Again, again, and again…

Today is Just a Page

The marks have no moral,
they know no stories,
nor me or mine,
no memories surfacing
in the quiet of the day’s ebb
haunting and mocking what can’t
be changed by dreams,
they are carried along
as the wave of the page turns slowly
to the next leaving anyone
reading to wonder
who writes this way,
not how but why;
and the way the words go
becomes a prophecy
because it is a path
leading to another nowhere
ready to mean something,
to be noticed
and maybe even remembered
enough to justify
a child’s plea to read it again,
again, again, and again.

 

 

When writers fail at being writers…

8hSdXHUOWriters Fail – A Confession

It’s simple as an aphorism –
writers fail because we write of
who we want to be
unconsciously trying to blot out
who we really are;
I take it from my failures
as a writer this is true of me,
so I wish to offer a true 

and unvarnished confession
on behalf of writers everywhere,
and it reads as follows:

“I (who ever that is) freely confess,
under no coercion whatsoever,
save that of desperately hoping
to be successful as a writer,
that heretofore (as in, since
whenever cursed moment I dreamed
I could write something so that
others would call me a writer)
have lied to myself and those
who suffered through my pages
of fanciful fabrications
wherein fiction was forced
into fiction that would not fit,
and all such alliterations
attempting to allude the
aphorism about fiction and
reality or reality and fiction
attributable to Camus, Emerson,
Woolf, and it appears,
every successful writer who
has an opinion on the matter;
I write fictions of my own life
because I’m lost and think
that with words that are not
my own I will find better words
and a better life than my own;
I thus apologize with all
sincerity until such time as
I begin another memoir
of someone I am not and
could never hope to be.”

Amen.

 

The Purple Phantom and other stories…

imageThis is yet another short part of my manuscript on the fictional lives of real people living in a real place I completely made up called Elizabeth, Illinois.

(Like, tweet, retweet, post, copy, follow, forward and/or tell two friends they really must read this.)

 

When Pastor Webber arrived Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were standing in front of the room, talking to each other and occasionally ordering obedient silence from the kids. Pastor Webber’s entrance was obvious, but needed to be officially announced by the leaders, but not until they consulted the clock and calculated twenty-five minutes left until they planned to serve a snack. You can tell them a story, or do a Bible lesson, Mrs. Jenkins said, and You’ve got twenty five minutes, and They’re all yours, were their final words.

He sat down, in front of the dozen and a half faces, most of them wearing a defiant look –a We dare you to get us to listen, kind of look. He was no Janice Reynolds –he knew that, Mrs. Jenkins knew that, Mrs. Winters knew that, and Janice’s sister Beth knew that, and there was no display board, no hidden picture, no black light resting in anticipation. Just a middle-aged man wearing jeans, running shoes, and a flannel shirt unbuttoned and untucked with a gray t-shirt showing.

Have you ever heard of the Purple Phantom? was how he started. Two or three kids shook their heads No in a disinterested way. Ever heard of the boy named Ralph? was the next question, and again they shrugged No.

Well, Ralph was about ten years old, and in school one day, in the middle of world studies and something about a map and culture and far-away places his teacher asked if anyone had any questions. Ralph raised his hand, Yes Ralph? Well, I have a question, but it’s not about those people. Go ahead, ask your questions Ralph. It’s kind of silly, Ralph said, and the teacher quickly responded, There’s no reason to be afraid of asking questions, and turning to everyone in the room he added, There are no silly questions.

What is your question Ralph? Well, I heard something about something and, I didn’t understand, so, um…, and I was wondering something, and, um…, and the teacher impatiently blurted out, What’s your question Ralph?! O…kay, the boy shyly said, I wanted to know about, ummm…, the, uhm…, the Purple Phantom.

With that the teacher’s mouth made a gasping sound, his throat choked, eyes flashed anger and meanness and without hesitating marched to the door, threw it open and ordered Ralph to Leave at once, Go straight to the Principal’s Office, and hurried the shocked boy with Go, Right Now! Go! Young man! And he left, leaving the room in shocked silence. The teacher slammed the classroom door behind Ralph as he sulked down the hall.

Ralph, what are you doing here, was the secretary’s question. I’m in some kind of trouble, he answered. Well, you’re such a good boy, what happened, the secretary asked. When he said he didn’t know, she cajoled him, Oh, come now, what on earth could you do to get you sent here? We were doing World Studies and teacher asked if anyone had questions, and I said I did and then I got kicked out of class and he told me to come here. The secretary knew he’d left something important out of his account and said, What was it? Ralph said, He asked in anyone questions, and I said it was probably silly and he said There are no silly questions, and I didn’t mean to get in trouble or cause trouble and I don’t know what happened and I got sent here. You mean you were Sent here, don’t you Ralph, and he admitted his poor grammar. What was your question? And Ralph didn’t want to answer, he was afraid and said so, but the secretary assured him that unless it was inappropriate, he was free to repeat his question to her and she just wanted to know what had happened. I said that I was wondering about…, well…, and the secretary blurted out, For goodness sake what was your question Ralph? and he said, I wanted to know about the Purple Phantom.

At that the secretary jumped from her chair and grabbed for Ralph’s collar, roughly pulling him toward the Principal’s door, dragging him behind her as she burst through the door interrupting the Principal who was talking on the phone and hurriedly said, I’ll have to get back to you, something’s come-up here…thank you, and he hung up the phone with a shocked expression on his face. What’s the meaning of this? he blurted out speaking to the secretary but looking at Ralph with a face of both anger and indignation, and with that Pastor Webber’s own face was scrunched-up in a contorted fashion that several of the younger kids mimicked and everyone was listening now. Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were standing in the doorway mumbling back-and-forth, looking at the kids, then at Pastor Webber, with their faces scrunched-up in a contorted fashion

The secretary wouldn’t let go of Ralph’s collar and he was hanging there with his heels off the ground, his shirt pulled up into his throat, and his head cocked as he strained against her grasp. That’s enough, the principal said, Let Ralph go. She reluctantly released him, and said, It’s horrible, just horrible. What on earth is wrong?! Ralph just didn’t know what was happening, and he was shocked, and shook his head and shrugged his shoulders (and a few more kids joined-in with Pastor Webber’s shrug). Tell him, young man, tell him! the secretary demanded and the Principal looked straight at Ralph who hung his head and didn’t want to speak. Tell him! she yelled again, and he jumped, and so did the Principal.

I don’t know! Ralph responded quickly, I don’t know what’s wrong, I just asked a question and everyone got mad at me! and Ralph was just confused. Now, young man, that doesn’t sound likely, the Principal said in a deep, official voice, but Ralph just shook his head (and almost all the kids, except the older ones, were shaking their heads, and Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were shaking their heads, but with a hint of disapproval). And the Principal said, Tell me…ask me your question Ralph, and he hesitated but answered, Well, I was in class and we were doing World Studies and the teacher asked if any of us had a question and I raised my hand, and the Principal was listening and encouraging Ralph and saying Yes…, yes…, and…, And, Ralph said, I asked a question, and he stopped. The Principal was waiting, and waiting, and Ralph didn’t want to keep going. Well…? Well, I asked about…, About what? the Principal insisted. I asked about the Purple Phantom, Ralph said quickly. And with that the Principal’s face turned red, the secretary huffed something, and Ralph ducked as if he would be struck. Get out! Get out of this school, right this minute, and the Principal pointed toward the door, and Go home young man, and the secretary grabbed Ralph’s collar again and roughly pushed him toward the door and out into the hallway before shoving him toward the exit doors.

Ralph walked and then ran out the doors into a cold day and started for home. Along the way he avoided people walking by him, and refused to answer when asked Shouldn’t you be in school young man? by a woman. He was scared and cold and he ran the rest of the way home and into his front door.

Ralph, is that you? his mother called to him from the basement, and Ralph finally felt safe and ran to her, hugging her around the waist. What’s the matter? she asked, and he didn’t want to answer. After a few minutes, after some milk, after some distractions, his mom persuaded him to talk to her, and sitting next to him on the living room couch Ralph started to recount how they’d been in World Studies, and the teacher asked if there were any questions, And all I did was ask a question, Ralph said. Oh, Ralph, there must be something else; you can’t get expelled from school for asking a simple question. But I did, that’s all I did, Ralph said, I just asked a question about the Purple Phantom. At that his mother jumped to her feet and screamed in horror, Go to your room young man, and you’ll wait until your father gets home! And Ralph ran to his room and threw himself on his bed.

Hours later Ralph heard the front door open and close, he heard his mother’s voice, he heard a quiet discussion, and then the sound of his father coming up the stairs and toward his room. The door swung open and Ralph’s father said, What on earth did you say to your mother that’s got her so upset, young man?! and he sat down on the bed next to Ralph. The boy began to recount the story. His father didn’t believe him –that all Ralph did was ask a question, What was the question? He didn’t want to answer, he was scared and he knew nothing good could come of his answer, but he talked about all kinds of things with his father and he hoped that if he told him he would understand. When Ralph finally said, I asked about he Purple Phantom, his father put his head in his hands and began to shake. It seemed like an hour but it was just a few seconds of silence until his father stood up, and looked the other way, drew a breath and spoke slowly and purposefully, You – are – no – longer – my – son – Get – out – of – this – house – and – never – return! When Ralph said in disbelief, What? his father repeated himself and pointed toward the door. A minute later Ralph was standing on the sidewalk in front of his house and his mother and father had slammed the front door and Ralph heard the lock click (and at the Click! Pastor Webber made, several children jumped in their seats as if startled, and Beth Reynolds, who had returned just before the sound, had a quizzical look on her face).

Well…, and Pastor Webber exhaled in frustration, Ralph began to wander and wander until he came to a remote place, off a road, near a river, with no one around him; he sat down and began to cry. Without realizing it, a man had walked up behind Ralph and stood there quietly while the boy wept. Ralph jumped in fear when he sensed the man nearby, but the man said nothing. He just stood near and waited for Ralph to speak (and Pastor Webber sat, quietly as if copying the man, and the kids were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting, while Mrs. Winters looked like she was about to cry). The man finally asked, What is wrong? and Ralph was afraid to respond. He had been through so much, from his teacher, the secretary, the Principal, his own mother and father, and all for a silly question. The man just stood calmly waiting until Ralph in frustration and anger that he was Expelled and disowned all because he asked a stupid question! to which the man said, Tell me the question, maybe I can help you. No, Ralph said, No you won’t help me, no one is helping me. Trust me, I am different, the man offered.

Well, Ralph had nothing left to lose, and although he was afraid he decided he that telling this stranger could bring nothing worse than he’d already suffered, Pastor Webber said. And so, he walked right up to the man and lifted his chin proudly and spoke (and Pastor Webber’s face was lifted and he noticed Mrs. Winters lifted her chin with him), I am just a small boy but I asked a question that has caused me all my troubles, and the question was…, and Ralph hesitated, trying to understand the man’s face and guess his what his response would be…, and Ralph blurted out quickly, I asked about the Purple Phantom. With that he almost ducked, expecting the same reaction he’d received from every other adult, and braced himself for the worst.

But the man said nothing and made no reaction. Instead, he calmly said, That is a good question, and you’ll find your answer across the road behind you and find a small house with a swing in the front yard. Ralph was so surprised that he asked the man to repeat himself, and the man calmly said, Turn toward the road and look for a small house with a swing in the front yard. Ralph was in shock and the man simply turned and walked away from him in the opposite direction, across an open field. Ralph jumped when he realized he was free to move, free to find the house, free to have his question answered. He started to run along the roadside looking for the house, running and running and running, without becoming tired; he was excited and enthused and there…, right there, across the road up ahead was a small house, red brick, white windows and a swing was in the front yard, and Ralph could barely contain himself as he ran faster toward the house where he’d hear the answer to his question.

And then…, and then…, as he started across the street, with the house just in front of him, so close that he could make out the open front door as if he was being welcomed, as if he was expected…, just as he started across the street, SMACK, Ralph was killed by a speeding truck (and Pastor Webber clapped his hands together and everyone was startled, and even Beth Reynolds jumped in the doorway to the kitchen, and Mrs. Winters and Mrs. Jenkins clasped their hands to their mouths with a gasp). And before anyone could object, or say anything at all, Pastor Webber stood and said, And the moral of the story is, Look both ways before crossing the road.

And with that Pastor Webber walked right past all the kids, past Mrs. Winters and Mrs. Jenkins and Beth Reynolds, up the stairs, out the front door of the church and across the yard to the Parsonage to help Debbie with dinner. And the kids ate their snacks right on time.

Unlikely poets and their poetry…

poetWhat frightens you the most?

A blank page?

Deadlines?

Words that don’t rhyme?

Noise?

Quiet?

Aspacebarthatdoesn’twork?

What Isn’t There
How many a writer or poet has been ruined
by reading Thoreau’s Walden only to retreat
to her own obscure pond and wait for those
pronounced feelings of nature, god and life,
perched before a blank page, ready to write
infamous words that will change everything
about seeing the sunrise, or a low moon,
the seasonal wrenching of life from death,
or death from life in the anonymous vacuum,
only to end a long, lonely day exhausted
and uninspired by the page called life
with no words to express what isn’t there.

Jack the Poet
Under a bag of old Marshall Field’s boxes,
and on top of a Kodak Carousel projector
tucked in the dark corner of her garage,
all dusty and crawling with dry creatures
is a stack of black binders – four total, dated
and numbered in hindsight 1/4, 2/4, 3/4
and the final, penultimate volume 4/4
of Jack’s poetry – Short Poems on Life
he titled them, by her Dad – Jack, obviously,
typed out with errors and corrections
on that onion-skin paper they used,
complete with a table of contents and
page numbers, so I counted 628 poems
of Jack’s life’s work of thoughts on life
from a man who drove a truck everyday
drank a beer as soon as he arrived home
liked to tinker with model trains some
and somehow over his entire adult life
wrote poems (the rhyming kind) about
everything from his boots to beer to
bosses to friends to family and the boy
he never had to what he wanted to be
when he was a kid to snow and rain to
how stop signs worked to women drivers
and back home at the end of each day,
and I turned each page carefully and
thought that I was the only one to look
at Jack’s Short Poems on Life since he
lost his memory, his wife, his pants
on several occasions, and even his
model trains that would chug and chug
around a modest oval in the basement
for hours and hours, sometimes deep into
the night – two or three – in the dark
except for the tiny lamp of the engine and
the red lantern of the caboose as he
sat on a stool wearing a engineer’s
cap and his pajamas.

Morbid, serious, and in between…

There’s an important difference between morbid and serious.

In an effort to seem serious it is easy (too easy, I confess) to hide behind sounding morbid which gives morbid a bad name.

Being morbid is more than sad and depressed – morbid is an art form, practiced by poets, enjoyed by readers, which can easily divide personalities. Seriousness is a conservative refusal to be influenced by happiness or sadness, while being morbid embraces a disturbing, sometimes unhealthy interest in death, discomfort or what the serious call abnormal. I’m fine with the abnormal, and most poets actually, often not so secretly, enjoy that abnormal we all try to avoid about being morbid.

IMG_5828

During some casual dialogue a morbid friend said to a serious friend in the company of a happy friend (with me just there to be me): ‘All children are depressed.’

And that got us talking. My serious friend nodded in agreement (unhappy childhood maybe?), the typically happy friend politely disagreed (but she paused first, which for her happy-self indicated some uneasiness), and I immediately started to jot down ideas.

When I was a child,
my mother found me
sitting on the edge
of my own bed,
feet flat on the floor,
shoes untied,
I was bent over at the waist,
head in my hands,
crying softly
and she didn’t ask why.

When friends ask, “Is that you?” or “Is that how you really feel?!” I can honestly reply, ‘Well, that’s how hearing the words “All children are depressed” made me feel, and that’s poetry.’

Not all poetry is autobiographical. Most poets are cowards living off the grief of others, confusing the serious for the morbid in the manipulative ploy of trying to make others cry. It really doesn’t take much to make someone else cry: children’s hospitals, an infant’s casket, a parent’s death, loneliness (at night, in particular)… those are all the morbid ‘top hits’ of prompts.

I drive by a prompt every day – a children’s hospital:

Just up my street a bit,
far enough but too close
children are taken
for miracles in misery,
last tries before rites,
wheeled in and out
with charts longer
than their years
and time enough to be
cried over after another,
and another,
and another diagnosis
before the final one
that they accepted
long before their family;
it’s a place with a big
empty parking lot
for the few visitors,
where parents make
like a home, necessarily,
tell stories of wishes
others call prayers,
and the children read
Charlotte’s Web
with appreciation.

When a friend’s child died after a life-long illness (and life-long is just eight years), I wrote this for her… for me…

It never occurred to us
that you’d be so quickly gone,
so quickly stolen away, too soon,
too young, too sick to stay.

From that young Billy boy
all toothless grins, always bouncy,
never still, never quiet, until
asleep finally, until morning.

Mama’s baby boy, her
favorite, her only, her child
of tireless days, tireless plays,
tireless dreams of joy.

And now you’re gone,
gone too soon, gone to where
bouncy Billy’s go to be young,
to be true, to sleep until morning.

She didn’t ask me to write this; nobody asks someone to write about their child like this.

But it creates a place in between; that’s where poetry – this type of poetry – lives and dies and lives again – betwixt. I think its realm is childhood, and the fast, fleeting disconnect we either ignore and suppress or embrace and celebrate.

By the way, if you’ve read to the end you might enjoy learning more about a poetry publishing campaign – Poetry Doesn’t Publish Itself at http://www.gofundme.com/callahanpoetry