Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Williamsburg or Bust


Today I find myself preparing for what seems an arduous task, although in certain circles it would be referred to as a family vacation. Not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy time spent with my lovely wife and children. It’s the thought of spending sixteen hours in the small confines of our car before we arrive that has me praying overtime for patience. Without a doubt, my imagination-challenged son, Jacob, will be my nemesis. It seems that a half-hour of idle time at home pushes him closer to the edge of lunacy than I’m comfortable with. In planning our drive I’m tempted to locate and schedule a couple of stops with local Catholic priests who are well-versed in exorcisms. (Even today’s effective cleaning solutions can’t touch the green-projectile vomit on the back of a car’s head-rest?)

This year my wife, Beth, had the privilege of selecting our destination. Since she’s a huge history-nut (I hope the term comes across in the loving manner intended), our vehicle will be pointed in the direction of Williamsburg, Virginia. Although I don’t believe in reincarnation, you could certainly make a case that Beth was some type of activity planner in a former life. In her meticulous eye there is no vacation detail that can’t be allotted, assigned, or otherwise sorted. (Perhaps I’m just miffed that my time in the restroom is always slated last and is never ample to finish my business and complete the prescribed reading).

Last evening, with the production and pomp befitting a royal gala, she proudly read our itinerary (I suppose we saved a bundle on a travel agent). My son was less than impressed and I can’t swear to his entire response, due to the trailing off of his voice as he was banished to his room, “Geez….I thought this was summer vacation, sounds like another boring history lesson!” I had to excuse myself as my volley of snickers grew to a perceptible volume. The piercing glare directed at me let me know there was sufficient space in my son’s room for two.

Fortunately Beth is also a peacemaker and painstakingly modified our journey to include a detour to the Louisville bat factory and museum, which instantly made Jacob’s ears resemble those of a jackrabbit on high alert. As a bonus she also threw in a few hours of shopping at the outlet malls that sent my daughter, Allie, into a state of euphoria that only the hardcore connoisseur of all things on sale can appreciate. So it would seem that if I’ve mentally hardened my cerebral cortex to withstand the onslaught of the drive we should be in fine shape.

Actually I’m looking forward to returning to that area of the country. Beth and I spent the first three years of our wedded bliss in Norfolk/Virginia Beach as I finished my time aboard the John F Kennedy. More accurately, including Desert Storm and a normal Mediterranean six month tour, I spent fourteen months floating in the Mediterranean and Red Sea while she steadfastly waited for her sailor to return to port (at least that’s all I hope she did).
I intend to visit one of our favorite restaurants, Momma Lina’s. (this ain’t no Olive Garden). Momma Lina’s is a truly authentic Italian restaurant, the food, the d├ęcor, and the hospitality. Back then, Momma Lina herself would make her way from table to table to ensure her customers satisfaction.

I suppose I’d better dust off my fife and drum and attempt to make room in the trunk for such necessities.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Too Many


There was a time
this shack was cramped
barely room to house just four
with fiddle’s song
we chased the blues
and danced upon its floor

We raised them up
on rice and beans
and tucked them in at night
filled their spirits
with buoyant dreams
groomed their wings for flight

I recall his words
my youngest son
“They say we’re just dirt poor!”
I reminded him
it’s a state of mind
and simply nothing more

Boys to men
dusty fiddle case
Ma took rest eternally
this empty shack
these empty minutes
well define my poverty

Too many days
feeding things
much wiser left to starve
I barely whittle
at this life
I’d always meant to carve

Too many weeks
when floor-boards moan
in absence of familiar feet
too many ways
this empty home
will never be replete

Too many months
in solitude
each breath I pray my last
too many years
spent expiring
chasing days of past

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Expectations


Wrought from dissatisfaction
these wretched ivory wings
the dysfunctional refraction
in living others’ dreams

Through love’s thin disguise they perpetuate
by means of remote control
with myopic eyes they orchestrate
the unraveling of a soul

This fragile psyche revealing tears
each day nearer the edge she creeps
unable to sift her desires from theirs
perhaps today brings restful sleep

While parents mourn their personal losses
each feeding the other self-absorbed core
never a child who bore their crosses
but a fallen angel in death once more

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Hazy Night in Coon Holler





“Can you two youngun’s quite climbin’ around on the furniture—like two squirrels high on poison buttermilk! Hop up into yer granddaddy’s lap and let me tell ya a story.”

The two young boys settled in, one on each knobby knee. With wide eyes they looked at one another and then back at their grandfather’s wrinkled face, with all of the anticipation of a coon dog eyein’ a fresh plate of biscuits.

It all begun on a particular hazy and eerie night. As a young boy I could barely keep my eyes from the slumberin’ notion they was given to. My younger brother, Timmy, hadn’t put up such a valiant fight and sat across from me snorin’, so I leaned forward just enough to kick the toe of my work boot against the heel of his. You’d have thunk I’d sent a stray bolt of lightnin’ up his leg. His entire body rose, and stayed horizontal fer a second ‘fore meetin’ abruptly again with the seat. His glassy eyes looked like one of ‘em stuffed deers up on the wall above ya. He swung his head wildly from side to side tryin’ to get his bearin’. Reminded me of the neighbors cat after we’d put ‘em on the merry-go-round and spun him until we seent what he had for breakfast that mornin’. Just like the cat, soon enough he figured what I’d done to him.

Although us King Brothers was only fifteen and thirteen, our slight of years didn’t keep us from a very important mission. We was to sit in the church bell-tower and was proud as pickles to be the first line of defense. You see, the townspeople of Coon Holler weren’t an educated bunch, but they aimed to see someone brought to justice. Most likely, if we caught ‘em, some old boy would be swingin’ in the breeze ‘for sundown.

‘Bout a month earlier a fire destroyed a barn and most of the critters in it. No one knew for certain how old Klem Watkins was, including him, but his advanced years could have caused him to leave a lantern burnin’ long after the cows had been milked. When directly confronted about the possibility he simply scratched his gray beard and admitted he couldn’t recall. The entire community felt badly for Klem, but didn’t think much of it—‘til just two weeks later another fire broke out. This time things wasn’t so innocent—worst part was Misses Bandy and her baby didn’t make it out of the old shack in time.

Old man Bandy had gone off to look for work on account the saw mill had closed and times was tough. Poor old feller—strain of finding out such news when he returned left him on the verge of crazy, some say he didn’t travel far. Just sit by the graves and cried all day, twernt nothin’ he could do, ‘cept what he done I guess. All that pain and grief took hold and the only way he seen out was to swaller a shotgun barrel. Pitiful sight—three fresh graves all in a row; they was a good young family, come from good stock.

The officials of the village called a special meetin’ and the hall was jam packed. Lots of folks was beside themselves, couldn’t hardly come to grips with what had happened, but mostly they was mad and lookin’ forward to a lynchin’.

It had been more than forty years since anyone graced the ‘hangin’ tree’, a large old oak at the north edge of town. Most figured just the simple reminder of the old noose swinging in the wind prevented the need for its use, but that night there weren’t no hagglin’ ‘bout the need for it.

The only decision needed made was who would climb up there and replace the old rotted rope with new. Since no one jumped up to volunteer, I suppose Coot Jeevers felt obligated. Now I don’t know Coot to be his real name, but it fit. Coot was the only form of law this town ever seen. Whether he had any official trainin’ remained in question, but most important he did have a silver badge with U.S. Marshall on it and that’s all the convincin’ most folks needed.

Coot and a makeshift posse come together and hatched a plan to catch the scoundrel that was settin’ fire to things. They was local fellers posted all over town, ‘specially along the roads comin’ and goin’. It was me and Timmy’s job to ring the old church bell soon as we seen anything suspicious.

Well, ‘bout the time we quit laughin’ we heard horse hooves comin’ up the main road in a hurry. Among the haze and excitement in my head ‘spose I seent things I weren’t shore of, but what we think we seen scared the tar outta both us. Poor Timmmy, scart him so bad he couldn’t speak for more than a week.

Once that horse and rider come into view, there weren’t no doubt the two of ‘em been raised straight from the ashes of hell! The rider was dressed in black, his cape a flyin’ and flitterin’ behind him. The black mare wore some kinda metal mask like her mount, but neither of ‘em could hide them eyes that glowed cherry-red against the black. The steam that rose from the mare’s flared nostrils made a whistlin’ sound that caused my skin to turn to goose-flesh.

The rider paused directly ‘neath the tower, as if he knowed somethin’ wasn’t right.
Timmy and me knew we shoulda been ringin’ the bell, but neither of us moved a muscle, for fear he’d climb that ladder and hack us into fish food. Like long-tailed cats in a room full of rockin’ chairs, we sat completely still. Timmy and me took turns a breathin’, scared exhalin’ at the same time might bring unwanted and deadly consequences.

Then quickly as he come, he went. We both grabbed the rope and pulled fer all we’s worth. Soon the bell began to ringin’, louder and clearer than I ever heard it. Once we seen the townspeople arrivin’ at the square with guns, pitchforks, and whatever else could maim or otherwise deter a man, we ceased to ringin’ the bell. It seems no one caught a glimpse of the evil marauder ‘cept us two. As we was tellin’ of the hellish things we seen a flash of light lit up the dark—come from the Carver place and the flames began to crawl up the shingled roof.

Coot told us to stay put and good thing he did, them wobbly knees of mine woulda just carried me in circles. I was still numb from fear, why I coulda set on a porkepine and never knowed no different. But somethin’ happened in the next few minutes, somethin’ dark and evil. A black cloud rolled in coverin’ up that little slice of moon, the temperature dropped noticeably, and a heavy wind blew in from the north, fannin’ them danged old flames. ‘For anyone knew it the whole town was set ablaze. Women and kids was screamin’, while menfolk was runnin’ in circles confused—seems like the firebug stayed one step ahead of the water buckets, first at one end of town then a second later at the other.

Timmy and me was feelin’ pretty secure where we was at ‘til I noticed the flames beginnin’ to show through the roof of the church. I knowed neither one of us wanna be no roasted quails so we made our way down the steps in a hurry, like we’d been called to dinner. Once we reached firm terra I grabbed my brother and pointed him in the direction of home. With a push I sent him off, yellin’ behind for him to run like a scalded dog, and he done just that. Soon after he disappeared in the smoke I too got the hankerin’ I needed to be somewhere else, but seemed I was runnin’ in a pool of molasses.

Not more than twenty yards from the church I heard horse hooves from behind. ‘Fraid to turn around—knowed who it would be. ‘Fore I got up the nerve to set eyes on him, I begun to hearin’ the whistlin’ of horse nostrils. I felt the adrenaline rush through me and my legs was pumpin’ like pistons on a steam engine headed upstream. It seemed like the faster I run the louder the horse hooves got. I shore didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, but couldn’t imagine bein’ chopped up in pieces was gonna get me there.

Soon I noticed the runnin’ seemed much easier—nearly fainted dead away when I seent the gap ‘tween my feet and the ground. The evil one had snatched me up by my shirt collar, just like an old barn cat carries her babies around. But I wasn’t convinced he meant to carry me to a safer place. As the mare continued to gallop I was thrown around like a rag doll on Christmas morn. I didn’t know where we’s headed, but that mare was anglin’ for the cemetery, and this ole boy ain’t none to fond of buggers and haints.

‘Bout the time I seen the entry gate fer the graveyard was when I got real serious ‘bout figurin’ a way out of this thing. Never was much good at cipherin’, but I come to a swift conclusion. My old faithful Barlow pocket knife didn’t let me down, just in the nick of time she sliced through my collar and sent me arse over tea-kettle. By the time I shook the cobwebs free I seent the ground open up wide and the black mare leaped into the sky, before plungin’ back into the fiery pit whence they came!

Just as the story concluded the boys mother entered the room and informed the two youngsters it was time to find their jackets and get on the road. She had listened to the last several minutes of her father’s story, waiting in the doorway. He had recently celebrated his eightieth-second birthday and his failing health seemed to concern everyone other than himself. She knew there had never been a Coon Holler or a marauder from hell, but she also knew that each time they visited might be the last time she saw the gleam in his eye as he entertained.

She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.

“Pop, you didn’t fill these boys full of craziness about Coon Holler again did ya? Last time we visited they wouldn’t sleep in their own beds for a month.”

“No Ma’am, may God send a bolt a lightnin’ down and strike me deader than a hammer if every word ain’t true!”

“Well I just know you tend to remember things slightly different than most.”

He smiled and used his forefinger and thumb to stroke his chin in a reflective manner.

“Might wanna keep them boys away from the cemetery for a spell.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Safety in Shadows


Image by: John Good - NPS Photo
“Safety in shadows” a tiny voice rose
as Mike toiled and burrowed down deep
Weary and worn are his little mouse toes
joined by his spirit from constant retreat

Haunted by mishaps involving his furriest pals
swooped up by hawks stalking the fields
They make the tastiest treats according to owls
as they sharpen their talons and beaks

Comfortable for now watching life unfold
from the safety of a burrowed nest
But jealous of stories told by mice more bold
in pursuit of insatiable quests

Then came a day when dusk settled in
Mike knew it was time to save face
But his crafty plan required a friend
which chooses to travel at a much slower pace

He meanders under his friend all dressed in gray
across perilous fields and over distant hills
For not even the bravest birds of prey
are willing to temp his poisonous quills

Identity


Hanging by a thread
conscience full of dread
searching for a trace
of my recently misplaced
Identity

Never had I known
that being fully grown
in my anxious mind
a job could so define
Identity

It now seems quite a blur
this unbecoming stir
perspectives gone askew
in how I choose to view
Identity

My shrink suggests I chill
and prescribes another pill
to ease my troubled mind
in hopes that I may find
Identity

The doctor claims success but I surely must digress
my wife holds reservations about these medications
although it seems I’ve long forgot what it was I sorely sought
side effects are rarely known yet I parade about my home
at every waking chance in multicolored underpants

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fabric of a Nation


Images ingrained upon ‘old glory’
where pints of blood paint her bars
deep within the soldiers’ story
lies mettle to fashion silver stars

Found in tank brigades and mortar rounds
are heartbreak and widowed wives
while battle scenes and grotesque sounds
barely scratch our armored lives

Independence that shapes a nation
whereby fallen heroes pay the rent
from broken souls bleed liberation
and the freedom to dissent

What’s the cost to shed one tear
or stand respectfully before a stone
no earthly fate commands such fear
as the prospect of not returning home

Gaping wounds only time can suture
leaving conflicts’ reminiscent sting
today we salute soldiers past and future
in a land where freedom rings