Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
"Words are words," Mike said at the time. "Being paid more money to arrange words for someone else seems like the right thing to do."
Writing and editing were the two things in life Mike could do well enough to draw a salary. It broke his heart to retire many years later at the age of 68 but it seemed like the best thing to do. His doctor had told him he might have early Alzheimer's disease and that he should prepare for the future since the disease would only grow worse. Mike never told his wife or any of the children about the problem. His wife was the excitable type, and all of the children had grown up and moved away, many of them back to Chicago where all of them had been born. Each of them had acquired a college degree or two and had found a good job. Most of them were married. Mike and his wife now had 12 grandchildren and were looking forward to more.
"You can never have too many heirs," he told his wife one time. "Whatever we leave, it will give them something to argue about after we're gone. They won't forget us."
After the doctor had mentioned the strong possibility that he had Alzheimer's disease, Mike decided to have the daily paper delivered to the house instead of driving to the store every morning to buy one. And on most days that seemed like a good decision. But not on the infrequent days when the deliveryman soared by Mike's house without tossing a paper on the lawn.
The first time it happened Mike called the circulation department and received a credit on his bill. He did the same thing the second time, managing to keep his temper under control. But the third time occurred on the morning after the Super Bowl. For Mike this was the last straw. Three times he told the kind old lady in the circulation department to tell the driver Mike was from Chicago originally and in that fine city errors of this magnitude did not go unanswered. A credit on Mike's bill, while necessary, would not suffice.
When his wife Dolly got up, he asked her, "How the hell can I check the stats on the game without my newspaper?" She was only half awake. Mike was a very early riser and Dolly, according to Mike, was a "sack hound."
A kind woman, Dolly had always tried to be helpful throughout the many years of their marriage, so Mike understood why she eventually suggested he drive to the QuikTrip and buy a paper. Then he could read about the game and check the stats, she said.
"That's not the point, Dolly," Mike said. "I have a verbal contract with that paper for delivery and they are not keeping their side of the bargain. A credit on my bill is not adequate recompense." Mike loved the sound of that last sentence as it rolled off his tongue. He always loved the sound of words whether they were floating in the air alone or jailed in a sentence or paragraph.
What made matters worse, Mike told Dolly, is that without his newspaper he would have no way to check on the obituaries of the day. The obituaries were Mike's favorite part of the paper. Back in his old ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, the obituaries were known as the Irishman's Racing Form.
Back then, many retired Irish immigrants would spend the day reviewing the obituaries in the city's four different newspapers. Finding a good obituary primed them for conversation at the local tap after supper. The tap was run by the legendary Rosie McCarthy, a humongous widow who did not suffer any nonsense in her establishment. But she did offer free hard-boiled eggs to customers who ordered at least three foaming steins of Guinness. Eggs were cheap in those days. It was rumored that Rosie had to buy 10 dozen eggs a week just to keep her customers happy.
"Rosie knows how to hard boil an egg, Dolly," Mike had told his wife many times over the years. And his wife always wondered what secret Rosie could possibly have when it came to boiling eggs.
One reason the obituaries were of such great interest in Mike's old neighborhood involved the retirees wanting to see if any of their old bosses had finally died. Some of those bosses had been nasty men, so petulant and abrasive they'd have given even a good worker a rash. There was also the possibility that over in Ireland, the Irish Republican Army might finally blow up a bridge with the Queen of England on it. The IRA had been trying to do that for years. Many bridges had been blown to smithereens but not one of them had "Herself" on it.
"The IRA keeps blowing up bridges, Dolly," Mike would remind his wife. "You would think one of these times they'd get it right. They know what she looks like."
In addition to reading four newspapers a day as a young man, Mike had had other hobbies during his long and tumultuous life. He had bred rare Australian finches for decades and had won prizes with them at bird shows. However, after his last son had graduated from college and moved away, Mike sold more than 200 finches and 40 cages because he no longer had a son available to clean the cages. Five sons had earned allowances over the years cleaning the cages at least once a week. All of them ended up hating anything with wings. One son had even bought a BB gun and would sit out in the yard all day while Mike was at work. That boy was a pretty good shot. No one knows how many woodpeckers and chickadees he managed to pick off.
After Mike sold his birds, he took the considerable proceeds and plowed all of the money into rare coins. For the next ten years he collected many rare coins but when he retired he figured he may as well sell them because none of his children had any numismatic interest. Not only that, none of them would have known the value of the coins if Mike died. Some of them were very valuable--the 1943 Irish Florin, for example, in Extra Fine condition would have brought more than $15,000 at the right auction. Mike loved that coin and kept it, along with all the others, in a large safe in the basement. Guarding the safe was a large if somewhat addled and ancient bloodhound. Mike had bought the dog from a fellow bird breeder when it was a pup. The bloodhound wasn't toothless but he may as well have been. He wouldn't bite anyone no matter how menacing a robber might be.
"I love that dog, Dolly," Mike would tell his wife every time she suggested that euthanasia might be the best thing. "That dog, Dolly, is as Catholic as we are and Catholics don't abort or euthanize anything," Mike said.
When Mike finally sold all of his coins, he had a great deal of money that he viewed as disposable income. Dolly, however, viewed it as an insurance policy in case Mike died first. Mike had a couple of pensions but he had never made Dolly a co-beneficiary. In fact he convinced her to sign waivers so the payout to him would be larger. Dolly didn't want to do it but signing was easier than reasoning with Mike. His temper seldom surfaced but when it did, things weren't good for weeks around the house.
"I get mad once in awhile, Dolly, but I always apologize," Mike would remind her.
Mike finally decided to put the coin money into guns--big guns--although he had never shot a gun in his life. He refused to go hunting because he saw no sense in killing animals when meat was available at the butcher store. The kids used to joke that maybe deer and pheasant were Catholic, too.
Some of the guns Mike bought were the kind you would see in action movies. Mike always liked action movies. The more the gore, the happier Mike was. But he had to go to action movies alone because his wife hated gore but she liked musicals. No musicals for Mike, although he would always dig into his pocket to give her the money for admission, complaining occasionally that the cost of seeing musicals kept going up.
"I don't want to spend good money to see a bunch of people in costumes and wigs singing songs together when Frank Sinatra, all by himself, sings better than any of them." Sinatra had a good voice, the kids thought, and it probably didn't hurt that he was Catholic. One of them once suggested to Mike that it might be nice if they played a recording of Sinatra's "Moonlight in Vermont" at church. Mike didn't agree or disagree because he thought some sacrilege might be involved.
Mike remembered his gun collection on the day the deliveryman had failed to throw his newspaper on the lawn. He decided that the next morning he would sit out on his front porch at 3 a.m. with a big mug of coffee and the biggest rifle he owned. When the delivery van drove down his street, he planned to walk out to the curb, rifle in hand, to make sure he got his paper and to advise the driver of the inconvenience his mistake of the previous day had caused.
"There's no way this guy's a Catholic," Mike said to himself. "Three times now he has skipped my house with my paper."
The next morning things went exactly as planned--at the start. Mike was out on his porch with his rifle and coffee at 3 a.m. when the van came rolling down the street. Mike got up and strolled down the walk toward the van, his rifle resting like a child in his arms. Mike couldn't have known, however, that the van driver had been robbed several times over the years and that he carried a pistol in case someone decide to rob him again. When he saw Mike coming toward him down the middle of the street carrying a rifle, the driver decided to take no chances. He rolled down the window and put a bullet in Mike's forehead.
One shot, dead center, was all it took, and Mike, still a big strapping man, fell like a tree.
The next day the story about the death of Mike Fitzgibbons made the front page of his beloved paper and Mike himself was listed in the obituary section. The obit advised that friends of the family could come to the wake at Eagan's Funeral Home on Friday. It also pointed out that a Solemn High Funeral Mass would be said for Mike on Saturday at St. Aloysius Church, where Mike had been a faithful member and stalwart usher for decades.
Two days after the funeral, a neighbor was shoveling snow for Mike's widow. He happened to look up and saw the missing newspaper stuck in the branch of one of Mike's Weeping Willow trees. Mike had an interest in Weeping Willows and had planted a number of them over the years, too many some of the neighbors thought for the size of his property. This was the first time a newspaper had gotten stuck in one of the trees, his wife said. And it would be the last time because she had canceled the subscription to the paper the day Mike died. Like her husband, Dolly was a woman of principle and she thought canceling the paper was the least she could do in his memory. She had never read the damn thing anyway.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
should be Mr. Man it appears there has been a mistake at the mortuary
Mr. Rock has already been filled with the preservative known as Scotch
Mr. Rock however is English and Mr. Man was thrown at him to create this
accident and clouds have nothing useful to do with arriving at the mortuary
but afterwards small clouds are installed to replenish the deceased’s potentials
Mr. Rock is still a child like all men but now he’s a dead child
Mr. Man left a piece of himself in Mr. Rock’s head because he’s broken
no one removed it now formaldehyde comes out of the closet
oh no oh no says Mortuary Director Glenlivet too brightly who is named
for his liver this blood is still pulsing Mr. Rock is not seriously a dead man
and Director Glenlivet ceases and desists his ghoulish draining
whereupon Glenlivet offers a cute little suture-bow to the sliced vein
and Mr. Rock is filled rather than emptied until borrowed essential fluids
adequately support the return of pre-embalming opportunities
Director Glenlivet begins floating himself again now pickled and disguised
as Mr. Cloud but no sign of rain in his levitated mortuary heaven persists
and meanwhile the guilty indifference of Mr. Man grows legendary
later at the opening of the new mortuary they will all laugh about this and the party
will laugh about them and the indifference of the trees will laugh about everything else
but the clouds will not laugh and the rain will only fall upon them equally
this is not what a man is but what a man does and a tree
or a cloud are only tools for the creation of his man-things
a man’s first man-thing is often above him like a tree-house
and no women are allowed in paradise number one
paradise number two could be sympathetic clouds that melt quickly
paradise number three is not a woman but a young man’s dream
of a woman which the man creates as if he were a helpful tree
containing a house that was ready to offer itself to the woman
but that tree continues climbing its own ladder of dreams
which always returns to the ancient sun and father sun
may still fill the tree with leafy man-child simplicity
trees are always pointing and they never get where they’re going
until they let go and find themselves feeding what fed them
a young man is not a tree but the hope that remains after reaching
wood taken from the tree waits not in green dreams but graying houses
wood is the holding part which the man-child must use to create new rooms
which contain moonlit intentions and he will first be mistaken and later mistaken again
that’s not something that deserves criticism it’s not the same as
throwing spoons at butterflies or robbing postal workers or eating stale mutton
but be careful now falling clouds do not dream of transcendent wood
nor do falling clouds write epics about mankind or weather’s acceptance
falling clouds won’t explain what they’re doing or do it over again
each cloud is a tentative thing made of waiting and then knowing
flying ants were filling the young man’s pockets with wings
and of course there is pain here you’ll like it a lot
best advice I ever got says the old man
or an innocence that separates you from others but a prison
removes you from the source of your imprisonment
you don’t have to lock up a box of fear like a prison it can be
shared because opposing dreams live in the wood
which has been taken from vertical history
when the innocent man-child can see the determined tree
approaching the top of its misdirected cloud-ladder
his innocence falls away like a useless appendage
the women are watching what complicates them and
they place rocks to keep the dreamy ladder from rising
into man-heaven where no more men can be made
but man-heaven is lonely and falls day by day with the rain
upon the shoulders of the waiting women who carry this burden
as if it might pop out of them and walk away
and it falls upon leafy conical ears that reach out to gather
enough sunshine to hear that deep old voice in the wood
listen with your tongue unhinged like the birds
such naked accessible ears gather more than we understand
and spread it around which smells like a baby urinating
aren’t you going to kiss the smelly fallen clouds aren’t you
going to lick the salt from the corner of the baby’s troubled eye
aren’t you going to cover the table tonight with terrestrial longing
hitch a ride on one of those old sky turtles we thought were deities
the wet moon creaks on its hinges and seems to be folding out over a porthole
as if it were a milked drink you could spill all over the deck of its longing
caught in the branches of the king’s favorite tree the last cloud before sunrise
soaks up the opportunities and bloodies itself for the sun
as if that pagan creature’s song were wounded back to peasantry
Günter’s worried about the snow with its friends all melting away
don’t expect him to act like fallen sky doesn’t matter
Ingeborg told the neighbor’s kids to leave him alone for a long time
listen to the ridiculous babies licking themselves with their beaks
musty nests and closets filled with dormant odors opening everywhere
you wouldn’t even be able to hear yourself if that weren’t you singing
children of broken down planets and energy re-cycled
what can you say of your parents who separated so many of you
blown about the voice of dirt your singing a granular thrust
through hardscrabble breakfast what can you say
that is not said better by soil given to a random neighbor
each grain hobbles its own tentative shoe but patient justice stands and
admires its accomplishments while children disassemble themselves
and toss about their lives in a frenzy of starting and more starting
brush quickly away the dangers and let the funneling field offer
internal fingers for the mystery because touching back isn’t always painful
follow the late rain into everything and follow the worm back out of your excess
adjust the invisible planet of the new home too small to fail
pedestrian energy disseminates the walls and soaks up little
generosities it’s a birthday of every moment spilling transitions
once more is so inevitable it’s small enough to go unnoticed
once more is not enough to move past me keep going
once more is what you say to me when I listen to myself
Monday, April 29, 2013
or was that a Mexican truck
heading north toward the border.
says the supermarket weekly.
declares talk radio.
They’re armed with ray guns,
their technology is so advanced,
they intend us great harm...
They’re squeezed into
the truck’s secret compartment,
sweaty and starved of breath,
one or two already dead,
and yes, they intend us great harm...
Their planet’s dying.
They want ours.
Their country’s a basket case.
They’re looking for work.
at the night you had it done.
Were you drunk? Did some guy dare you?
It’s a lovely red rose but it’s a flower from seven years ago.
Today it would be a heart saying “Michael”
or maybe the devil or a diamond or a star.
A man rubs your back, thinks what luscious petals,
but that’s not what you’re giving him.
He gets Michael, the guy you’d rather be with.
Or the devil, the imp that sleeps with all comers.
Or a diamond, the moneyed dream that pretends
to make this worth it.
Or that star, the ultimate in elevations,
the coldest for all its bright light.
So let him have sex with his nose in yesterday’s budding.
It’s wilted. It’s dead.
You’re wilted. You’re dead.
It’s a skin to tell a lie.
the oldest living Deadhead
is on his deathbed ...
the marijuana's medicinal,
the music's immaterial
because he can't hear it anyway.
Over and over,
he mutters the word 'Truckin"
to the great-grandchild
seated faithfully at his side.
Soon, he'll join Jerry Garcia
in that great outdoor concert
in the sky.
It's as he's always said:
then you tie-die,
then you die.
The 2013 nominations are in for the best short story on the web at Spinetingler Magazine, and Gita Smith's The Tractor Thief's Jacket has been nominated.
This is one of the most thrilling pieces of fiction I have ever read, and as a group of us had the pleasure of hearing it read aloud by the author at HoW3, it will long remain in memory.
If you haven't read this piece, please do, or reread it. Then go and vote at the Spinetingler site:The Tractor Thief's Jacket (on MuDJoB)
Sunday, April 28, 2013
she lies still in bed
with heavy pillows placed
like a castle around her head,
looking perfectly comfortable
in the artificial fortress
but squirming inside
with restlessness and dread
she tries to chase time
like running after a thief
but calmly it slips away
without granting any relief
ironic, she thinks, how she spent
so many precious years
chasing short-lived passions
escaping her fears
what once lay ahead
like an infinite stretch
of dreams and possibilities
is now compressed
into the colored pills
lying next to her bed,
which she quickly grabs,
squeezing them tight
with a racing heart and shaky hands
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Lay the old man down, lay him down
His wretched bones are dry and worn
Give the ferryman a coin or
Let him drown
These brittle bones won’t walk again
Lay him down lay him down
Make paddles of his hands
Use his skull to bail
Rig his thigh bones for a mast
And his skin to make a sail
Weave his hair for cordage
Use his knuckle bones for dice
Kiss him once upon the lips
And kiss his eyelids twice
Let him go, let him go
He’s done with life
Lay him down, lay him down
The old man’s gone ahead
To that strange shore
Where the beach is dark
Where the dead are moored
Let him go, lay him down
He cannot help us anymore
If people were like bonobos
Or so at least the story goes
We'd all live peacefully in trees
Eating fruit and picking fleas
But humans, filled with genes recessive,
Have evolved much more aggressive
Behaving more like chimpanzees
Driving rivals to their knees
Our aggression knows no bounds
In the air or on the ground
And if you think we're not that simian
Just ask any Palestinian
Bombs and bullets on their heads
Drive them from their Arab beds
You see them on the evening news
Firing rockets at the Jews
Just another struggle sadly
A case of monkey's behaving badly
Whenever I am despondent
And wondering what life means
I sit in my recliner
And peel some tangerines
Now I know that life’s a mystery
And more senseless than it seems
But somehow it’s not so empty
When I’m eating tangerines
I used to sit and ponder
Why God is messing with my dreams
But now it’s not an issue
I just worship tangerines
Now you may think me a blasphemer
Someone wrapped in petty schemes
But I’m nothing but a dreamer
And not given to extremes
But if I needed a redeemer
I’d choose tangerines
Friday, March 8, 2013
the room is too dark for it to be conversational
no angsty teenager here, just a grownup
a man of thirty, can you believe it
thirty, thirty, thirty, thirty
flirty thirty, dirty thirty
not me though
i’m wordy thirty
words in the supine position come easier
but they are difficult to read
believe me they are even more difficult to understand
the light from my Ikea lamp is dim
as dim as the memory of me buying it
or maybe it was a gift
speaking of nightstands with packed drawers
unspeakable things in the top one
junk in the bottom
the bottom drawer is speakable
courier bag filled with books propped up against nightstand
blocking bottom drawer
guess top drawer is most easily accessible
cigarette smoke floats past my screen
filters words these innocuous words
who enjoys that
don’t people enjoy meat
but i don’t have any meat to offer just steamed veggies
you like? steamed veggies cauliflower broccoli carrots
should i open that top drawer
you want to see the meat
i know you because i know me
okay let me snub out my ciggie
love the way it sounds being crushed against the ceramic ashtray
pulling open drawer
can you hear it sliding on those little plastic wheels
gonna close my eyes and reach in
pull out the first thing i grab
this one’s a doozie
My Twitter address is @JoeBobsThoughts
Thursday, January 31, 2013
I wade in the shallow
[end] of your subconscious.
onto my sanity and the salt-
ed waves trying to break
my head. Hurts/fears/falls.
Black is not the shade
of any sun I choose to remember.
[And yet] There you are, back-
lit by embers I gave up
to a memory that may never have been
more than a flicker-
ing thought, we rise. Together,
breaking the calm
that echoes like glass.
I think about it, even as I sit
at my desk, juggling phones, files,
faxes. I hear the antique, claw-footed,
ceramic basin calling me
home. I walk straight through
the front door, up the stairs, shedding layers
of clothes and stress as I go. The sound
of water, warming, filling, is intoxicating.
I add a handful of salts, watch them
dissolve. Sunlight dying behind pulled
curtains calls for candles, lavender, the scent
consumes the room and my mind. I cannot
think as I sink into the welcome embrace
of the tub. Ardorous nothing flows
through me. I am at peace by the time
the sponge caresses my skin.
for Aleksey Chernyshov
near the corner prayer station, I was
pondering the meaning of randomly tagged string
bags steeped in questionably sanitized water, when
I met a man who could be perfect
ly cast as a teen vampire dream if he lost
his tan and his mind. As it turns
out, he was an angel in a daddy suit, bulging
from slightly weighted wings. He flew
through the drizzle of everyday on the rainbow
of his daughter’s smile. The affectation of their journey
was palpable. They held
their own gravity. Showering sparks of genuine
warmth into every anonymous shadow that happened
to cross their paths.