Empty plates in place of thanks

Salmon patty pinto beans cornbread salt like sand against teeth
green beans boiled potato quarters day old macaroni with calluses for cheese
short cakes topped by strawberries and whipped cream and powdered sugar
the dull metallic taste of a spoon that has known a hundred tongues
last night’s dinners dried in groins between forks
butter knife clean as a salad plate.

Fruit flies by bananas on the counter food-stained tower by the sink
tea that has sugar in it and was cooked on the stove
half moon watermelon runes and cans the salmon came in
on the back step for a one-eyed cat to lick clean.

The bathroom smells like a whole can of hair spray and half a cigarette.
Chase me the child screams. Got you, he types in an email.
Compliments are the pallbearers of criticism.
Empty plates in place of thanks.
Something to sit and sip in front of fire
and nurse our old winter desire until we retire
and our bowels sing us to sleep
melodies we were never meant to keep
raise us like lazarus in the morning
to roll the stone away
or so they say.

Catch me daddy, catch me.

First Humans

First light. First coffee. First music. Is something reset overnight while we sleep. When did eight hours later suddenly become tomorrow. First rain in three weeks. The wetted lips of clover speak, the beaded blades of grass are weak, they curtsy with tear drops on point. First gardens. As if winter was asleep. The world wakes spring. Wishy-washy. Watch birds to tell the weather and soak every last drip of cold. Summer is coming. Like never seen before. First summer. All other summers were sleep. This summer will wake, break, make, remake, spade, spate and stake us up like tomato vines. Next fall, we won’t be the same. We’ll be new ones.

First humans.

The Cake

If the universe is like me, no wonder. No wonder whatsoever
this place is such a mess. Try to tell heart cells
what the lungs are blown up to. Ask the liver
how it feels about its job in waste management.
Tell on your skeleton to all the soft senseless pink frosting.
Take the cake. Dump it in the milky substance of your consciousness.
Make it soggy. Like the rest of your body.
Destined to be parted by a blunt spoon and swallowed unchewed
by the great toothless mouth of our universe. Slurping like breakfast cereal.

The big bang hit like a mid-morning sixth cup of coffee beer shit.
Self-expression. Wipe it away. Flush it down.
Forget it drowned in the bowl no one eats from.

from Fathers and Sons

My gut instinct is to call it a sign, but no. Jeremiah says, this is life.

Without walls. Without society’s endless game of hide and seek.
Hide from the world, seek products to fill the void.
This is what we’re so afraid of.

The deafening loudness of a quiet life in the country.

How this tiny insignificant spring can cancel out the noise
off so many other things.

I can’t even hear myself think. 

These Three Together

Knowledge is a sword in a scabbard.
Intelligence tells you when to draw.
Wisdom wishes you’d left the heavy thing at home.
Wisdom would lie down for worms if their bed was soft enough.
Like kindling, like spark and like air, life is these three together.
There will never be a trustworthy and easy answer.
We are the offspring of what life and death
started doing to each other a long time ago.
The solutions to all the great riddles are at the tip of your pen.
You will never find them in anyone else’s handwriting.
Swords are for fighting.
But pens win.
Knowledge, intelligence, wisdom.
Make the head spin.

Knowledge self-locked in analysis paralysis.
Mental rust bound the blade to its cage. Intelligence
pulls the lever on the trap door it constructed months before
when it first imagined this situation could turn down the path of problem.
And wisdom, beat its sword into a plowshare already
and paid off the enemy in onions and invented
the alchemy of transforming words like enemy into another word.

Neighbor.

Invented by horses. Wisdom picked up on it back in the dark ages.
‘Neigh’ in horse, an all-encompassing super-word that depending
on tonal quality and inflection, can mean absolutely anything.
Though it is loosely understood as an introspective question
related to the topic of sweet feed.
‘Bor’ is derived from the root-word burr which is an irritating prickly
often stuck in a horse’s coat and is quite uncomfortable but ends up tolerated respectfully albeit under clenched jaw and ground teeth.
Forms ‘Neighbor’, a perfectly acceptable translation for words like villain,
monster, stranger, and many more. All thanks to the horse.

At the end of the day, if we somehow survive our scrap,
it’s wisdom who tends our wounds, and loosens the swordbelt,
lets down our hair and surprises us with warm bread.
Knowledge and intelligence are in your head.
I’ll write this and you’ll know, you’ll feel, it is true.

Wisdom lives in your stomach.

You don’t teach it.
You feed it.
Experiences only.

At night, while we sleep, worn out from lugging a heavy sword
we’ve never rightly used, wisdom weaves story tapestries
from experiences we’ve given it. Without a thought,
absolutely without effort, our minds expand the only way they can.
Subconsciously. When we’re asleep. Free
from the sword-wielding I, My, Me.

Like goldfish, we are, with our personalities
we expand or shrink to fit our container
like water takes the shape of a glass.

The Holy Grail that cradles the bitter wine of humankind is the stomach.
In a way, it’s kind of neat, that it turns out to be exactly true
we are in fact what we eat and drink.

Spectral Gap

Early morning high shadow heavy vignette. Low saturation and low light make every color the smoky version of its former self. There are no more blades of grass. Each tree is now a spectral gap. A lean tower of black. Roosters are writers too sir, they just use early morning the way we use paper. Nature is full of formulaic poets. Farms full with university graduates. Early morning heavy with high shadow framed in last night’s sticky vignette. Woke up to the heroic whoop of a police siren. Roosters huffing like monkeys in white dotted magnolias. Automatic coffee maker performing Houdini’s last act. Septembair through a south facing window. The fear is there. Waiting. Like unread morning emails. Like Eggs the dog bent like a pretzel to scratch-stomp her belly. Breath from a mouth that once promised to love me forever. 

There are memories I’ve had forever, that only ever come back to me early morning.

There are colors there that can not be found anywhere.

Section from Fathers and Sons: An Appalachian Adventure

“Jeremiah can. He believes the church is keeping people from going after God. We’re ruining Jesus’ philosophy by presenting him as untouchable, unrealistic, embodied in sacred language, with you, pastors, up on a pulpit preaching and us, sheep, facing forward. These long diatribes about sanctuary design. Mobile benches and picnic tables. Every service a different array. Giant stone fireplaces with rocking chairs in front, and the pastor walks around serving food and refilling cups. More than doors, he wants open windows, giant tents, walls that roll up and fire-pits in fields and secondary sermons, conversations and getting lost in the woods. He wants church equal parts daycare, assisted living, community rehabilitation, mixed with everything national parks and campgrounds already are. He says there will be gardens and goats and chickens and the church, an immortal food source for community.

He says we got it wrong. Jesus worshiped us. He died to feed us, to strengthen us, called himself our lamb. Jeremiah says Jesus was communicating to him specifically, for him to hear these ideas. He says every true Christian feels like that, like Christ specifically lived and died to transmit a powerful, revolutionary message direct to their heart. To shake us awake, not to worship, but to be the new Jesus in the world.

John, he says this enough that I remember it all. He says there aren’t enough crosses. If we all walk toward love with determination, knowing we will likely be persecuted in the process, there aren’t enough crosses, aren’t enough Romans, for all of us. As long as good people are afraid to suffer for goodness, good people will be props for bad people. He says all this to our therapist. And the man just nods. Nods and doesn’t respond.

John, I know I’ve said too much, but your son told me God put a shroud over him, and he doesn’t know what people hear and see when they look at him, the truth is masked, they don’t actually hear his words, or see his face. He calls it his veil. He calls himself the loneliest man in existence. He says, with full confidence, he’s never been happy. Not once. He knows happiness exists, he’s seen it in our faces. But believes he’s never felt it himself.

How can someone say that, and think it’s true?”

The Final Frontier

The future we imagine for ourselves in science fiction and culture in general, is probably two thousand years away. Our final frontier is still right here in front of us. Would you like to know how many times I’ve explained how chickens lay an egg every day to fully grown people who have eaten them their entire lives. Or the necessity of pollination to people more comfortable believing their plants aren’t producing because they read their Farmer’s Almanac the wrong way and not the product called insecticide they and their neighbors dumped all over their gardens. All vegetables and fruits are byproducts of a kinky inter-species three-way that’s been going down for the last one hundred and thirty million years. Our planet is a whole other sort of billionaire. We aren’t descended from monkeys. But we are clearly mammals. There’s no arguing that, we’re already trading milk with one another, dabbling in raising one another’s children. Clearly human beings are a part of a massive extended family. We’re all bound by the same rules and needs.

We’ve exhaustively answered the question of how a creature can know it all and understand nothing. We can’t do that another two thousand years. We’ll extinct ourselves long before that.

We don’t understand the earth we stand on. For example, you’re not sitting upright right now. Think about where you are on a globe. You’re jutted out sideways slightly down or some other absurd direction, depending on where you are. And you’re spinning and flying through space. And if you dig deep enough, you’re actually floating on a giant terraform raft bobbing up and down on the fat Santa belly of lava that gives our planet its rosy cheeks and cheery disposition, also our mind-boggling magnetic force-field that shields us from a constant bombardment of solar radiation that surrounds us, so much so one could describe a Solar System in terms of planets that exist within the outer atmosphere of their sun. Think about this, we’re being pulled and held by a gravity that extends outward from a central point within the earth. It pulls us, as it radiates out, and pulls and holds the moon, while still going out to tickle comets and asteroids into buzzing close by us. How the hell does gravity reach with a force that only attracts.

How does gravity extend outward while pulling inward, how long can intelligent life forms live on a planet before they committedly seek to understand it, before they break the hypnotic lifeless species-wide stare into the dingy fun-house mirror of our own incestual, violent, derisive and divisive cultural memory, our naval gazing religions, our self-obsessed youth worshiping. I’m fine with all of it as long as we understand, really know the story behind where chickens come from, how eggs are formed, long before we develop species-wide nutritional dependency on them. Water tables and topsoil. Constellations and art. Anyone who has really known a single acre of land has dabbled in this pursuit we call the future.

The final frontier. Only it isn’t out there. It’s the next two thousand years.
We need to learn how to really live here.
We need to understand our current way of life was shaped out of fear.
We need the sort of breakaway only a quiet life in the country can afford.
Go back to the very first drawing board.
The wilderness you’re at war with otherwise called your backyard.
I’m here to tell you, what you’re really fighting is a farm.

It isn’t thyme.

That’s the thing about journals and wine, they’re nothing but juice without time. Your grocery lists and garden designs will be worth at least a sideways smile in four or five years. But in ten to twenty, or thirty, to eyes still reading long after yours have entered the book, your handwriting, not just that one of a kind chicken scratch, but an undeniable image of your hand, alive, writhing, a little list that led you on your way out into town, strangers who stared you down, held the door for you, nodded hello. It takes fifty years to even know the value of what we’re losing when we exclusively hunt and peck every thought under threat of the launched arrow of a backspace key. You can type a cocktail, squeeze words, add liquor, pour out every sort of juice. But you have to hand-write wine, and more than that, be patient for it. One virtue that has been entirely and purposefully written out of education. Society. Culture in general. Patient people make poor consumers. Patient. Stubborn. Frugal with money, but always giving away food. Journals, and handwritten things, and stubborn, patient people who like to work with animals every day, who like four chores and sixteen memories and three bruises on every dinner plate. Who get a bit of therapeutic benefit from shedding tears over a thirty year old grocery list that somehow grew into a treasure of incalculable value with nothing else added to it but time.

Journals.
Wine.
Seeds.
Friendships.
Faith.
Family.
Life. All have same secret ingredient.

If you don’t know, don’t worry, it comes for you too.
Be patient. It isn’t thyme.

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.