to give me a lot more when we first got together and I still had more women friends than she thought was normal. It's probably not fair to say she was jealous; but whenever she saw me with one of them, she would still give me these looks from time to time that said “Are you sure you're not fucking this chick?”

I ignored the look on her face. “It's the situation, maybe,” I said. “Everybody in town is glad she's dead for the sake of the asshole who abused her.”


“Isn't that enough?”

“Enough to complain about? Yes. Enough to be indignant about? Yes. But why is it bothering you?”

“Did I tell you that Don Parton tried to get Sam to fire me?”


“Because I've been asking around about Daniel Gunnersaun's background, his history around here.”

“And what's the point in that?”

“I don't know. Not really.”

“And what did Sam say?”

“Sam told him to take a flying leap.”


“Not in so many words. Sam has more tact.”

“Is this story worth losing your job over?”

“I'm not going to lose my job; it's barely a job as it is. I probably would've written a bigger article if I hadn't needed to write five other ones that week just to make a decent check.”

“You could do something else.”

“Like what?”

“You could teach,” she said. “You said you almost became a teacher.”
“I almost became a fire watcher, too,” I said, “except that they don't use fire watchers anymore. Guess I missed out.”

“What's that have to do with teaching?”

“They don't need real teachers anymore, either.”

She sighed. Maude's exhaustion was getting the better of her. My absence from bed woke her up, but she needed more sleep than I did. “Let's go to bed,” she yawned.

“You go ahead. I'll be there in a bit. Save me some room.”

She sighed again, but she was too tired to argue; she stood up and shuffled back to bed. After I heard her settle in and fall back asleep, I thought again about Denise Gunnersaun and her three friends who wouldn't come to the defense of her memory. And it still didn't sit right. 

22 April, 2011

Harvey Nada

When is it time to walk away? There is no walking away, no escape. Nada. When Harvey thought about the concept of nothing, he preferred to think of it in Spanish terms. Nada. Nothing seemed like much more finite term. A term with limitations. A Beginning. A Middle. An End. Nada seemed more eternal; he didn't know why. He didn't really understand what it was about the word that appealed to him, either. It wasn't as if he were fluent in Spanish; the only other Spanish words he knew were taco, burrito, and cervasa. Other than that, he was shit out of luck. Nada.

The clock on the wall was old. Certainly older than him. Maybe not as old as the room he was currently sitting in. The paint on the walls was mint hospital green and peeling the way that only lead paint can peel. The furniture was old, too... what little there was. A small wooden table and chair.A light hung fromt the ceiling over the table and provided the small room's only light; he had been in jail cells that were bigger. A small sink so dirty the white porcelain was stained beyond redemption and so old that the water coming out of the tap was spit warm and so metallic tasting it was virtually undrinkable. The toilet worked, but didn't have a sear. There was a narrow bed with a thin mattress that smelled of mothballs, bed bugs, and old sex. He didn't sleep on it, even though he had been waiting for more than 72 hours.

He hated these kind of deals. Sitting and waiting. Waiting and sitting. Sometimes he checked the time on his cell. He tried not to do this often because it only reminded him how slow the time was passing.

Harvey didn't have the personality for intrigue; so the longer he sat, the more he thought about walking out the door. He was starting to smell himself, and he wanted a shower, a good meal, and to get laid. It all seemed so pointless... all this waiting around. Waiting for what? He thought. Nada. But he sat anyway, rapping his swollen knuckles on the old wooden table and staring at the door. Sometimes he dosed off; but he slept the way his grandfather's hound dog used to sleep – aware and half awake. Sometimes he occupied his mind by imagining what he was going to do to Sanford when ran into that son of a bitch again. Sanford was the reason Harvey was sitting in a shit hole room for 3 days. Sanford was the go between. The messenger. The goddamned gopher. Sanford who said it was a sweet and easy deal, so long as he played along.

He was in the process of imagining the exhileration of breaking Sanford's bones one at a time – starting with the pinky because it hurts and because it never really heals right no matter what you do – when there was a knock at the door. Harvey instantly focused on the door, waiting for it to open. He stood up, prepared to meet whoever was going to walk through it. He thought of what he would say, what his offer was. He thought of Matilde, waiting for him, and thought of the way her body had felt the last time he touched it. He thought of the last hamburger he had eaten. Focus, he thought. Focus. Harvey focused on the door knob, waiting for it to turn.

The door knob never turned and the door never opened. Instead, a note was slipped under the door. A note and then nothing. Not event he sound of foot steps walking away. He walked over, bent down, and picked up the note. It was written in a neat, flowing script that reminded him of a woman's handwriting.

It read “Three days.”

18 April, 2011

Brief Introduction to A Biography of Ill-Fate: Gibbleflugen's Gambit, by Halstead Mamby, PhD

Professor Wilhelm Gibbleflugen (1849-1920?) was an obscure German Historian who lived during the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th Century. His influences were next to non-existent, and his theories half-baked. For example, rather than seeing history as a continuum of progress towards inevitable Platonic perfection – which was (and still is in most 1st world nations around the world) the generally accepted view of world history –Gibbleflugen saw history... best described in his own words (from his one and only book length work, Zivilisierung Kaput or The Fit and Failure of The Civilized World, published in 1919 at his own expense) as: “a series of random and largely forgettable events given meaning without cause, importance without reason, and weight without consideration.” He went to explain in great length what he meant by this cryptic statement; but like all German intellectuals, Gibbleflugen was much enamored by the flow of words rather than the message they were intended to convey.

To condense for the benefit of a contemporary readership, Gibbleflugen's stance on history was this: people only remember what they want to remember anyway, so there's little point in writing any of it down or even discussing it other than during party games or in the process of trying to impress an attractive girl.

This made him no friends among his professional colleagues, who saw his hypothesis as nothing short of professional and cultural abortion. He rarely attended conferences or read the papers of other historians, and was only given tenure at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin because he was immensely popular with students who didn't want to study history anyway. In fact, Gibbleflugen's seminars were legendary for their brevity; the class would meet only once, on the first day of the term. On that day, Professor Gibbleflugen stalked into the seminar room, carrying nothing in his hand but his walking stick made from the shaft of an American Buffalo topped with a large white pearl that he was sometimes fond of using to hit people on the head with, causing horrible concussions. Once at the lectern, he made each student stand up and say his (and later her) own name. When that was complete, he informed his students that they had just demonstrated all the knowledge he could possible give them... and would they please just leave him alone, for Christ's sake? He would be found later at his favorite tavern, drinking and arguing about the size of the barmaid's breasts or sitting in with the band playing his harpsichord.

Gibbleflugen himself had an encyclopedic memory for world historical events, even though no one ever saw him even pick up a book. A student, convinced that the Professor was a fraud, once cornered him in his favorite tavern. Once the professor was good and rotten drunk, the student began to whisper in his ear, attempting to draw the the scholar into a debate about some particulars of medieval European history. After five minutes of the student's incessant talking, Gibbleflugen could stand it no more, took his pearl tipped bull shaft walking stick and lightly. popped the young man on the top of his head. “The problem with your argument,” he said, calmly, returning to his mug of beer, “is that you're forgetting that the King was really a woman in drag.” To what king the professor was referring, no one heard; and the student, upon waking in an alley, promptly left college in disgrace and was never heard from again.

That he only used his powerful knowledge of history to get laid eventually led to his downfall; he was caught in bed with the twin daughters of a member of the German government, Gretchen and Gröten von Haasenhaber. Their father, a powerful diplomat and distant 7th cousin to Wilhelm II, the last German monarch, had Gibbleflugen arrested for contributing to the delinquency of children. (It was later discovered, through the long, laborious, and detailed testimonies of their many paramours that the von Haasenhaber sisters were as easily gotten as a village bicycle, and ridden just as often.) The Professor, who refused to defend himself or even to testify, spent the entire proceeding laughing to himself – at some times laughing so long that he was crying. The case was eventually dismissed when it was discovered that the high court judge deciding the case had deflowered both girls when they reached breeding age and had, over the years, visited them when their father was away on government business.

That the case was dismissed meant nothing, however. Professor Gibbleflugen was drummed out of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in what everyone thought was relative disgrace. He seemed none of the worse for wear, however; he could be found at his favorite tavern most nights, flirting with women and playing his harpsichord.

It was during this time of decline and increased debauchery that Gibbleflugen wrote what has become his seminal work. Zivilisierung Kaput (or The Fit and Failure of The Civilized World) was published in 1919 by an obscure publisher of exquisite pornography whom the Professor knew from the tavern. He would sometimes give copies of the book to women he wanted to woo, or leave them in public bathrooms. When critics and his former colleagues got wind of the publication, they asked him for copies to review, intending to rip it to pieces; the Professor responded by paying prostitutes to used the book as toilet paper before sending them to his would-be critics. If anyone asked him what his intention was in writing it, he would either ignore them, hit them on the head with his pearl topped bull shaft walking stick, or – if the person asking was a particularly attractive woman – he would ask her to bed. (Though he was not an attractive man by the standards of his day, this ploy worked more often than anyone wanted to admit.)

The (supposed) death of Professor Wilhelm Gibbleflugen was as mysterious and odd as the man. The night prior to his death, he had gone home with an especially pliable barmaid named Mable. The following morning, he was gone from her bed. His clothes and shoes were there; but his walking stick was missing. When interrogated by the authorities, Mable confessed that he had spent the night with her; and while she was a bit sad that he was gone, she was supposed to have said that she had rather he'd left behind his fine and useful walking stick instead of his clothes.

15 April, 2011

Flood Stage Rising

Up and down these days. Rain comes down,
river goes up, sand bags soaked in the sweat
and in brown river water. Grain elevators, basements,
railroad tracks, all succumb eventually. Up and down
these days, all days. I want to hibernate
listen to the wind howl against the roof shingles,
listen to the storm windows rattling
in a strange organic rhythm. The song is one
we have all heard before; rain against the windows,
against the siding, bouncing off the mail boxes
and against car windshields, creating tone,
measured sounds that, strung together
like the popcorn 'round grandma's old Christmas tree,
make measures, make songs. Songs waiting for words,
songs that need no words.

I want to hibernate and feel my heartbeat,
up and down these days, thumping in my ears
like great big giant timpani drums,
the sound of thunder in my chest
bouncing off my bones my heart, my liver,
my spleen, coiling 'round my small and large
intestines, rattling inside my skull –
creating music, music calling for words,
music that does not need my words,
the music that has reverberated for centuries
from the bones of children, whistled through leaves
ebbed and flowed through rocks in rivers –
rivers that flood because that is what rivers do.
It is what the river has done for eons.
It is what the river will do for eons more,
solar flares counting time different
the same way we count time different
than fruit flies... our fractured eyes
counting time in infinitesimal increments
little notes of larger music,
the music that mothers hum
when no one is paying attention
that fathers tap their feet to
when no one is paying attention
that daughters and sons sing
when no one is paying attention...

singing up and down, these and every day ever
and every day ever since
and every day we will not remember
because the sounds will find
new bones to reverberate against –
new railroad tracks, new windows,
new hearts, new livers, new spleens,
new brains to interpret, new skulls to augment.
Up and down these and all the days to come,
long after I am long beyond
long after I am down
and have no need to get up
and I am far beyond
my need to hibernate.

11 April, 2011

Doc Gimley's Contribution, Part 4

Ardena's nerves were frazzled and Shirley was being himself – which meant he was aloof, spiteful, and when he did speak to her, he was mean. Her talk with Doc Gimley proved successful, though she still wished that she had not been the one to go. But what choice did she have? If she had not gone herself, that awful Sally Forth would have gone and ended up taking credit for everything. She found it difficult to talk to Doc Gimley – especially in the examination room. Naturally, he was the town's doctor, the closest thing to a medical man in the whole county, unless you counted that old witch Hilda Boykin … which Ardena did not. That old woman was crazy... prescribing herbs for cramps and selling abortion elixirs to the whores out at Chapel's Farm. If Ardena could have run Hilda Boykin and those harlots out of the county, she would have. As it was, she got them out of town limits. But what was it about Doc Grimley that made so nervous? For all of his pomp and circumstance, he was as much a man as the others in town – even her own husband Shirley. When that horrible whore house was still in the middle of town, he went there as much as the others. There had been a time, and she thought about it often, when her husband's dalliances hurt her. He had been so helpless and so sweet when she first knew him; so gentle. So quiet and peaceful that more than a gentle breeze would have pushed him over. She had seen something in him then; something that could be brought out, polished and refined. Refined by the right woman. Refined by a strong woman. Refined by someone like her.

It seemed to fall upon him like a sickness after Junior was born – this common manliness. Maybe it was because she had given him a son, or maybe it was because he finally found acceptance among the men in town. Ardena had wanted him to be a community leader; she imagined herself as being the mayor's wife. Well, the mayor's wife... at first. And then wife to the county board member. And then the State Representative's wife. And then Mrs. Governor, or maybe Mrs. Senator.

But Shirley reached a certain point and seemed to just stop. He won the leadership of the RTPSA easily and he just stopped. When Ardena prodded him to run for mayor, he laughed at her and said the mayor was nothing but a rag doll. “Why should I be mayor?” he asked her. “Everybody watching when you go to church or if you drink before 4 in the afternoon. What's the point?”

Two months after that was when she first went to see Doc Gimley. He had seemed so... not like everyone else. Refined. Educated. Traveled. Gentile. He belonged in some grand place like New York City, not San Grila. He was amazing; made her feel amazing. Took all of her anxiety away. In her mind, he was the genius that she was a perfect match for her.

And then she found out he was going to That Place. And it hurt her more than when Shirley went there.

So she started with the women. The wives. The daughters. The mothers. Men didn't move until the women on the pressure. And while the men enjoyed the whores at the Gentleman’s Supper Club, they enjoyed peace and quiet and home even more. When the whores were burned out of town and moved to Chapel Farm, all that happened was that the men drove out there.

Except for Doc Gimley. He didn't go out to Chapel Farm. And while she never quite looked at him the same way again, Ardena felt a small victory that almost replaced the feeling she had felt after seeing him as a patient.

[Scratch]: Poetry Month Palm Poem #t

Poetry Month Palm Poem #t

The potential for storms

Keeps me awake. Temperature

Rising. Thunder rolls overhead.

The short haired cat yeowls 

Softly on the guest bed. 

I watch the clock, flip

Through channels of late 

Night insomnia shows...

Waiting for the wind to subside

As it lulls me into bed.

10 April, 2011

[Scratch]: Poetry Month Palm Poem # 2

Poetry Month Palm Poem # 2

It's done, she said.

And I thought

I heard her smile. 

We can open all

The windows, and

Breathe and smell

And smile again. 

I smiled, nodded

And did not mention

That there was more

Than a better chance

For rain.

08 April, 2011

untitled poem draft (Poetry Month 2011)

Like all worthy dreams,
the peace I crave is as far
from me as sun is from
the center of the universe,
and I, too am floating,
holding my elliptical pattern
because this is where I was placed.
I do not remember the exact moment –
the day I opened my eyes
the day I first felt the sensation
of I am me and you are you
and everything else is what it is.
Profane scriptures tell us
there is no peace in our time
and the news plays this out
in not so graphic detail. The trick,
like all good producers will tell you,
is to keep the body counts low
and keep the tension high.
We like our violence like we like
our romance– soft core porn innuendo
all skin and no penetration,
the illusion of the desire
we have lost the ability to articulate.

There's no rest, and no time--
not for the necessary reflections
and pesky considerations of conscious
when we are left to watch
while the world gradually pulls itself
apart. There will be wars and
there will be rumors of wars; but
that does not prophesy the end –
that will come upon us as we are laughing
in that moment when we think we have
escaped the impossible gravity of dreams.
And when the sky opens up,
it will not be God,
it will not be the Devil,
but an intolerably wretched acid rain
burning out our eyes
leaving us muddling
in puddles of our former selves
in the middle of the street.

07 April, 2011

Doc Gimley's Contribution: Part 2

He watched Ardena Guntersaun scurry across the street, being careful not to look back. Stupid woman, he thought. And then, as if he decided to let the empty room in on his thoughts, he said, “Stupid woman.”

Doc Gimley was familiar with Mrs. Guntersaun, in the same way he was familiar with many of San Grila's leading women... if you could call them that. None of them had accomplished much in this world except marry the right men. Men with the right combination of money, ambition, and sheer stupidity who were foolish enough to assume they were the ones running everything. Not the old doctor really cared WHO was running things, since anyone would, in all likelihood run with the same level of ineptitude. San Grila had a municipal government, of course... a town council, aldermen, and the like … but it was the various cadres and cabals of Women's Committees that really got things done. The Women's Temperance League – which was, to a member, the same group as the 75th Anniversary Committee – had managed, though scraping and scrapping and yelling and drum thumping and brow beating, to clean away the “rude and rustic country elements” in San Grila and had an eye on making it the next New York of the Midwest. They imagined themselves cosmopolitan, though none of them had ever gone to a real city, not even Chicago; the farmers in the unincorporated parts of the county would have none of it, of course. But that didn't matter. Mrs. Guntersaun would have her way. She always got her way.

So they want to rename the town, he thought. “What do you think of that?” he asked the empty room. “They want to rename the town in time for the new century.” He laughed and shook his head. Then he turned and walked out of the examination room and into the small sitting room that also served as his bedroom. The room was narrow and sparsely furnished – a single bed, a wash table with his meticulously clean and sharp shaving blade, soap, and a simple bowl and pitcher; a comfortable red padded high back chair, worn from years of use, sat facing the window that looked down on the same street as the windows in his examination room. There was a small mirror hanging on the wall above the wash table, and a picture of the Thames River in London hanging over his bed. Off to the left, there was a wardrobe where he kept his clothes, and beyond that, the water closet – which he had paid to have installed. (That had caused no small amount of commotion in town and cemented his favor among the local busybodies as a man of culture.) On the second shelf under of the small bedside table that was also within reach of the chair – on which was an oil lamp and an ash tray with a half spent 50 cent cigar – was a photo album. He sat in the red chair, put the cigar in his mouth and carefully lit it. After extinguishing the match, he took in a mouthful of smoke, exhaled, then reached down and pulled the photo album off the small shelf.
If anyone in town – especially a busybody like Ardena Guntersaun – saw the contents of the album, it would create a scandal. The album was full of pictures of nude women. Well, one woman to be precise. Her name was Rachel.

Doc Gimley first met Rachel about month after he had settled in his rooms above the barber shop overlooking Main Street. She was a regular girl at the Mandarin Supper Club for Men, San Grila's brothel and the meeting places for every prominent and not-so-prominent man in town. Rachel had been young, maybe 18, when he met her. At first, the age difference made him nervous. He was nearly 40 when he first went to see her; he had moved to San Grila more than a decade ago to get set up his office because he wanted to get away from the memory of his dead wife in Chicago. She was trampled by the police and a mob during a labor protest in Haymarket Square; Gimley himself, who leaned sympathetically towards the Haymarket 7, could not reconcile his grief, the outcome of the trials, and the listing of his wife – who was perhaps the only perfect person he had ever met – among the trouble makers.

Going to the brothel was only his way of dealing with his occasional need to feel a woman's touch. He had no illusions about falling in love again; for Gimley, there was one person for everyone and his was gone. Rachel made no demands, had no expectations, and was, like the preeminent among her trade, very professional. And she didn't mind if he wanted to talk. She was beautiful – long auburn hair, deep blue eyes, with spatterings of ginger freckles at different places around her body. He was surprised to find that, in addition to her supreme professional talents, she was also an avid reader of Jules Verne. Sometimes when he visited her, he took books for her to borrow: Emerson, Shakespeare, Spenser, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dickens. She liked Doyle, but preferred Mark Twain to Spenser and Thoreau to Emerson. It was all fun and games, and never did Gimley think it was much more than a young prostitute preening the ego of an old man.

Eventually she expressed an interest in another one of Gimley's hobbies – photography. She poured over his picture books full of nudes, nature scenes, men on the street.

These are dirty pictures,” she teased him, pointing to a particularly stunning nude wearing an Indian head dress and moccasins.

They are not,” he tried explaining to her. “They are art, my dear. Artists have been drawing and painting nudes for centuries.”

Then why is she wearing them shoes?”

I don't know,” he said, getting a little impatient. “I suppose they go with the head dress.”

Rachel laughed. “It's to remind people she ought to have clothes on.”

Gimley offered to take pictures of her to prove that it was art. At first she objected, saying that people wouldn't pay for the real thing if they could get a picture of it for free. He assured her he would share them with no one but her – and he offered pay her usual fee plus a small gratuity.

It wasn't until he saw her on film that he felt himself falling in love with her.

Just a little. And it wasn't the same love he'd felt for his wife; he knew there was no spiritual connection, no exclusivity to his relationship (He wasn't sure when he started to think of it in those terms) with Rachel. She was a beautiful girl in person; but the camera did something to her that, for the doctor, bordered on transubstantiation. Rachel seemed to notice it too, and she started looking forward to the sessions as much as he did. He always gave her copies of the pictures to keep, and put a copy in the photo album for himself. And he never showed the pictures to anybody. Not ever.

Things went on this for months. Gimley had established a routine. He saw patients in the morning and into the late afternoon, and he saw Rachel twice a week before supper. The fog he had been in was starting to lift. He was starting to feel... well... happy again. He never asked for more from Rachel, and she never seemed to want more. There was a balance and symmetry to it. He knew that she had other clients, but it never bothered him. How many of his female patients did he ask to disrobe? It would have been foolish of him to feel jealous and he didn't.

And then the night of the fires happened. The RTPSA – undoubtedly being prodded by their wives – set fire to the Supper Club, burned out the girls, and forced them out of town. The ones that survived, anyway. The ones who did took over a deserted farm 10 miles out of town and set up shop there; but Rachel was not among them. She died in the fire, after the customer she was with that November night had punched her out in order to keep her from telling anyone he was there. The customer in question had been Shirley Guntersaun, Junior – the only and very spoiled son of Shirley and Ardena. Gimley knew it was him because he stopped by offering to selling him a photo album full of “anatomical” pictures. They were the pictures Gimley himself had taken of her.

He bought them so that no one else would see them. It was bad enough that young Guntersaun had had his fingers all over them.

Doc smoked his cigar and looked at the pictures of Rachel, thinking. He sat until nearly 4 in the afternoon.

06 April, 2011

The Problem -Draft 1

[Last year at this time, I wrote a poem a day for 30 days. This year I'm working on one long poem. This is Draft 1. I will post revisions and additions throughout the month, ending in a final (if there is such thing) draft.]

I am a poet and I have known
it for a long time. I was a poet
before I read poetry
before I learned the jargon
poets learn: rhythm and rhyme
alliteration and assonance and
foot and meter. My feet –
my feet have carried me a top
the thin skull of this planet Earth
to and fro the way my father's feet
carried him and the his father's feet
carried him. Most days my feet
hurt and I still insist on walking
because I am a poet and I know
there is wisdom is slowing down
and in taking in all the details.

I am a poet, which means
I was spoiled for most other
occupations. I am a poet
and I understand
there's a difference
between being idle
and standing idly by. People
who are not poets define work
by the amount of time one spends
not being idle, presuming of course,
that there is no purpose in dreaming,
no profit in pondering, no use to
books that are not made into movies
that no one watches because
there are no special effects. I have been,
among other things, a factory work,
an office clerk, a teacher, a preacher,
bum, a student, a father, a husband.
The constant consonants echo
as I think back and the vowels
take shape into words and sounds
that remind me of songs
my mother sang to me before I was born.

I deal in words and I deal honest –
and there is none more hated
than an honest man
with a respectable vocabulary
and the gall to use them. Words have power
in print or spoken – which is something
poets understand intuitively. I am poet
though lately I buy bread with money
made from newspaper print – and though
some may presume to know my meaning,
I suspect some of you are too busy
thinking how best to use
this seemingly idle boy-man
for your own ends and your own agendas.
I care for none of them, and I care for no one
and I care for everyone.

When people hear the word poem,
the first thing they ask is
But Does It Rhyme?
and the next thing they ask is
But What Does it Mean?
A poem is a song –
a song supported by rhyme (sometimes)
but also rhythm and alliteration
and assonance, in the way a song is supported
by notes and and time and measure and beat.
Before there was history, there was a poet
remembering it all, so academes could
write about it later. Poetry and song
have so much in common, the roots
go back primordial... and yet, poets –
ah yes, poets. Poets are quaint
and quiet or disturbed and drunk
or something people become
after they retire from a job
that looks less idle and can be put
in the first line of a well writ
obituary column.

The Problem? I am a poet. But
before you think me arrogant,
I am also a 38 year old boy-man
with a paper route – which is
about as humble as I can be.

I also write for a living, which looks
significantly less idle... though it seems
I will never gain popularity
because I see people's petty secrets,
the scars they hide under long sleeves
and judgment. My father once told me –
you can't please everyone
so you're better off not trying. Life
is too too short
and too too precious
to waste on people
who would wear you down
just to make themselves feel
bigger.My father was a great man
in spite of being a Republican,
and I take this into account
when, in the process of dissecting
badly spliced words each week,
when people tell me one thing
then do something else.

Words are like bullets.
Only better.
A bullet will kill
but a word will
burrow into your brain
and stay and give you
nightmares 30 years hence.
I would rather deal in words
than in bullets because
the former requires deliberation
and the later requires little
except in the inability to listen.

04 April, 2011

A Baboon Ponders the Spring

Fish out of water. The river is flooded.
Tornadoes tearing up the plain states
and the cats are fighting and yowling
between lightening strikes. Luckily
we live on a hill and the water
won't reach us, though the wind rattles
the house and shakes the spring birds
and budding leaves out of the not
quite awake magnolia tree. Weatherman
breaks into programing, apologizing
and telling us there's nothing to worry about
nothing at all. Last week,
they had the kids out of school
filling sand bags to hold back
the groaning and the spilling
of the Earth, the cracking and shifting
under trees without deep roots. Asian carp
jumping, breaking records over
the piles of sand bags along the river.
There is no accounting of time
and no reckoning of the river
and no point in waiting
for the magnolia tree to blossom
or for the wind to die down.

These things happen
on their own.  

03 April, 2011

When They Say The Damnedest Things

People will talk to you like that
just because they assume
you're a relatively new arrival
on Main Street means
you haven't lived anywhere else
and haven't seen anyplace else
and that somehow, the people here
in this particular place, are unique
on a planet harboring 9 billion souls
trampling depleted soil
and fucking like rabbits
to make more people
because children are the future
of social security … in addition to
being the ones who will fix
all of our mistakes, and the ones
who will pay for all of our sins –
unless, of course, they learn from us
and (as we'd prefer) deify us
after we're dead
and absolve us in their memories.

It's not that you're wrong, they say; it's only that
you don't understand (and couldn't possibly
since your parents aren't buried on Boot Hill)
and it might just be better
to leave these things
to the people who know better –
or at the very least, the people
who's families we have known
our entire lives and who
we don't mind belittling since
we knew them when they were in diapers...
which will rob any man of his dignity
whether he deserves it or not. But you,
you see, we don't know
the measure of you and we have nothing
to hold over you and when you speak
you speak like someone
who isn't one of us
and who never will be –
though your kids might have a shot.  

02 April, 2011

[Scratch]: Poetry Month Palm Poem #1

Poetry Month Palm Poem #1

I wish sometimes I was more nostalgic;

That I could feel misty-eyed

And access some memory

That when I thought 

Of the place I ought to 

Call home that the feeling

In my gut 

Was a bit more


And that I had

An unquenchable need

To see it again

And to feel

That spent soil

Bewixt my toes.