That Punching Bag

Love is a dented orb.
Incontinent continents speak consonants
into a molten canon of iron core. Of course.
Trees in corps and rocky coarse
the skin off purply soft things.

Flowers grown in the soil of hell. On earth.
Do not bloom in heaven. So close the sun.
The son. That sum of all now ready to go.
That punching bag. That beaten heart.
That lost art.

Love. Is a muscle torn to shreds.
Love. Is the strength of torn up things.

Yes. Today.

I’ve chased down a thousand things I called time to get where I am right now.
The front room of my grandma’s house wearing a winter parka over my pajamas.
I’ve chased a little boy I call baby because I am afraid for what I love to grow beyond me.
I wake up at four in the morning with no alarm set like an old man, like a grandfather
feeling chill crept in from corners and up from the window sills because the fire is low.
Coals grown cold compared to what they were when I first laid down and closed my eyes
like a young man, tired, forget that, exhausted, like a young father, indebted to the castle
he funded by the credit of his youth.

In a few years knees won’t work and back will refuse.
There had better be a roof over gray hair and a stout hearth propping up bloodless heels.

I’ve chased a thousand things I called after by tomorrow and promise and please.
I used my ideals like a carrot on a string to avoid being caught up to by so many things:
today, acceptance, settling.

There is a woman across the hall doing her damnedest to put up with me.
Whatever I have ever picked up, I have also let down.
Apology has become like a second language to me.
I have learned the differences between sorrow and sorry
are more difficult than ow or why. One is seated, settled, done, erasing.
And the other is chasing, searching, anything to keep from facing.

Truth.

I have learned, the hard way, the least productive use of the word yes
is yesterday.

Simply Put

It’s about renovated bathrooms and kitchens and putting new floorboards down on corrupt foundations. We need a more solid base. Government hit the track running, declaring for us, by us, a bill of rights more for us than by us. I believe in balance. Two way streets. Other than signs and painted lines and flashing lights, every road goes both ways. No matter who or what says otherwise. Remember that. We need a Bill of Rights, over authority, for government, because without it, they’re keeping us arguing over simplistic basic functions of human society established outside of time. Beyond constitution and revolution and justice systems. Food. Water. Shelter.

We’re launching missions into outer space, subsidizing single crops and mandating the price points of others. We are arguing decisions that are only to be made by trained, certified doctors. With no other natural resource for them, we’re policing medicine, as if people seeking health were criminals.

I don’t care the color of tile we choose for an upstairs bathroom if the concrete left corner of all of this is sinking into ever-softening earth. When there are termites enjoying the joists for breakfast, we should not discuss building new nooks to take meals in watching the sun rise. While gravity takes bites out of the high rise and everything metal gets dressed up in rust.

We, the people, need to write rights for our government to operate by, and before we’re all provided the resources to reasonably feed, house, and water ourselves, there is no higher priority on the agenda.

The founders knew a bureaucracy would be so confounding to the common people we’d fall under it obediently confused and subservient as if legalism was a new kind of steeple, for what is an altar without a gavel to bang it and summon up unsettled verdicts like they were lingering spirits. I don’t want to argue the way things things have been done. The founders invested the lives of our ancestors in the pursuit of freedom and left slavery in the system. Their ideas, their version of quality, is moot. We need to take our way of life down to the root, and start again.

Representation is the curse that has beleaguered this nation. Representative currency. Representative government. Representative freedom. And since its establishment, it has kept farmers, landowners, food producers, too tired and too busy to build any kind of revolution comparable to the first one. We need an agricultural economy, built locally into the infrastructure of every corner of our country. Barter based. Community supported. Democratically governed.

Everything else can remain the same, but the economy that dictates the prices of new Mustang convertibles or used iPhones or shiny logos on tennis shoes should not be the same one that determines the price of food, medicine, life giving water, or me and you. That economy already existed long before America, before Europe, before anyone conceived of something so big as a continent enough to name it. A farming, agricultural, basic, solid, slow changing and frustratingly consistent system at the bottom of our big, grand, shiny, plastic, expensive, current one.

A food, water, and shelter economy. One that recognizes the inarguable fact that poverty is, simply put, just another word for death.

Dialogue from a novel I’m currently working on, called ‘Fathers and Sons’

“Set that chicken and…what do you call that other stuff down here again, I should know this.” Carol loops around the island and has her hands rested against the immaculate greyscale marble on the other side, lips pushed out while she looks up squinting at the ceiling.

“Fixin’s,” I say with a forced southern twang. 

“Fixings, exactly, right there on the island if you don’t mind. I hear Bob getting his self together, he should be in here shortly and we’ll all fix a plate. Fix a plate. Hey, maybe that’s where that comes from!”

“Maybe!” I offer excitedly. “Dad always said it came from the Great Depression, when you couldn’t necessarily count on the quality of the meat, or meat altogether. He said a good set of sides could ‘fix’ that for you.” I’m ruffling the plastic and pretending like I’m doing something to prepare this piping hot food sealed in styrofoam and plastic and grease soaked cardboard lined in shiny white wax. 

“Is that true Pastor, or one of your tall tales?” Carol speaks as she truly dissects the flimsy plastic bags and begins arranging the containers in a line, potatoes beside the gravy, green beans popped open and steaming, biscuit box beside the chicken bucket and the crinkly bag balled and buried in the trash inside a cabinet at her feet. 

“True, that he said it, yes, but beyond that there’s no telling. Dad doesn’t really speak in plain fact. You’re always kind of trying to discern just how tall the story he’s telling is.”

“Oooo,” she exclaimed, “I’d love to meet that man sometime. Sounds like such a character.”

“Yes, and some characters are best known by their stories rather than in person. He can be a handful, so to speak.”

Some I miss. Some I don’t.

Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon. 

I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that. 

I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it. 

I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming. 

I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny. 

I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest. 

I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep. 

If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy. 

Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself. 

I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace. 

If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you. 

You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff. 

I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago. 

And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles. 

I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.

Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart. 

You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.

No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common. 

They’re new.

Wrote a new ‘About Me’, thanks for reading!

I’m currently enrolled in a master’s program in writing at Lenoir-Rhyne’s Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville, North Carolina. My writing has not yet been selected for widespread publication or inclusion in any creative writing journals, but that hasn’t stopped me from submitting. Mostly I put down poetry, but I have also written upwards of five novels, many more short stories, and have recently dabbled in play-writing and screenplays. My ultimate goal for the degree is to better understand the publishing industry, as well as to eventually obtain a position as an adjunct professor or workshop director at a college or university.

I believe writers benefit greatly from diverse employment in fields that are ‘secular’ to the literary craft, and I currently run a small, slow growing farm, perform in local theater and historical reenactments, as well as being a carpenter’s apprentice, mostly creating high-end custom woodcraft and feature installations in the Charlotte area.

My farm is located in Cherryville, nestled in the southwestern region of the North Carolina Piedmont, about twenty minutes from the South Carolina border. We work one hundred and thirty acres, mostly planted in longleaf pine trees, but also with a herd of dairy goats, a large brood of egg layers, and crop farming as much as weather and time permit. On November 9th of this year, my wife and I hosted our own wedding on the property in an attempt to gauge the possibility of creating a modest farm/forest themed event venue on our land. It was (in our humble opinions) a monumental success, and I have posted some pictures from the event below. We are planning to open it up for select events starting in March of next year.

If you have any questions, or interest in what I have going on in my life or on my property, please feel free to reach out. We’re always looking to partner with local or not so local businesses, as well as individuals interested in increasing their farm and vocational work experience. No matter your main interest or occupation, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how positive, proactive interactions with nature and the land increase appreciation for seemingly separate, unrelated endeavors. I can be reached at: writeractorfarmer@gmail.com and we can move forward from there!

I’m also a lifelong hiker and advocate of the Appalachian Trail, and outdoor activities, camping, hiking, homesteading in general. I hiked the eight hundred miles from southwest Virginia to the New York state line two years ago, using the Appalachian Trail, and am always looking for new ways to incorporate the outdoors and the life-altering experiences it engenders into my writing and occupational interests.

If you’ve read this far, you can see I keep a lot of irons in the fire simultaneously, which is what makes writing so important. Stories are maybe the only place where a universe of diversity all combines together to form a single cohesive element. It is the unifying, all encompassing invention of humankind: storytelling. Which is why I proudly list it first in my little titular list of occupations: writer, actor, farmer. Literature is the roof under which I house all other interests, it is how I keep them warm through the night, safe and dry even as the sky opens up and baptizes us all beyond anything we would ever decide for ourselves.

But almost nothing is possible without community. An open dialogue, an audience, an ongoing interaction with those around me, is essential, vital. So thank you for reading, for caring, it has made a world of difference, feeling so unalone and included by the earth-wide family that is humanity. Let’s talk. Let’s collaborate. Let’s find out how many hands it takes to make hard work lighter than a feather, so that we can get down to the fun stuff. Celebrating life and death, singing through poetry, dancing in labor.

Learning as lifelong profession no matter how we earn a living.

It didn’t make it onto my list, but in my opinion, it really goes without needing to be said, that the superpower of our species is lifelong enrollment as students of time and memory. The earth has meant many things to many people, but it makes much more sense to think of it as a giant, rotund, rolling school. I’m convinced that is what it is, and learning, not invention or fabrication, is our primary purpose. And in that sense, there will never be a final frontier. We’ll never be finished finding new things in an evolving, ever-altered university such as this.

Existence is a wave, it can be a harsh lesson to stand up and position yourself against it. But it can also carry you faster and further than ever imagined if you move along, let yourself, humbly and lightly, be pushed by its powerful and unapologetic presence.

Learn. Grow. Stop fighting currents. Let yourself go. You’ll find you’re caught and held by a mighty grip every time. I promise. I can, because I know.

Life is not a status. It is a story.

And the only way to get it wrong, is to not write it for yourself.

I get to choose

My grandpa only ever knew me as a little boy. I only knew him as an old man. But every day I work on his land, I stand under his trees, hold his soil in my hand and watch it drift away in the breeze, he knows. He sees.

I’m no longer a little boy.

The old man is buried beside a church in town.

But when we pick up antiques and put them to work, when we give our backs to what we’ll never get back, we can no longer call it memory.

Eternal life might be secondary to eternal use.

That’s why I prefer stories to memories.

Anytime I get to choose.

On Us

At some point, you submit. If it is happening this way, then it is on purpose, there was never any other order of things. I don’t know what this is, just what it isn’t, and primarily, this is not an accident. I know that is hard to read. I’ve lost people. I’ve failed at things. I know you may have told yourself it was a deviation from the plan, but it wasn’t. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. And blame for the things we do to one another falls in no way on the divine. Though the humans who use them would have you believe it’s out of their hands, all weapons are shaped for them. A thousand ways to feel washed clean. One form of filth.

The only sin is born in a decision you know you shouldn’t make as you make it. That’s it.
It has always been up to you. No matter how fervently you deny it.

Maybe God made a lumpy rock with saltwater licking shorelines. But it did not invent America. Or life. Or humans. Or the disgusting way a millipede’s legs all work together in waves.

Maybe God invented the perfect atom, brick, building block, with just enough consciousness written within, that this brick is one part mason, one part chemist, one part pragmatic technician, one part way back in the rear, engineer. Brick all the same.

Which would mean we truly own our choices.
Our hardfought, often unnested consequences.

I know this hurts. But we are doing this to ourselves.

I blame God for creating potential.
But this, reality, all of this.

This is on us.

Gospel Salad – excerpt from an in-progress novel I call ‘If Rome Never Fell’

“Mr. Parker, has anyone checked out King Jesus Loves His Mustard Greens?”
“Yes Beth, I’m sorry, it’s out.”
“How about Spicy Kale and the Kingdom of God?” Parker shakes his head solemnly. “It was a long shot. Okay, I’ve seen it a hundred times, but, what about Gospel Salad?”
“Yep. That’s a good one.” Parker stands from where he was seated in the bend of a horseshoe shaped set of tables, in the rotund church library. The ceiling was twenty feet up, and the shelves climbed that high, handmade ladders on hammer wrought rails encircling and keeping guard. “When the cucumber-
“Mary the mother of King Jesus.”
“Sings The Ballad of Garlic Oil it makes me laugh every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. And that’s a lot.” Parker has selected the thin case that holds the film, specifically designed to resemble the sleeve of a slim old pamphlet style book. The bottom shelf was children’s education and entertainment, right behind his seat, down low, almost hidden.
“That’s a serious song.”
“Really? It’s all about how garlic isn’t really good though, I thought it was ironic. Because garlic is delicious.”
“No it isn’t Parker. Garlic in certain things helps make those things delicious. But no one eats garlic alone. It isn’t good on its own. That’s what the song is about. How God makes decisions to put things that don’t taste good into other things because all in all it makes everything more delicious. But if you ate a handful of garlic all on its own, before you had ever had it in a soup, you might leave it out of every recipe forever on afterward.”
“Well said little Beth. You’ve learned me a thing this morning.”
“Thanks,” she offered casually, the young girl, no older than thirteen, behind a flip of shiny dirty blond hair and gone.

What are we feeding to these kids, Parker thought.

I remember

How do you know when it is time again?
Oh yes, I remember.
Take out your phone that people call you on
and set an alarm. Well, maybe you forgot.

Because Jeremiah. It is:
the secret exchange of rings inside trees,
french kissing continents with ridiculous tomato red tongues,
the beaten buried heart of sediment,
the stores looted by river shores,
and stars, like ants, innumerable, fastidious,
curiously fast and curiouser strong.

Time, a bow, meant to bend but not to break.
Like an oak. Like an ocean. Like the beach.
We can see.
We are maybe the only creatures who can see
the sapling in the giant, the monster, someone’s Roan,
someone’s baby.

Seeing is sympathy.
Feelings are empathy.
And submission is equality.

So.
How do you know when it is time again?
Oh yes. Jeremiah. Now I remember.