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.

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.

Time Clock #oldjournals

That’s redundant. In more ways than twelve
twenty fours which are actually fourteen forty.
Speaking truthfully now.
Innumerable. Sore wrist.
Right hand dominant.
Upper extremities bilaterally distributed.
Time teller. At the bank.
Next in line?
More time, please.
More time.

Eyes locked tight like that safe seals moments.
Beholding all of someone else’s equity. Pity.
Numbers don’t trail like I do. Hiking boots.
Mountains behind me like mountains in front.
Stomach wrung like a dishcloth.
By imbalanced arms.
Whiskered face of a mirror clock
show me how much time I’ve lost.
Tell me to go to work.

That I’m officially redundant.
That minutes and money
don’t convert.

Free Peanut Butter

Cold May.

Bold mouse. Carefully cleaning every lick of peanut butter bait off a hair trigger trap. All night. No snap. Ashley says at this point I’m just feeding them. We’re all trapped by the same house. If we don’t hold the keys, we can’t call it heaven.

Can’t keep up with grass. Mixed greens waving frilly fists at white supremacy.
Can’t keep up with news. Or weather. Or the neighbors.

These have been the brightest days with a cloud looming over them I have ever known.

This is the fastest my garden has ever grown. Boss said we’re done licking peanut butter off the trap today boys when it snapped. And now we’re stuck. Home. Forever.
And they don’t know how to tell us yet.

If hindsight is twenty-twenty, why do we use any other kind? Whatever sight isn’t hindsight is bullshit, and we’re such convoluted, temperamental emotional cocktails we can’t trust what’s plain and played out in front of our faces. Whatever you are is not actually your brain and your brain unarguably twists details and contorts facts to appease you, like a grandma who gets you a happy meal every day, your brain looks at you wearing a little smirk and presses a finger to her ruby red lips and shushes you and you both know exactly what your brain means. We’re eating things we shouldn’t and not telling mom about it.

Buddha chartered a hindsight cruise line and Jesus ruined an otherwise nice dinner
once with hindsight.

I always get the word prescient wrong.

I don’t know why my gut wants to define it as something immediately pressing, important, mostly because of proximity. That’s not what it means. Through research, I’ve learned that prescient means eating a salad every now and again, doing physical activity on a daily basis even though no one is making you, and it can be loosely defined by the act of becoming or getting to know some food producers near you because grocery stores are still stores and their business model might not include feeding you and your family no matter what happens regarding your income and vocational viability or industry fluctuations or now, very prescient, when society has been enforcibly shut down and your ability to generate income is severely constricted or morally irreconcilable.

I think hindsight employed as regular sight is prescience.

I think in the middle of the night one night I’ll hear that wooden slap. I used pliers and bent the trigger on the trap so that I could barely set it it was so sensitive, and mixed cotton fuzz from a Q-tip in with the peanut butter. Once I snag a couple the rest learn, not much else could bring them back in the house. Cold may. But hindsight isn’t just for humans. Mice have their own definition for prescient.

For them, it’s no such thing as free peanut butter.