From the Minds of Children

I imagine the very first writers as scavengers. Hikers. Walking village to village, collecting what noises each individual, isolated collection of humans have thrown at rocks, hills, rivers, trees, seeing what sticks, forgiving what doesn’t as nothing more than babble. The idea that one great thinker sat down to put down language is absurd. That is not the way the human mind works. It is far more likely language was discovered by children. Babies even. Probably the first of us to erupt into laughter, and then, call it a giggle just after. I’d be amazed if an adult ever invented a single good word. Grown ups just name things after what they heard, the sound they make. Bark. I give that to an old person. Scrape. Cough. But not grass, not oak, not maple or throw. Little children safely insulated inside their villages gave title its title. And the rarest of humankind, the poet, made a career out of restlessness. Searching out the particular phenotype of a phrase as it evolved up and down the Euphrates. Moving on and contaminating the next group with how their neighbors call after their dogs, how they describe the blood red hearted logs that stink like shit. Red oak and red cedar and straight as an arrow Tulip poplar.

Poplar, staring into startling coals, dodging embers as they explode. Poplar. I’m sure that was popular. Right off the bat. Bat. A simple mind came up with that. But it took a genius to collect it and put it beside strings of others and carry it just as if it were as important as hard crusted bread or zucchini seeds or dried meat. Lion. Easy. Giraffe, not so much. Cat. Lizard. Leopard. Sherpa. Sauna. Stain the plate orange lasagna.

Every word is a moving target. A symptom of evolution, a flower off a creeping vine. A changing thing. Which explains all of relativity. A cold hand in less cold water does not equal the word warm. Because cold, and water, and warm, are just words. Just noises. Sounds that bubbled up from our throats and just so happened to get stuck against some unwitting, innocent object, also evolving, moving, changing.

All the quirks in existence can be explained by the little sentence printed along the base of side view mirrors on cars. Objects will appear larger in the construct of language than they ever are in the construct of reality. Because they were made that way. Like a microscope. What does it show. Truth. Indelibly. Definitely. Yes. But no. Not at all. In no way whatsoever, also. Does that make sense? That some truth can only be made clear via distortion, manipulation. The world around us must be twisted like a sopping dishrag in order to find out what it’s made of, emptied, when articulated fully. Through a little bent glass a microcosm of bacteria, cellular structure, viral culture materializes. The invisible can be made visible if you close one eye and squint the other one just right with the right amount of light aimed up through an empty space below a downturned, concentrated, scrunched up face. Point that same bulb of clear melted sand up at the stars and you’ll reach a far different conclusion. Darkness. Blankness. The dankness of empty, far off, lonely and desperate outer space. Is that true? Of course it isn’t. To see what isn’t out there more clearly a distortion of a totally different type is required, perhaps a couple bulbous lenses and a linear tube and no light at all whatsoever, and you’ll actually begin to peer into the past. Planets zoom past. Stars already dead and gone still filtering into wide open curious minds. And is that the truth, through a telescope, the other worlds that can be seen with one eye pressed into a cylinder, stared into well placed mirrors, seeing almost every single thing to forsake one’s self. Yes. And no. It is a trick and a truth. And yet, if we discounted the view, how much of our universe would we lose. The galactic framework of our marvelous blue green white marbled planet.

Language. Literature. Words. How much they have in common with low light, bent glass and mirrors. More than we would ever be comfortable with. Which is how we got ourselves into this mess. Trusting the noises that erupt up out of us more than the cavernous realms that gobble up and regurgitate them back at us.

If the words do not exist to articulate, or describe any section of this, it’s not there, it doesn’t exist. We haven’t really figured out the methods or status of the divine, so it isn’t there, we’re all atheists. Believers are worse about it than outright disbelievers. The word belief says it all. By not being the word known. Why would we not back up and readjust the microscope. How could a self respecting scientist peer down, give the knob a little twist, and not resist the conclusion they desire. The easy one. Nothing. It seems pessimistic, but nothing is the thing people hope for more than any other gift of life.

We don’t go back to the drawing board, pack the hiking pack, travel the world, asking children how they call the air we breathe, how they articulate the depth of the sea, or the fullness of space. We call it invisible. We invent words like empty. Void. Lonely. Where children paint pirate ships and abandoned train cars and alien worlds.

I like to imagine those first poets wandering the countryside, scavenging for noises, grunts, moans, taps and clicks and pounding fists and the futile, barbaric yawp of men and women and non-binary minds alike. I like to hear them unifying a thousand different sounds all around the same little bent growing trees, itchy vines, purple flowers. The same exact thing. With an entire spectrum of half names and partial titles and God’s honest gut impulsed recitals. Wheat. Corn. Cabbage. Turtles. Titans. Continents. Mountains. Clouds. Ponds. Wells. Swells. Sand dunes and rock slides and full on white death avalanches chasing what they hope to carry and are soon to bury. The strong survive to sing about it. Track down a poet, and share with them umph for umph the story of it.

Oh, to be a writer in those days prior to words. An author of sounds and noises and explosive bodily functions and the shushing of waves and how the wind sounds like rain and the scream of a bee sting and the gentle sugary buzz off honey. To have lived and walked and traveled before there were enough maps for there to be a thing called lost. Life its self was purely a prize before the invention of the word cost. Surely made up by a grown up. The word responsibility. Probably ripped off from some child running full speed and leaping across their sleeping parents screaming the word ability. Life, dripping from the lips of babes like honey, stingers still in the tips of their fingers, and an old person coming up from behind and to chastise them by putting the word be in front of it. Shape up. Be life. Belief. In endless things we ought to know.

What I wouldn’t give to be a poet back before poets. Before farmers. Before politicians. Before lawyers, and office managers, and kings. When no one had anything. What choice was there but to grow. To scavenge. To walk the countryside and listen to water babble, worse than children about making up words and schemes. Back when sleep was the same as dreams. Birds flew in clouds and stars were dancing bears and shifting soldiers and long handled cups with cracks in the bottom leaking rain. When poets wandered like water the path of least resistance, and filled their bellies every night by telling stories and filling minds. When a single word held in it an epic tale. Chasing after dogs and cats, their epic tails. Recounting every noise of every tribe as they try to describe the exact same blade of auburn colored cattail headed grass. Talk about an epic tell. The boom off the tree that fell. The infinity of a field and how that feels when it has blistered your heel and decides to hold on to your foot print, and let everyone know the way you went.

I like to think how we didn’t start telling stories until long after the world decided to keep us in its story. Story. How many blades of grass, how many different species of trees, how many you’s and me’s, are in that word, alone. How many poets did it take to settle on that word, story. And to this very day, no matter where you are, you’ll find a different definition. We’re still fast at work on a new edition, every single writer ever, wants a crack at a new expression.

But they haven’t heard. They haven’t listened. Too obsessed with ancient religion.
To remember, the best words have always been born from the minds of children.

Breakfast

Pull up sliding and gingerly crunch into the same tire tracks.
Snow, five inches of new, ten inches of old.
I’m blinded by the absence of headlights.
I’m walking now on memory alone.

Slick and hardened ice where the big trucks drove.
To a giant red paneled barn door officially frozen closed.
With a shovel from the shop, the door is unlocked.
Welcomed by blacker than night.

The blackness inside a barn before dawn.
Noses shovel pine chips in the wings. Muzzled throats
rattle and a great fuzz feathered floppy bird croaks
like an old man lifting up off a couch.

At the end of three hundred blind feet I grip
the splintered lip of yet another door. Slide it
heavily from existence. Eager eastern newborn
light bursts past and two hundred pupils shrink back.

Morning has come.
With breakfast.

The Stage – New Paint

Each scuff on the stage is some poor character’s misstep.
Clunky unfamiliar shoes. Heavy heeled.
Scarred the thick black matte some poor soul was paid to paint.
So many scuffs in the same space seem to create a scar.
A gouge. A place gone bare.
Where now the plywood can be seen.
Winking.
Like a relative.
Like a minister of some kind closing only one eye with a headnod.

A family made up solely of the unfamiliar.
Strangers. Who share blood. When we squeeze the egg.
Globs of it left out glistening on the floor.

So many scars and you start to see real damage.
Splintered fibrous tissue torn up through the paint.
Same missteps.
Sudden stops.
Wide eyed wonder and anchor jawed acknowledgment.
Brakes struck down through the boots now officially digging into the structure.
The lumber-boned and lead-skinned body of our theater. Footsteps.
Stumbles. Outright tumbles. Foot falls. Close calls.

Memory.

So many misdirected footsteps wearing unfamiliar shoes.

Then new paint.

What is new paint put up against the past.
Scuffed. Broken. Peeled up.

But if we didn’t paint it every year
there’d be no stage left.

Little Red Tractor

Chiggers infest my shoulders. Poison ivy bumps lie dormant like volcanoes
threatening to burst-break open lava fields of radiant rash. Bruise-dents
in knuckles from slipping off wrenches. Been putting work in.

And like writing. My hands show it.

Callused fingers grip lovingly around a sharp liquid filled pen.
Cage of blue bars with letters hooked like fingers
through the chain-link notebook of time.
Yellowed paper. Burping up banana and water and beer.
Acrid washed pallet.
Me breathing through my nose.

We turned locked bolts I disbelieved would budge.
Stretched taught rubber bands beyond the point of breaking
against thin grooved rust red tracts fit centered
on the seven spoked PTO pulley wheel.

Mowed paths all over one hundred and thirty dirty overgrown acres.
Offered up this heavy blade spinning prayer. And saw it answered.

A baby cottontail bounded headlong terrified just in front of tri-grooved
fourteen inch diameter unpowered steering thin black tires. There was a time

I didn’t thank God for cutting things down

like they were made for it.
Smiled over it.
Like I had somehow reclaimed it.
Or made it clean.

I didn’t. I just cut it short. Laid it down.

Edited it.

Marked up land with a little red tractor
like a professor
tears into a paper with a red ink pen.

Like you’re used to

Lost is still on the map.

Lost is not suddenly some other earth.

You are still found, when you are lost.

Just not without help like you’re used to.

Love is still on a map.

In the mountains of Virginia.

I believe.

Love is not suddenly some other earth.

Our feet are still on the ground even when

we are high on love.

Just not stuck without choice otherwise

like before.

Like we’re used to.

The past few days

The things I have done have climbed inside my hands.
Used engine oil. Black grease spiraled out an iron jack.
Dad swears it once held up the entire house.
A touch of rash off a three leaved brat like a bracelet
decorating my wrist. Inch long scar from a bowsaw
when I was too young to have had one. White lightning
sunk into my right pointer knuckle from a kitchen knife
I’d forgotten I’d put in the sink. Green veins
peek through stretched thin red window panes
from so much sun the past few days.

The dent. Where the pen sinks in. Black fingernails
half step between pink ivory keys on a self playing piano.

Calluses.
Where there once were blisters.
And scars.
As if I wasn’t going to remember.

Big Words

Love: A line of credit you’ve given very few people access to that has no spending limit, that despite your current situation, one way or a thousand installments after, you will eventually pay the balance.

God: A monosyllabic reminder that Mankind invented language, and when language fails to name something, the fallibility is in the vocabulary, not the universe.

Death: A superpower life discovered early on that allowed us to not just learn from our failures, but eat them up for supper also.

Cruelty: Doing to others, solely without second thought as you have had done to yourself. Severe lack of story. Caught up in some moment. A tangent. The overfermentation of desire. The flex of weakness.

Trust is a sail.

Faith is a paddle.

Hate is what anger becomes when it matures. Be careful not to make an enemy of hate.
The word enemy is a doorway for the hateful. Make them fuss at you through a window,
a good word for that is called a neighbor. Hate is a season. Hate is a debit account.
Once it’s spent it’s done and gone. The overdraft fee on hate is criminal.

Hope: long list of chores and an early start.

School

What is a flood to a fish. Fast running earth softening apocalypse.
White water parted around park benches. Is there a little low cabin
of stiller cold current stable along the stirred up muck lined basin.
Does the flood happen far above the heads of fish. Wait it out
weighted out way deep down. Beneath high water. New real estate.
New adventure. Was the fish’s world expanded by a natural disaster.
Thick rich one percent water heavy with death and nutrients.

Button eyes glued on and bulged out, flake of shiny black sequin set in a droplet of water
and loose to roll around while each slippery scaly arrowheaded wing throated muscle
patiently packed with tin cans rolling across the bottom of so many drowned rivers.
Horny heads hidden in creeks. Bass buried bellies brushing the bottom
of every many layered lake. Is that it, to fish, a flood. More traffic delay than catastrophe.
Bringing off the beaten path shortcuts into possibility. Honey get off at the bridge.
What bridge? I never saw a bridge here before. How could that be.
Well it never was underwater before.

I see. Said a blind fish. Lost in filth laden busybody highly agitated medium. Fast falling.
Dirty. Rich. Maybe floods are the opposite. For fish. When the weather is rough.
People hide inside and wonder how high the creek might rise,
how much more the lake can swallow before it is finally full.
But for fish, maybe a flood, means time to go to school.

Orange Sherbet

Flying in cars across bridges.
Lake water parted by Moses mind so as to envision massive fuming
earth moving machinery at the bottom, sixty three feet down. Damming.
Damning. When things get in the way. Or seeing a clean sawn off stump
too near a mountain top. Ears of gods grown strong straining
in on only the most whispered prayers hears chainsaws tear
through at least several decades, smell of high pitched oil laced exhaust,
sawdust now dust like snow on some long gone logger’s powerline boots.
The Sunday chicken cackles up bubbles boiling in a bed of sugar white rice.
Shovel parts a piece of that deep red clay and it clings, it sticks hard to metal,
stains anything it touches red, pine trees long past dead, pressed like flowers
between the crusty pages of so much devastation, weight, and of course, time.

Like the skeleton hides inside the body
and a foundation lies buried beneath a house
memory is inlaid within imagination.

One and the same, these two things are.
What is seen now and what all came before.
This world. Mountain springs and fields of flowering green
and a sunset that melts into the horizon like a scoop of orange sherbet
against hot sidewalk. With what at its core?

With what at its core.

My Window

Lake all pukey green.

Once white teeth stained yellow by its acidic churning.

Sour-looking. Running the wrong way. This lake.

Is a mask set on top of a river. By the TVA.

This lake cost a lot of people their homes.

Dented ridges climb the other side then taper down into Damascus.

America is a crapshoot for naming things.

White can be seen through trees against mountain scalp like dandruff.

Undisturbed beneath thinning hair. Itchy-looking.

Dry cold makes a wet nose and specks of dust out of falling snow.

Virginia. Old girl. I have decided not to say it.

Wind. Sucking at the windowsill. Battling doors.

Carrying the recyclables all across the yard.

Bombastic voices on the television warn us ‘stay indoors’.

Polar Vortex. Man wears a rolex. Catches light

point out Saltville. Bristol. Then Wytheville.

Only flurries, near Hillsville. Blue eyes pierce.

Stared into camera two.

May as well give his ‘back to you’.

She. Muted. Tells about lost and found children.

Geese bowl over one another down by green water.

White birds stalk yellow waves. Winter wind.

Pushes the river the wrong way. Backward.

Black birds beat wings against the weather.

Took them ten minutes to clear my window.