An Arguable Truth

Short section from a novel I’m working on, Fathers and Sons, about hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Judy’s father passed when the boys were still pretty young, Jeremiah was in fifth, no, fourth grade, I believe. His eyes misted over, stared off in the direction the deer had disappeared into. It wasn’t the funeral. Open casket. The family gathering. Fried chicken and mystery casserole and three different things called salad that aren’t. But a few weeks prior, when Papaw was in a nursing home having his heart monitored, we were out at this local pizza buffet that let kids eat free if they showed a report card with all A’s and B’s. I remember this night as he’s telling it. He had some great scheme of activities to do with his grandpa once he was better. Walking the land. Picking corn by hand. Shooting guns off at pie pans. His mother and I were as burnt out and worn down as this pizza place by now. Faking hope is not energy efficient. So we told him. Right or wrong. Mistake, probably, or not. This poor kid. That his grandpa wasn’t going to make it. That this was his end. Everything we were all working so hard at, was not to keep him alive, but to make him comfortable. And he broke. He broke then. He broke this morning. Neither Olivia or I said a word to him. We did not know how important it was that we did, and perhaps he was right, we should have at least tried. But, as he claimed, in ever mounting, heated tones, we were afraid of him. Anyone else would get a kind word, even just an exercise in manners. Jeremiah claimed to be the only man in the world who could open up his heart to people and be met with nothing but sheer silence. The fact that he even stayed around us, he yelled, was a testament to the strength and bottomless charity of his character. Maybe he should just go on and do us all a favor and leave for good, forever. And this is where I royally messed up. Big time.

I said go ahead.

Comfort Squash

The mask is off the sun and that hot damp breath summertime is full of wickedness and germs. Dainty powdery white moths sew caterpillar seeds all over tomato plants hairy as spider legs. Tiny tinny metallic beetles have snipped the tassels off corn like old men plucking hair from their ears. So they can hear. The raspy phlegm crackling off powerlines. The pop pop pop of someone’s hair triggered insecurity across the countryside. The silent stuffiness hooked like fish on a trotline of trees. Clouds look like milk poured in water. Milk looks like clouds squeezed into stainless steel. The grass is dying. Trees are thriving. 

It takes over eight minutes for the sun to close the distance between us. That breakneck pace, that lonely brimming emptiness, for eight whole minutes, like a bullet from a gun in a vacuum with nothing like air to impede it. Strikes skin and stops still hot. A planetary tanning bed basked in the affordable glow off nuclear fusion. 

Earth. Where infinity finally meets its Zucchini.

Someone You Call You

I often tell myself, they see the world through their own eyes. They lay themselves down at night. We judge how a window views solely through a filter: distance. But when it comes to ourselves, there is none. We can not without consequence deem ourselves unworthy, as if we’re in the center of an ocean in a sinking boat with a spare one to climb into handy. For lack of the existence of a better word, you’re stuck. With you. I’m not. Love your enemy, as you love yourself. Thank you Professor Jesus. Let’s say this another way. The people who are good at chess play both sides of the table. Enemy is a storytelling device, a two dimensional rendering of a far more dangerous four dimensional threat. You are someone’s enemy. Often, more importantly, your enemy, is someone else’s you. Thinking. 

Emotions, empathy, if this isn’t a human generated wireless exchange of energy, I don’t know what could be. But just because you look at someone and feel something does not mean that feeling has anything to do with that someone. It’s you. Your brain looks out at a larger world it can not control and paints in the blank, dimly lit spaces with you, your worst fears, hidden desires. Other people are fun-house mirrors, they shrink the mountains in our eyes into scarce specks of dust inside their own. And through that window, distance, you glimpse you in the face of someone you call you.

You sentence them to death. 

Because deepest, within each tiny heart cell that beats same as your heart,
you sentence yourself. 

Revenge just feels right in way justice never does.

Because revenge has distance in it. 

And justice only exists inside of us.

The Good Stuff

How to describe that two tone throat singing lawnmowers do in the distance. But with extra meaning like mayonnaise making bread more sliced pudding. Depth. Sodium. Electrolytes, and heart. The thick simmering fat that feeds muscle. The doorholders. The gatekeepers. Who wedge a toe against aluminum and glass and let nutrients pass into cells. Without which, we starve, no matter how much we’ve eaten. How to describe a kid cutting grass down the road like that. I’m not writing the protein of it, it’s implicit. The meat can be heard for miles, and sound is as physical as burning gas against steel pistons smudged black, the poet isn’t concerned with that. But where is the fat. The salt. The gatekeeper. A skyscraper of sensory experience. Only no front door key. No poetry.

A young man in a backwards flat billed ball cap and shorts rested in a zero degree turning thrown leaned a little forward with his hands up like he was holding the rope, standing on water skis. The sound of it is textured bouncing between a direct arrow shot and a tree muddled echo. Never seen him before. Normally an old man in a clean red hat does that job with the absolute best riding mower money could buy in the eighties. Someone’s getting older. And everybody needs money, but not everybody has a zero point mower. The clouds are a heavy cotton backwards hat pulled low with the sun embroidered on the forehead like the logo of a sports team. The low, steady sound of the machine mirrors the buzz of bodily function and blood movement going on inside all the time. Until he clacks against quartz rock like a helicopter flying into a giant plate glass window. The day is dented. Chipped. Returns the engine, and blood starts flowing again.

How do you describe common experiences in ways that allude to their interconnection with the whole of the universe, along with some music, some fat, and salt, the good stuff, that carries the okay stuff into the cellular stuff, unblocked rotating doors and up on the forty seventh floor of the otherwise bolted closed skyscraper inside every single cellular structure. Over the blackened hearth of the microscopic fireplace that singes and smolders and captures the heat off burning calories and disseminates it throughout the house. And you don’t. You don’t describe what you hear and see with any lilt or goal or intent. You recognize. You translate. You interpret. Because the connections are already there, as real as the sources of sounds that are never seen. Air is a physical thing. Sounds are tangible as layered ripples in otherwise flat water. You’re not a poet for recognizing it. You’re honest. You’re like me. You want the rarer world.

With the fat still on it.

Robin Neighborhood (The Knowns – Part 4 – Final)

A thousand wrongs would be thwarted if food were a right. If we had some kind of great American dinner every night, everyone invited, working with food producers and land owners and each area making their own particular regional flavors. Doesn’t matter what is served, just that it is for everyone. An invitation into the slower moving, brick and mortar economy of agriculture, which, if we paid people not to buy combines, could employ all of us endlessly, even if base pay was just a roof and food for the next foreseeable forever. Two hundred years, maybe they’ll cure cancer. In two hundred years, maybe they’ll make that better battery. I think even a goal as simple as this could occupy a nation as great and far reaching as America: buying time.

Let’s make our goal getting our country to the end of that next two hundred with a stabilized economy, with basic necessities and vital products and services like healthcare and potable water not only treated as rights, but organized with concrete, regional, local infrastructure with manageable figures, so homelessness and unemployment are jokes in two hundred years. If we plant trees we’ll never sit in the shade of. If we take this money obsession of ours and buy our kids and their kids some time, that would be something. That’s my angle. Stop letting what I don’t know get in the way of what I do. As long as I, and everyone I know, is alive, we are going to need food, water, and shelter. Those are forever-needs. It’s listed at least three times invisibly on every block of every calendar.

Agriculture is real estate. Agriculture is neighborhoods. Downtown. Agriculture lines highways and fills otherwise empty ditches. Agriculture is Revolution. The Revolution must be an economic shadow. Funded by nature, housed in sprawling farms all across the countryside. It is no longer enough to steal from the rich to supplement the poor.

We must now steal the poor from the rich,
and give them back their selves.

American Farmer (The Knowns – Part 3)

Look at our way of life the way a farmer would. Pretend America is just an American farmer. It grows Americans. Maybe we lay freedom eggs or something. You don’t start selling eggs until you build enough capital to feed and house your flock of Americans regularly. You don’t demand an egg for several days and only afterward deposit fourteen days worth of pellets.

You build your coop, put a little feeder and waterer inside, and constantly clean and expand and improve, and you sustain that, often for months, before you ever see an egg.

We are paying government not to be business.

To make long term investments in us. Like feeding us, housing and guaranteeing sustenance on some kind of measured out, calendar-marked timeline. That’s not even close to socialism. That’s the short math of survival. You’ve guaranteed no one’s freedom if you have not guaranteed the resources of life. No one exists in a vacuum. A human is a complex equation, solved daily by something we call a habitat. When that habitat isn’t guaranteed, it creates a condition in the Americans in your America coop I call ‘crippled self esteem’.

Constant, low-level, background anxiety, knowing your whole way of life could go away because your boss had a bad week, or a simple, unavoidable accident, or a decision you regret. No job. Means no food. No steady housing. No free clean running creek within a hundred miles you could drink from. No sir, we made life outside the dollar impossible. You can scream socialism if that makes you feel better. But it won’t change facts.

The Knowns (part 2)

Couldn’t we, right now, look at our populations, look at our nation, and where we border with neighbors, and without talking about religious affiliations, races, political opinions or ideas about when life begins or the role community should play in how it ends, just talk about the food, water and shelter these people will require, accommodating for population growth and migration, endlessly and replenishably for the next eternally, but for the sake of manageable figures, let’s say millennia, couldn’t we exclusively argue food sources, water distributions, shelter options, for the next thousand years? And in doing so, still enable and propagate the inventions and progressions and superficial tributaries society is currently fixated on, like designers arguing over what color to paint walls in a house whose foundation is crumbling.

The cart is so far ahead of the horse in America, we’ve forgotten this thing was originally intended to move, not left or right, mind you, but forward, and fast. A vehicle for the rights of poor people. The thunder you feel is a thousand galloping horses. Coming to take it back.

The Knowns (part 1)

All concentration of power is corrupt. Like how you can’t take a footstep without crushing something. So all footsteps are corrupt, says the ant. Intentions be damned. When deciding whether or not to trust someone, don’t take their promises for proof. Do they have the right to say sorry to you. Do you trust them to fail, knowing their failure is the progenitor of more than a thousand successes. We all make mistakes. Kings. Governments. Corporations. Gods have apologized before. The more power you give a person, an office, a title, only increases the consequences of their carelessness.

Who knows if we’ll cure cancer, or learn how to postpone old age, or master nuclear energy or muster a flying car in our lifetime, we’re still struggling to build better batteries but the propaganda of our society would have us believe we’re on the precipice of answering the mystery of the universe like it was a multiple choice question. See. Progress. I don’t know. Some things aren’t happening because they just plain won’t. Cancer is harmful mutation, life is what, positive mutation? How do you cure your source?

I say we put it on hold, because we are like children in the knife drawer, we aren’t ready, as a people, for the technology we’ve begun to explore. I say we focus on the knowns. In two hundred years we’ll be as hungry for fresh air as we are now for food. Clean water will entail a chemical equation. We’ll exclusively have picnics on rainy days. The sun will eventually become the bright cloud looming over all our nightmares. There will be no new magical source of food. It will be the same as it ever was. Alongside iron, steel, plastic zip ties, sustenance will be reshaped into shackles.

Deadwood Sermon

I cringe-watch this HBO show, Deadwood, no kidding I’ve probably fast forwarded through a third of the entire series.

But there is a really great moment when a character who is a drunken, racist horror-show finishes up a rant expressing his illogical judgment and condescension toward an entire group of people. And a man at the bar questions him for his own genetic history, making a suggestion his ‘nose looks a little broad’.

You’re not going to teach someone twenty years or older to start branching out beyond hate and judgment to search for an alternative source of self esteem. For a lot of these people, being White is the only thing they ever won outright. They hang their skin color on the wall like a diploma or a college degree, beside the flags and relics of an even longer heritage of losing.

You can hate someone, and still consider that any path to their subjugation or denial of their rights will never be exclusive. Any denial of any citizen’s rights is untenable, because down the line you will not be the right kind of White. If you accept a racial class system, then the burden is on each and every one of us to trace our own and impossibly produce documentation of our ‘purity’ and evidence of its lack of any corruption. Which you can’t. It will come down to DNA, and guess what, our ancestors were just as dumb, anxious and horny as us.

Hate. Hate everything. Hate your neighbor. Hate snakes in the grass. Hate love, hate hate especially. Not allowing your government and society to condone, propagate and operate under the principles of racism has nothing to do with who or what you hate.

Any path to taking away a citizen’s right to life is a path to taking it away from all of us.

On a long enough timeline, you won’t be the right kind of White, because White never meant race, it has always meant money.

And honey, if you’re still flying the Stars and Bars, you may as well be red and blue, because White isn’t you.

Where did the sun go when it rained

It’s not too hot until strangers in parking lots feel comfortable saying it. Summer happened a long time ago when all the kids were let out of school this Spring. In just about a week, we can all shake our heads at the checkout counter while we admonish the weather, until then, hold your breath like you were underwater to keep from clearing your throat in public. Wearing a mask makes cleavage of the eyes. Can’t help but tantalize. Icebergs only peek. Powder blue cream filled and witch hazel green, little black curled up spider legs trace a soft pink veined lemon wedge squinting sourly. Is it redundant, to ornately describe the look of eyes? 

Sweat beads down the sides. Long bang cuts across one like a scythe slicing hay for strangers who respond hello. Deep brown like chocolate pudding with a semisweet pupil dotting the center. Do I want to eat these people’s eyes? A superhero. A test answer. A victim in a crime report. When you lack the guts to ask, you mask. You leave it to eyes. What do your silent, light absorbent orbs say about you? Of all the colors of the world, which do they offer back above the mask confessing your true feelings about the view you’re facing. How long has it been since you really smelled the words you were saying. We’re not as sure of what you said as you are of what you had for lunch with onions on it. Without the nose, with buried cheeks and hidden chin, our eyes take over for the entire face and apologize to the world they waste as they search only for their favorite colors. Gray lumps of unwashed wool. Teal waves off southern oceans spill tears down peachy lids of grainy sand. And black. The favorite color of anyone who can’t pick one. They’re all there huddled around a smoky fire in that deep and penetrating night. And wood fire red brown. And pauper pupils wearing corneas like golden crowns. Dull silver throwing sparks growing sharp. Furrowed down. 

So we’re all supposed to be superheroes now. Secret identities. Private public lives and public private ones we post online. Can’t shake hands, but can roll eyes. Can’t bitch about the weather, except that the sun has his mask off and he’s breathing all over all of us. We want to ask where’s the rain, but we don’t know who we’re talking to, they did get a thunderstorm two towns over. Can’t even suffer drought the same any more. Can’t stand the taste of my own words. And without the rest of the face in the way, my eyes keep giving away my secrets. All I see anymore is people’s true colors. All I hear is what eyes have to say, and buddy, it puts mouths to shame. 

Who is that behind that mask.
Where did the sun go when it rained.