The Avian Approach To Salvation (#poem)

FB_IMG_1559921327758.jpgWriters often wax poetic over birds
Soaring, gliding, touching the sun,
Portending trouble, and eating their weight daily.

I’m more interested, though,
In the birds that appear to suddenly fall
From the sky without plan or purpose.
On a few occasions, I have thought a bird
Died suddenly in flight and came crashing
To earth only to see it open its wings at the last
Moment and land safely next to a worm or morsel of bread.

I’m relieved to see them touch down without so much as
A ruffled feather, and I begin to think that I may
Be just as lucky and find wind beneath my wings
At the last possible second.

Perhaps what feels like a free fall at the moment
Is my own weight carrying me to my destiny
Or some small nourishment.

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The Sad Solipsism of Suicide by Cop (#fiction #prose)

black rifle

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IV

It’s not like I was his confidante or anything. It’s just that I did know him and talk to him from time to time, and I didn’t expect to hear anything about him on the news. But there he was.

A white teenager with reasonable grades from a “good” (meaning middle class, of course) family and neighborhood goes off the rails and does something crazy. And there were people on the TV saying how they were completely shocked. They never expected anything like that. It was totally out of character.

I mean this was way before “normcore” was a thing, but he was one of those guys with plenty of money and everything who just wanted to blend in and not bring any attention to himself. If he had any interest in fashion or trends, you couldn’t prove it by looking at him.

So I never gave him much thought until out of the blue they’re on TV saying some fool robbed a McDonald’s with a sawed-off shotgun and then kept pointing the rifle at the cops. They shot him in the leg and he fell and sort of slithered backwards into a cleaning closet all the while keeping that gun pointed at the cops. Anyone other than a middle-class white kid never would have made it that far, but couldn’t have lasted much longer. Texas cops run out of patience with guns pointed in their direction in short order, even when racism and classism aren’t factors.

So he died a bloody death in a hail of bullets, which must have been what he wanted. I couldn’t ask him, but it sounded just like what this other guy I met later said. Little Joey, the boxer, was always going on about how he’d show ’em some day. Joey would often wax poetic about dying on his front porch, surrounded by well-armed cops, shooting indiscriminately at them until he got blown to smithereens from all directions.

I lost touch with Joey, so I don’t know if he ever fulfilled his dream, but I did see a picture of him kneeling down with his fist in the air in front of a regiment of cops in LA. He made it into the LA newspaper and he didn’t even have to die for the privilege. I think his tri-colored Mohawk and metal spikes caught the attention of the photographer, but I can only guess, because I wasn’t there.

Some people just want to die impressively, but I never saw the point. Do they think they’ll be looking up from Hell, nudging their buddies, and saying, “Yeah, I really showed those cops a thing or two”?

On the other hand, I guess it’s better than how many of us die—in a hospital with no loved ones around, no control of bodily functions, and with little awareness of who anyone even is. But how does that matter, either? You go and then you’re gone. It’s simple and I decided a long time ago to stop fussing around about it.

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The Lustful Ignominy of Death (#prose #fiction)

man wearing blue dress

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III

The funeral was a real shit show. The deceased considered himself Christian, make no mistake about that, but his religious practice was quiet at best. He was sort of a non-practicing Methodist—just enough faith to count when he got to the other side, in case anyone was keeping score, but nothing more. Loud displays of devotion or, well, almost anything, made him uncomfortable. Maintaining decorum was paramount to him.

Can we just say he came from humble roots and wanted to keep his unrefined past buried? That’s why he’d been careful to lead a life of quiet dignity for the most part. When you’re a retired military officer, people give you a bit of respect, anyway, and he maintained a stable marriage and a reasonable display of material comforts for a few decades.

But sometimes aging men want to grab onto what they think they’ve been denied, and he saw the death of his first wife as an opportunity to indulge his long-denied carnal nature. When she died, he announced rather solemnly that he would take a year to grieve and then look for a young companion with “big tits.” And I guess he pretty much proved that you can achieve some of your goals with just a little patience and perseverance.

And so there she was—part trophy, part embarrassment. She was overtly sexual but also overtly evangelical. You might think of Tammy Faye Baker or something. Lots of makeup and tight clothes. You get the picture. And she went to one of those churches where people dance around and emote profusely. And of course no one would deny it was her right to choose the preacher for the funeral.

So you end up with all these retired professors, engineers, lawyers and so on sitting in amazed silence as this preacher says of the deceased, “I tried to think what he would want, and I realized he would want me to preach.” An hour of shouted invocations and praises followed with discomfort settling over the audience like a heavy fog.

So the man who spent a lifetime seeking quiet decorum was sent to the other side with all the subdued dignity of a summer tent revival. Due to separate circumstances, he was also sent to the afterlife with a cigarette between his lips and missing the ring he was wearing when the body was prepared for burial. Apparently his son thought he deserved the ring and that the cigarette was somehow appropriate to the occasion, and maybe he was right. Who am I to say?

 

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Awkward Beginnings and Assorted Insecurities (#fiction)

man sitting near fence

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II

He wasn’t a virgin. He had definitely had sex more than once before and with more than one person, which was just another way of saying she was the third person on his sexual resume. He had enough experience to know where to put what and so forth, but things had never moved quite so quickly before. She was almost a stranger, even if they had talked in class from time to time.

To be fair, it wasn’t like she just threw him in bed and jumped on him. She invited him for pizza first, then she drove him to the park for a walk in nature. At the park, they sat in the grass on the slope of a kind of ditch, and he was lost in his thoughts, because that was where he spent most of his time. He was sort of staring into the distance, but he wasn’t looking at anything, really, when he felt a light kiss on the back of his neck.

She apologized for being so forward and said she didn’t generally do that. If she’d been more honest, she would have told him that anytime she’d sat in the grass with a man before, he had immediately put her hand on his crotch, so she wasn’t accustomed to having to get things started herself. A lot of women don’t meet the quiet boys, the non-sex-crazed boys, the shy boys, or the timid boys because those boys don’t meet a lot of women. If you think about it, it seems obvious.

But back at his room, she just expected to move straight to the bed, and that took him by surprise. Of course, he didn’t know that she’d taken some amount of speed earlier and was sort of buzzing around, not really in a relaxed mood, if you get my drift. She got the speed above board, more or less, because doctors are always willing to prescribe it for weight loss. They feel sorry for the chubby girls and want to do their part to help them be more desirable.

So that’s how you end up with a pretty well withdrawn young man going at it with a even-less-inhibited-than-usual somewhat chubby woman pretty much screaming and laughing as if she forgot they were in a fourplex with old and uninsulated walls. He felt embarrassed and awkward, but she didn’t seem to notice, so never mind. She was just in a routine, and he was out of his comfort zone. We don’t always end up where we expect to be, do we?

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Living a Life of Social Acceptability (#fiction)

woman sitting on ground

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I really don’t think you’re in any position to judge. I mean, she had a hard day and you don’t know what she’d been going through. For that matter, you don’t know a damned thing about what her life was like. What she’d already been through and all that. You have no idea, so what she did with her afternoons might be perfectly understandable, except to a bunch of prudes or something. I don’t know, maybe you’re not a prude, and I’m just being too defensive of her for some reason.

Whatever, she had a hard day, like most of them, and she just wanted to unwind, and unwinding meant she’d go see Jim and get a little weed, because Jim always had a little weed on hand, and a few hits off the bong would just do the trick. Of course, a visit to Jim would take most of the afternoon as he’d want to set the mood with a little Neil Young—it was always Neil Young, even if she’d have preferred Bob Marley or something, but a little Neil Young in the background is really nothing to complain about, especially if you really need a couple of hits off the bong. And let’s face it, that’s what this is all about.

Of course, after some Neil Young in the background, a couple of hits off the bong, and some time to relax, some people get a little horny, and Jim was likely to expect something for getting that cheap but quality grass and being hospitable and everything. And he wasn’t so horrible in bed, even with the bad leg and all. I mean, he wasn’t selfish or mean or anything. He just got to business and took care of himself, which is okay if you can focus, and a little pot does help to focus, so you can sort of do your own thing while Jim takes care of himself. That’s the great thing about marijuana: two people can do their own thing and take care of themselves without really feeling lonely for a while.

It’s like the self-loathing takes a break for a minute, and you can just take it easy. Or, maybe she wouldn’t have thought of it that way, but you know, in hindsight, we see things differently. Anyway, I’m sure she and Jim just did what they needed to do to get by, and it’s none of your business or mine why they lived the way they did. That’s what we’re all doing, really, just trying to get by. And I don’t know why I’m defending them, either, as I had nothing to do with any of it, but that’s how it went down that day.

That’s how it went down at least once or twice a week. Purely business, you see. Business with benefits, or something like that. Outside of these encounters, they didn’t really socialize. I don’t know how many other similar arrangements Jim might have had, but I reckon he was harmless enough, and the cops never seemed to take notice of him on account of how quiet he was, so he really presented a good situation overall. You know, for someone who just needed to take the edge off from time to time.

So she went there and got what she needed, and you can imagine that might take a couple of hours at least, so it was dark when she got home. It would probably be a good time to study, but sex and smokes can make a girl a little hungry, so she’d be starting a pizza for sure. And she would need some ice cream for after, but, wait, no ice cream, unless she could be bothered to make an impromptu visit to the Piggly Wiggly.

So that pretty much explains this particular series of events. That’s why she drove to the grocery store in her bare feet. That’s why she was being quiet but also feeling relaxed and a little friendly, which might explain why she felt confident enough to flirt with the guy trying to get some pecan praline ice cream out of the freezer. At that moment, she just wasn’t in the mood to worry about anything, and he didn’t seem the least bit scary.

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The Peace of Stoicism (#poem)

adult alone anxious black and white

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The Stoics all counsel the same.
Contemplate life and accept
Death without too much disruption.

They counsel the same when
You are overwrought, but
Flood you with a tsunami of tears
When their turn comes.

Seneca condemned his own sobs;
Confucius angrily defended his,
And I have forgiven them both.
Their failure is my comfort as my own
Tears pour over your last letter.

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A New Riddle of Induction (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 08.26.47We have such unfounded confidence that
The future will be like the past that
We are constantly disappointed in the
Present. The future betrays us daily.

So I can’t be blamed for thinking you’d
Be here still—as you always were.
Thousands of observations told me
You were a survivor and, besides,

You promised you’d never leave.
My imagination has expanded
Regarding the regularity of nature,
But I still look for you in the

Morning Light.

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Oscillating Opinions of Ozymandias (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-01 at 08.43.46I can no longer imagine
A lone traveller discovering
A trunkless tribute to
Ozymandias.

A contemporary sojourner
Would discover miles-long
Queues leading to a monument
Adorned with rubbish and graffiti.

Our seeker, surrounded by the
Selfish brandishing selfie-sticks
And unrestrained egocentrism,
Would only be repulsed by the
Living teeming mirror
In the desert.

A half submerged visage
Peers through piles of plastic
To invoke the ancient warning:

“Behold these works, indeed,
And do remember to despair.”

 

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Passive Voice (#poem)

silhouette of person standing near calm sea

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Feelings were set aside.
Fists were unclenched.
Tears were discreetly brushed away.

Energy was preserved.
Friendships were maintained.
Shadows were kept at bay.

Family were not alarmed.
Nothing was committed.
There wasn’t much to say.

Energy wasn’t depleted.
The fight wasn’t abandoned.
And no one was killed—today.

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Poetry Review: Eight Four: Poems on male suicide, vulnerability, grief and hope

Screenshot 2019-05-29 at 06.00.27If you love men (or even just one man) or you have an interest in male suicide, male depression, male vulnerability, sacrificial masculinity, toxic masculinity or just good poetry, I really think you should pick up a copy of the poetry anthology Eight Four: Poems on male suicide, vulnerability, grief and hope.

Poet, critic, and university lecturer Helen Calcutt launched and curated the anthology after losing her brother to suicide. Verve Poetry Press published the anthology with proceeds benefiting the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. The title of the anthology reflects the staggering statistic that suicide takes 84 men each week in the UK. The causes of suicide are many and varied, and you surely have your own opinions about prevention, but one paragraph from Helen Calcutt’s introduction stuck out for me:

“Women cry, men do not. Men hit women, women don’t hit men. Both examples of what we would consider a socially accepted norm, denies either party their natural complexity. Women do hit men, and though a violent and harmful act, it also highlights a particular type of vulnerability (perhaps a trauma too) that needs addressing. Men weep. It’s probably one of the deepest, moving sounds I have ever heard. Denying this as a normal attribute to male behavior, almost refuses them the bog-standard right to grieve, to shed a skin—to let it out.”

In the end, this is a book about grief but also hope. Many of the poems are from people who have experienced loss to suicide, some from those who experience or at least describe the feelings that lead to suicide, and some are about the possibilities for better lives and better approaches to male vitality.

I don’t want to quote or describe the poems as I think it takes from their power for the reader, but this book is not only for a great cause, it is great poetry. If you love poetry, you are likely to see names you recognise, but you may also be delighted to discover fresh talent. As you would expect, the poems are moving, but never maudlin or overly sentimental.

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