Bargain and Roll – One of my very first short stories

I woke up sweating while it was dark out. In a dream, I cracked open shell after shell pouring perfectly cooked scrambled eggs from them. With each orange yellow fluff my disbelief and doubt grew, leading me to another. When I woke I asked myself in a whisper why a grown man would dream about eggs. Then I laughed in my head for calling myself grown. I laid my head back on the pillow and solved all the world’s problems until I fell back to sleep. 

In the morning light I walked into the Carolina room and searched out the windows at the lake. The sun was dancing on water and I thought about our neighbor, swimming back and forth across it every morning even into his nineties. I made coffee. I sat and read a book in front of the window, distracted by crests of small, wind-blown waves throwing light off the lake. Jeremiah shuffled into the hallway from the guest bedroom and I thought I should have made more coffee.

“Dad,” Jeremiah said shortly.

“Make some,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. I continued to read. “Want some eggs?” he asked.

“Not really.” I turned the page. Jeremiah set his plate down and returned to the kitchen to get his mug. 

“I made extra, we’re out of eggs,” he said. “When will mom be home?”

“Later.” I was staring at the first sentence of a new chapter. Jeremiah was being sarcastic.

“Something strike you father?” he asked.

“This question,” I said. I was looking down at it.

“Easy. That question is the hard one,” Jeremiah said.

“Can God make a rock so big he can’t pick it up?” I asked. Jeremiah hummed and I looked at him. Moments like these set in stone that I had truly made him.

“Yes,” Jeremiah said. My eyes remained focused on his, but I lowered my forehead.

“How?” I asked.

“It already has,” Jeremiah said. I asked him what he meant and his phone started to vibrate loudly against the table. He picked it up and left the room. The sun was beginning to gain height in the sky and I knew by twelve the air would be too hot to work in. I donned my overalls and went outside. 

In my small, backyard garden there were high, green corn stalks with fat cobs getting fatter, squash fading yellow from white striped green, and almost certainly flesh and red colored potatoes no bigger than pebbles underground. I sucked in loudly through my nose.


 

As my father and I walk past the dollar store we see a man selling watermelons. Dad walks toward him but says nothing to me. 

“Morning,” the man offered us. He is a fat man, wearing a shirt with two front pockets on his chest, tucked into dark blue, denim Dickies work pants. I want to tell my Dad the strained buttons on the man’s shirt make sideways looking mouths where cloth stretched into arches struggling to stay connected while watermelon man’s mass pulls the fabric almost skin tight. I like him. His cheeks were red as the inside of his produce.

“Watermelon crop,” Dad says.

“Yessir, good looking too. Fifty cent,” the fat man says. I look up at my dad and see him touch his chin. 

Dad hums and we turn around. I do not know why, but I feel like crying. I don’t necessarily want a watermelon, but not buying one upsets me.

“Fifty cent isn’t bad daddy,” I say. Dad makes a little noise but never turns down. We walk into the dollar store. Dad examines, in his palm, a list written out by my mother. We walk the aisles, every single one of them, and approach the checkout. Dad shakes his head as he pays and I stare at his hands as he drops two quarters into his left pocket. We leave the store, pass the mustard yellow chevy truck, and slowly veer toward the watermelon man. I can see him shuffle his feet in the distance but I do not turn my head away. Dad faces him. I follow.

“Twenty five,” Dad says. He hands the watermelon man a quarter and me the melon. It hurts my hands but I can not stop smiling. When we get home mom scolds us for not needing a watermelon, and I never get a chance tell her what a bargain.



I tried to grow watermelons the summer after dad died and they never panned out fully. Jeremiah walked up from the backyard and stood beside me. He handed me a jar of water. I told him thank you and we stood silent for a few minutes.

“This looks good,” he said.

“I’d pay you to sit out here with your slingshot.”

“Probably shoot you.”

“Not while I’m out here. To watch for rabbits.” He told me I should get a good snake population going and I wondered what had made his generation so different than mine. I smiled though, and wanted to tell him I loved him. “Turn on that hose,” I said. He mumbled something around the phrase ‘turned on’ but I took the hose and watered my cabbage. Jeremiah went inside and I thought about my next sermon, which remained unwritten. The gospel was Pentecostal and I wanted it to be a hair raiser. I went inside at four thirty and Jeremiah had just showered. Judy was not home yet and it was all the same to me. I took a shower in my bathroom. Feeling fresh I sat down on the couch and my half Siamese cat Theodore curled up beside my knee. I could feel him purring and I stared in the direction of old television shows. Theo’s eyes half-closed and Andy Griffith carried me back to my childhood.



I love making music because it simplifies the equation. It cancels out my thoughts and forces my brain and hands to behave simultaneously; mouth vibrating, diaphragm stretched and shrinking, arm and limp wrist bent or pushing. The little black dots connected by thin black lines bring purpose and art to my rural soul. Playing my trombone makes me feel like even though I can not impress people every moment, I am doing something primarily unachievable to most. I do marching band and it makes me feel like an athlete. My peers remind me I am not. If I knew when to cry I would. But something powerful pushes me. When I play the horn, it works better than crying.



I was in front of my computer watching the cursor blink. I put a sentence down, then another, and soon I was done and off to bed. Judy only woke me when she first laid down. I kissed her face and slept again.

In a dream I saw my dad sitting at my table in the Carolina room, dark out, moon bright and greenish yellow. I saw my garden through the window, but the corn was even taller. 

“God built us a rock,” dad said. 

“Can he pick it up?” I asked.

“Too big.”

“What does that mean?”

“He can roll it though.”

“Roll it?”

“Along. But it’s too big to carry.”

“Can he control it?”

“Generally.”

“What about the bible? Church? Faith?”

“Well. One quarter’s a better bargain than two.”

I woke up sweating. When I preached later that morning I could see Jeremiah’s eyes.
He never looked away. I love my son, and he drove back to college right after church. Judy and I ate lunch out in town after the service. That night, when I undressed, I unfolded the bulletin that had been in my pocket. On the back, in blank space, I had written the words ‘bargain and roll’. I thought about my sermon and wanted to quit my job. But I looked at Judy, snoring softly, and fell straight to sleep.

Poem from before Roan was

My son is set to be born.
I feel no insecurity in informing you that he will never, not ever, not even once

be yours.

There are so few places like that on earth.
Where belief becomes so close to being fact.
I call something that can’t be owned my own.
Which is another way to say
I’m someone’s dad.

Oh Life – Old Journals

Oh you life, pompous and loud, loopy yet proud. Lightning crashing parties in heaven.
At the entrance telling lies that barrel down deep like thunder, a second too late, truth debates shaking ground from sound, flustered, rippled air. The clouds hoisted rain withheld, dangled, above head, just out of reach, beyond, water in aerated ascended ponds casting shade and crooked lines so thin you can see through them, translucent,
as rain rapidly sinking, the ferocious storms of real, devoted thinking, consideration. Uncompromising. Life, oh, how there are those who paint you anywhere
other than in raging weather, wind leaves trees giant rustled chickens
flashing pale upturned feathers, branches falling crashed lightning but closer,
nearer, thunder felt under feet, in ankles, before there is time to even hear.
There are those who do not know the meaning of awe.
Most feel only frightened, tired, ducking heads, cowering out of the rain,
cursing an unknown creator seed-planting our pain. Oh my life.

When I was a child, how I loved the sunny dispositions of my parents.
And vilified their strife. The complex truth of their life.
The disparate realities of parents.

Oh life, like parents, your love, your presence, is one of many forms.
But it wasn’t until I was grown and worn, that I found comfort in storms.

A Blade with Two Edges #OldPoems

The mind, consciousness itself, a blade with two edges,
sharp on both sides, forged in the mind. We all bear scars.
Marks. Places we were harmed, injured, cut deeply by thoughts, words.
Invisible weapons first learned turned inward, toward, threatening the self.
How many missing flesh, comforts, throw the burden off from hands, their swords,
tools trashed, forgotten and lost, because strength comes with cost, a price, hefty, sure.

But full with worth.

Bravery.
Courage.
Carrying heavy weapons.
Sore-handed. Tired. One trapped in the mind.
Invisible to any eye. It can not be seen seeing.
Slicing both directions, out and in, and we feel mostly in, it is all we have.

Ourselves.
And consciousness carves us up like a roast,
a sacrifice, dinner, like a fat gluttonous ego.
This sword makes it thinner. Drops weight.
Extrapolate hate in a lengthy, long, red
dissections of selfishness, greed, bad
and its wavering boundary against good,
not to be attacked.
But understood.

The mind brandished this weapon, pounded in imperfection until it is gone,
buried too deep to be seen, felt, still in notches, chips in steel, iron, handles wrapped
in palms and fingers gripped. Consciousness. Awakeness. Aware. Staring. Keen.

Our own heads lend us this sword.
The world knows the shape.
So the world supplies a sheath.
Help against the pain of lugging sharp brains,
a place to shush it in and let go,
a shape fit for the great idiotic weapon of ego.
So we can carry it. Keep walking. Moving. Growing.

Even if it’s slowly.

Land Poor #oldjournals

You work dirt soft
and form rocks
out of the palms
of your hands.

The skin flakes off and leaves you.

To bruise blue and callous fingers.
Wrinkle knuckles.
Vein-traced paths twist above bony
wrists bent and flexing always. Stalling.
Avoidance in abundance.
Blisters too.
Fast friends to you.

And you are their inspiration.
They depend on you for friction.
For handwritten diction
dated phrases of speech
strangers looking stranger
than if southern meant
alien off another world.

Cut grass. Wave passed.
Smile miles down the road.
Flush commodes into septic tanks
emptied in cracked quartz rock clay.
Hot sun. Burnt red necks brown.

The skin flakes off and leaves you.

To bruise blue.
Same tan trembling finger. Only you linger.
Only what was planted at the core.
Only what was unafraid to be called poor.
And you are.
You stay.

Sore.

One of Multitudes

Fifth of July, and I just barely watched fireworks
for all the blue eyes collared into working.
Begging free beer close to shift end.
Bragging clean bathrooms.

Asking the boy who brought me his plans for his evening.
And it is. His. He has that placid right. Not to answer.
Reserve. Just became manager.
Over these early twenty girls.
And they like the game.
They like his name.

Drunk and sliced thumbs prying off pop tops while driving.
Drunk. And taking tin metal shots of tequila.
Blaming weed for the spins.
Selected one from multitudes of sins.
Of choice. One of multitudes.

Not making the best of this or any other situation.
Not living to make the best. Just better.

Decisions so convoluted and tipsy
that’s hardly the word for them.

Actually #oldjournals

Being told by new friends I should write my ideas down.
I chuckle. No feather ruffled. Just a bit bemused

by how convinced
people are
that all of which
they are ignorant
does not
actually exist.

Never asked to see it.
Didn’t inquire about it.
It isn’t real.

And it makes me feel like a liar.
Like here I am sitting on a double-egg secret
refusing to be caught sharing it. When I’m not.

I cherish the idea of an audience.
The few I’ve had so far ran so far
that remembering their faces,
recalling their brake lights fading,
seems more gesture than decision.

But they taught me an invaluable lesson.
One new friends are not likely to ever offer.

People crave ignorance like a drug.
Giving them truth is not giving them a thing at all.
In any regard.
But taking away their favorite toy.
The great timeless game all humanity can not help but play.
And it is called by the name plausible deniability.

Out of sight. Out of mind. Head in the sand.
Willful ignorance. Fake innocence.

Like using a blindfold to turn off the lights instead of the switch.

I have no fear of more powerful persuasion than going to God
in my final instance
and actually claiming ignorance.

Broke and leaning

Short grass. Embedded yellow. Three leaves outspread.
And torn wax paper. And broke-leaning picnic table.
And gravel dented by tire tread. Leaves alive and dead.
Brown roots. Paled maize flowers misplaced by poplars.

And freedom
and an unmade path to walk
and roadways to drive along.

To follow, so far, so long, not even seen like litter.
Buildings so full of people, from so many castes,
not viewed like trash. Light blue sharing violet
in pale cloud-filtered light, at the tip of a blade of grass.
Not a needle in a stack of hay, not one of the same
stacked one on top of another, but piles of pure plethora.

Plethora festering on plethora on plethora.
A cracked black plastic spoon.
A styrofoam corner. And me.
Shoe-wrapped feet, and seated body,
and black bag, and marble journal,
and phone whistling Modest Mouse.

Short grass, embedded with yellow,
and three leaves outspread.
All torn like wax paper.
All broke and leaning.
And I am writing.
What you are reading.

Well fed martyrs #oldjournals

Turn. Change. Transfigure. The trinity of our people.
Our people, used loosely, for we have never come together as one.
Failed, where ants and honeybees succeed,
at creating and sustaining efficient colonies.

Community. Congregation. Culture. Concentrated into cults.
Letting children light their candles.
Thinking drinking symbolic blood makes a better person.
Group-think denial-grace came at no cost,
when it earned its chief revelator a cross.

Transformed torture devices into symbolic vestiges of sacrifices
we, as a people, are not yet prepared to make. Flimsy. False. Fake.
Even if we were to nail up a martyr or two, our crosses would probably break.

We’re different. We’ve changed. We’re transfigured.
Also, as a whole, people have gotten bigger.
We might need to upgrade to an anchored metal frame
to sustain the weight of such well fed martyrs.

Antiquated memories

I can not bring this self to desire new life.
Not when so much stock has accumulated in the old.

I do not fear the cold.
The winter we step out from under
into open bare treetop spring.

I have no qualm with my ape ancestry.
In fact, it better explains our species.

Our tribal colorisms and regional warfare.
Our instinctive challenge to anything new,
or different, or fundamentally not already ours.
Not our fast talk and plastic cars,
dictionaries and missionaries and doctors
toiling over life and death and credit checks.
Pastors organizing potluck dinner dusting
torture tools turned clean untested symbol.

Simple, for us millennials, to pack up our stuff and run
into new towns, new habitats, new jobs and prospects
and adventures breeding misadventure.

But I can’t do it.
Am I not like my peers?
Do I not share their fears?
Their crippling paralysis in the face
of any form of honestly given criticism.

I run from nothing.
I live where a death framed family lived
farm where they did
rusted old half-broken tools.

I prefer used.

Even wasted. Tedious. Outdated.
My life is not for the new.
Because there has never been such a thing.

Just perception. Since there was ever an us,
there has been one-sided perspective.
It defines our lives.

To the point we started building fences
just to make for greener grass
on the other side.