Cold rain falls in the river, flows down to the sea, gets into the skyline, circles endlessly. Same old rain on the wind, same old pain in my soul.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


(This picture is not Hazel's, but close enough. I was too lazy to take the camera down there, and the locals would label me a commi spy. Hazel has a real roof and a better porch.)
I get my mail at Hazel’s.

I’d get it at the road like most other people, but the road is a half-mile away, Hazel’s is a mile, and a mailbox a half-mile from the house is only a target. I know. I was sixteen and bored once.
So I get my mail at Hazel’s.

Hazel is old but beautifully so. Eighty-something old. It’s the only business in town. Hell, it is the town. No Hazel’s-no town.
I’m not from here, as all their looks will tell you, so I don’t know everything, but I know enough from pieces thrown in my direction to claim part ownership in the history.

Hazel sells things, lots of things. Or at least lots of things are for sale. Not sure about the selling part. Motor oil, cooking oil, cereal, bread, milk, candy and other assorted staples rest upon ancient tables and poorly crafted shelves.

I suppose if North Korea were to bomb my back yard next week, Hazel would do a booming business, but this week there is peace and I buy nothing because I never see anyone else buy anything. If I spied a Twinkie, I might buy it just to test the theory.

The store itself is just an old Southern house like all the others before fake brick and shitty thin tin were invented. You have to climb the wooden steps to the forever falling-off screen door that always makes the same sound. That sound will alert Hazel who is either reading the paper or lying down on the hard wooden bench. If it is winter, the little gas stove will be going and it feels good to put your ass to it and it's always easier to loiter as you rub your ass to a good fire. If it’s summer, the fan will be blowing a delightful swirl of dust around the room as if it’s chasing itself in hot boredom to a ghostly game of tag.

The trick, at least for me, is to not look at the goods but directly at Hazel as if I’m in a hurry and what could I need anyway. If it’s noon time, there will be a couple of forevers (as in forever lived here) sitting near the heater and they will turn to inspect the entrant and then silently formulate their gossip for when I leave. I smile, letting them know I know, then nod with a Jack Nicholson smile so they might fear me later.

Sometimes my guilt outsmarts my good sense and I buy something I don’t need for twice the price I’d pay if I did. But never one of the three loaves of bread that beg me as I walk by, as if they were from Rudolph’s island of misfit toys. What bread man delivers three loaves and where do the stale ones go?

I figure each purchase buys me another year of no purchase.

I don’t think Hazel really cares if she sells anything. I figure it’s all a front for the government money she gets for being a post office to the twelve people down Leatherwood Road. And it’s really not a post office anyway; it’s just a long wooden counter where she sorts through it all to find your stuff. Her record on mistakes is much better than the big boys.

Hazel and her husband never had children, and you’d have to ask her why as her husband blew his brains out in the store long before I came along. I know this because people are people and they still enjoy telling the story to anyone who might not know, as if it validates them as a Forever. As to why, the locals shrug and pretend to know the secret but I think their knowing is all bullshit.

But she opens every morning and closes every afternoon between one and whenever the hell she feels like it. She has her aches and pains but won’t bring it up unless you do.

She’s beautiful. She really is. She genuinely seems to like me and that’s strange behaviour in itself. And I like strange behaviour.

As for her story and why she keeps doing it day after day and what happens to the town when she dies or when the Postal big shots pull her plug-I don’t know. Maybe they’ll tear down the sign as it will no longer be a town. Maybe we’ll all suddenly have an appetite for stale bread. Maybe I’ll have to put that mailbox up for the local vandals to run over. But for now, I’ve gotta run and get my mail. She says four but she might mean two. I kinda like it that way.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Holy Storm

It’s been a strange year, here, weather-wise. Rainy, and the storms seem somehow different and the way they come somewhat odd.
The other day I was driving through a city and I swear the storms sought me out in all it’s wrath. I looked up and watched a blade of lightning zigzag toward me from the heavens. It struck a light pole directly above me and the sparks flying had me mesmerized by the beauty of it’s violence.
Later, the same day but at home, another storm came for me. I watched it on the radar and went outside to meet it on neutral turf.
It came fat, full and arrogant and I wondered of it’s intent.

there are storms
that strike
terror and dash
and squalls
that piss rainbows
on the dockers
of dreamers

and there is a lightning
that races
to strike a blow
for the injustice
of ingratitude
for the Sun’s labor.

we picnic our plans
and summer
our worries
in the brassiere
of our dominance
upon the earth’s

this we do
until convinced
of our throne
in the power
of lies subtle ante

but there is a storm,
a holy storm,
of up your ass
and break your
feckless pride

it comes high
then low
and lightning
owns the sky
in end to end

the clouds twist
and say
they might
while I cower
in chin out hide

I step out in the open
and say, there
but not too far
and she throws
an angry glance of
do you dare another?

I think of the barn,
and those holding flashlights
behind windows
of farce,
and think,
for them,
them only,
I’ll retreat.

but my fear was real
and my challenge
as she lifted her skirt
and queened her eyes shut
to my withdrawal
letting her billows
bow the victory
and train her dominance.

It was a holy storm
and I the lamb
of peppered incense
but she had the high ground
so I’ll wait
for another day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

growing up

I remember still, a time when the line would go out and my eyes would jump before my hands could react. Just a dirty river behind the barber shop and it didn’t matter how long I fished or what I caught. I was young, it was summer, and there was no place I had to be.
Later, I might find some of the guys and play army behind Pete’s yard, or bike out to the gravel pit, or go work on the tree house on Gilmore’s hill. God, how that hill seemed a mountain back then.
It didn’t matter, what didn’t get done today could easily be had tomorrow. We knew when and what streets Willie the milkman with no thumbs would be on. With just a glimpse of us he’d pull over and we’d buy the best pint of ice cold orange drink a dime could get you, and his smile was genuine.
There was wiffle ball in the “cage” behind the elementary school and if the wind was right, the street could be reached. There were swimming lessons in the morning at Lake Pulaski. A dime would get you a frozen candy bar.
Sometimes, we would follow the street sweeper around town and on Wednesdays, the mosquito sprayers would go around town and kill the little buggers. I’m sure the poison was bad for all but it worked and smelled so good. Other parts of town would be getting the road tarred and that too smelled good to a kid on a hot July day. I might stop by my Grandmother’s across the street. She had orange slices on the table, tapioca on the counter and ice cream bars in the freezer. She loved to play cards, or at least pretended to, and had a great collection of marbles if she was too busy baking.
Our neighbors across the alley had a large yard. On any given day a game of croquet might be had. We also played kick the shoe from their swing set. The trick was to get your tennis shoes hanging from just the toes of your foot and at just the right moment let her fly! If you did it just right, you could put a shoe over the garage three yards away! When you got tired of chasing shoes, we would throw the plastic ball up in the tree above the swings and the swingers would avoid being hit by it’s falling. Simple games.
Sometimes the boys and girls might end up together in someone’s garage and the differences between us, along with awkward first kisses might be learned through dares and made up games. At night there were tents on yards and rendezvous in dark alleys as heat-lightning danced above us.
This was maybe ten percent of the things we did on summer break from school. No one was hurt (too badly) and we learned of life from life. There was no such thing as day care or ADD. Kids were simply different. Drugs weren’t necessary. There was no Internet or video games. Television was five channels, went silent at midnight and we were too busy anyway.
I can still feel the heat, smell the smells and hear the noon whistle of the only factory in town. I remember the coolness of the river and the taste of Eskimo Pies.
I’m not saying the old way is the better way, but it sure worked for me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Anderson's Market

How smart or dumb we seem depends on where we are and who we find ourselves amongst at any given moment. A nuclear physicist would probably feel quite stupid in the garage at a stock car race and the mechanic would probably feel out of place in a discussion of nuclear energy. Neither has a greater intelligence, necessarily, it’s all about the environment. The best we can often do is try to adapt to our surroundings but the surroundings must be open to this.

I went to Anderson’s Market the other day. It was work, I had to. How do you get there? Well, mostly by accident. You can’t find this place on purpose, unless you happen to be one of those that just happen to live within a mile of this vortex of weirdness.

It’s in the South, a little west of here and a little right of there. You go to watchamacallit and take the twisty turny around the lumber yard and past the junk piles that might be yards if only they had houses, but the scrawy cats seem to be happy. Go about four miles to where the used store once was and turn right just beyond it on rte. 497- if the sign hasn’t been stolen. Go about six miles and turn just before Pickett’s pond if it hasn’t dried up and follow that past the fourth church to the left and veer to the right and after you see the five cows on the right you should start to feel the vibes. If you have GPS, you’ll just get a screen saver.

By the time you see the market, you’re not even sure of what state you’re in, let alone what county. The store sits at the juncture of three roads. I have sought escape on them all, totally by guess as no maps show these roads. In every case, I have been lost for hours and came out where it seemed quite impossible. And I’ve never been able to trace the same route twice.

The colours and designs of the houses run anywhere from 1904 to 1970, as do the automobiles and people. I don’t believe they ever escape. Anyone, aything. Whatever they need must be procured from Anderson’s or done without.

When you get close, you notice the people, like zombies, walking numb and faceless across the roads of no escape. You notice the dogs walking down the middle of the road in drunken sway and wonder how many breeds it took to finally arrive at this combobulation. You can’t help but feel the same about the people, except in reverse, how few.

The woman who runs the place could give Freddy Krueger the jitters. She’s built like a Sherman tank and looks like she could toss one over her shoulder. Every male stutters in her presence and even I do if I can’t avoid her, which I greatly try to do. I once tried to collect a check from her for an overdue balance. She leaned forward, scowled and slammed a large knife down into the ancient wood counter.

“I don’t think so.” She hissed through fat lips and bottomless eyes, and I backed off in terror.

I try to tell the sons or brothers or cousins or whatever they might be of why I’m here and their slack-jaw look let’s me know I am failing. I talk to the patriarch and he pretends to understand. This I appreciate and milk wildly until the udder goes flat. Nobody smiles. Nobody talks in complete sentences-only dull grunts.

When I got there the other day, they were trying to unload a trailer with their ancient fork truck. The only way it would start was if it was pulled in reverse by their pick up truck. And if you put it in reverse, it would die. So Cousin Jed would put the forks into the pallet and stall. Daddy Joe would hook up a chain and pull Jed backwards across the lot until it started. Then do the whole thing again on the next pallet. Many stood and watched in the parking quite impressed by their ingenuity as the flies circled in boredom.

I watched this and thumbed-up as if they had just solved the mystery of the origins of the universe, and wondered if they knew who the president is and if the country might be at war. Then you wonder if they even wonder at all. Everything is done so mechanical and methodical; scratch your ass, hike your pants, wipe your nose. You wonder if they are happy and if they know the difference. They have a way of making you feel stupid and of wanting to become a zombie to fit in. By the time you leave, you don’t know who you are and why, and they look at you like you might be Amelia Earhart stopped by for a donut on her way to Fiji. Maybe they just wonder what it’s like in my world and why was I such a stupid ass and could I even tie my own shoes.

I turn the radio on and NPR reminds me that it’s 2009 and complete sentences are acceptable. I honk to the dogs stumbling down the road and wonder what they think and if they have thoughts of Anderson’s Market.

just a name
and a store
in a land forgotten
and a people forsaken

storms don’t even bother
to dull a sun
no one understands
and lightning sleeps
where thunder stutters
to her fat ugly footsteps

the same three hundred bucks
over and over
the same Christmas
over and over
the same thoughts
over and over

a dollar a quart
a half for a gallon
screws without heads
and nails with no point

have you any gas
for nowhere to go?
and a map
for paper stars
and nickel moons?

is tomorrow
in 1942
yesterday today
in 1975?

in the land of the blind
the one-eyed man
is king

at Anderson’s Market
only the drunken dogs
make sense.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I found myself at college the other day. If this sounds vague, it’s because I found myself once again merely a spectator to another’s dance. My Son will be starting his freshman year in August and this was the orientation. His orientation. A day for testing, getting to know and of belonging- or at least the beginning of a belonging. My day for such initiations and the opportunity for such had long since past. Or so I thought.
There wasn’t much for parents to do but beam and pat, if you’re the beam and pat type, which I’m not. So I watched, and wondered at my own chances gone by.
I watched a young girl who seemed only sixteen at most, but who bounced her two-year old child on her knee as only a mother can do as she listened to the speaker. I talked with her. I played with her son and he with my keys. I liked them both. God how I pray and hope for these two so now alone in the universe and trying to find a way beyond the entrapment of statistics.
I watched the other usual suspects with a lifted brow. The slouching beats that know their way around Gears Of War but can they navigate chemistry? The Heather type who can carry the homecoming dance but can she charm calculus? The chubby kid with the math t-shirt who finally feels beyond the torture of those that cannot follow him here. He hopes.
You see, this is not your typical kegger college. Those that come here come because they want to learn and need a way. Only eighteen percent of applicants got in and those that do are poor and get a free ride. Yep, no one here pays tuition and they’re not gonna waste it on Beevis and Butthead. The kegger college is ten miles up the road. I know because that’s where I went during a break to load up at the liquor warehouse.
But I also came across someone I didn’t expect to find among the usual lot. She graduated from high school in 1980. Got married, moved a lot, had kids, got divorced and in between, spent thirty years in retail. She now was a manager at Wal-Mart. She pushed her daughter (hard, maybe too so) to come to this college and said daughter did, with a lift from her 28 on the ACT. But after one year, Lover boy came along and college seemed so unnecessary and so time consuming. Mom could only feel sick as she watched history repeat itself.
So Mom, with help from ACT for dummies, thought she might rewrite a small piece of history herself. Now here she was, having to quit her job and sell her house and going off to college. Psychology she thinks, but she’s not sure. Said daughter couldn’t believe dumb old mom could get a 25 on the ACT’s or would have the guts to do anything about it.
Mom, because I never learned her name though she wore a tag, believed it was all from God- that Daughter was never supposed to go to this college. That it was all part of the process to Mom’s reinvention. I didn’t argue. I believed right along with her, because I wanted to.
She didn’t know what would happen and if it would all play out as she hoped and also, she felt so out of place. But she had hope and I blew on that hope wanting to see it rise in the oven of dreams.
You see, this woman, this mom, was going to bat for so many of us, and she was swinging for the fence. She was showing us of second chances and how life doesn’t have to end bitterly when agreements and vows do. She was telling how it’s never too late and screw the nay Sayers. She was saying it’s OK to push all your chips in to the one big hand and let it ride and laugh out loud if you bust. She was gonna room with some eighteen year-old Heather and try to carry calculus. She was gonna have a second life because she wasn’t all that crazy about her first one. Parts of it anyway.
I wish you could have seen her excitement, her fear, her hope, and the light in her eyes that had faded dim so long ago finding ember once more. Yes, there was fear too, but a good kind of fear, a new kind of fear that would not rule over her but that she would wear as a spur. It was contagious, I’m telling you. I’m rooting for her. Aren’t you?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Death On The Horizon

I’ve lived long enough now, that I’ve known my share that have passed on from this life. I find myself trying to understand those that have been given fair warning their time is close at hand. I had a neighbor, Virginia, a dozen or so years ago that found herself feeling sluggish. She lived alone in a trailer and loved to garden. All her joy seemed to come from the small gifts she could garner from her yard.
One day she went to the doctor. From then on, she had cancer. The day before, she had simply been tired. Go figure.
Suddenly her days became a journey to the city for the treatments she now had to have in order to sustain and extend her life.
Within a week, an old skeleton wearing floppy skin lived in Virginia’s trailer. Nature, her only joy, no longer mattered. Only being at the hospital by eight o’clock for the magic serum. But there was no magic serum.
Within a month of diagnosis, Virginia no longer existed, only a trail of criss-crossing scars and the scent of death. I went to check on her one morning and she didn’t answer the door. In I went and there she was on the floor. Not dead but close enough. She went to the hospital that day and never returned.
I don’t pretend to know what might have happened had she decided not to put herself under the care of those that certainly meant well, but it could only have been better. Worse didn’t exist.
A year ago, a different neighbor in now a different part of the country was told he had six months to live. He believed it and that belief made it so. For years I would pass him on my way home and he would give a big sweeping wave and smile as I passed. There isn’t much I can truly count on, but I could always count on him being on his porch.
I only saw him one more time on that porch after the verdict was given. I stopped to say hello. Finally. Ain’t that the way?
He told me in excited breaths between bloody coughs that he really didn’t feel that bad-almost with hope. They had pumped him full of steroids and said good luck. He spent his days now going to Wal-Mart, he said, and walking around the store for exercise. All his previous joy had been found in his chair on the porch waving and looking over the valley. He chose to spend his few remaining days walking the shit I call Wal-Mart. I was confused.
“ Maybe they were wrong,” I said.
“ No, they knew their business,” he said.
Turns out he was right.
I wonder what I would do, or will do upon hearing the news so many of my acquaintances have heard. Easy to say when it’s hypothetical. I wonder if I really want to know in advance, if it really would be a blessing.
When I was young, my mantra was that I didn’t want to live beyond fifty. Guess who’s fifty. Paul McCartney asked, “Will you still need me, when I’m sixty-four?” Heather said no.
What I want to do today is live my life as fully as possible. Chew it to the bone and then chew the bones. I may live forty more years or I may live forty more minutes. The same could be said of a twenty year old. I lost three friends who were teenagers in a car wreck I could have been in if not for a mind change.
I also know that I have to balance the rest of the universe with my own wants. This is not so easy a thing to do.
I wish Virginia had stayed in her garden. I wish the old man had held to his porch and felt the cool breeze on his face rather than the cold lights of Wal-Mart. Perhaps from them I’ve learned that moments lived are more precious than sickness extended. But that’s just me. We’ll see.