Thursday, March 31, 2005


someone's car alarm screams
interrupting my scream that
asks where are you

i miss you on this night that
i don't want you here

i need you to be the pillow
i hug to my belly,
my erection

that you would not accept

were you ever here

lost among the maze of books
that litters the spare room
where the cat plays and dis

your coffee cooling in the disaffected
gaze aimed at the closed window, your free hand
exploring your breast

the way you would
ignore me when i spoke then
later bury yourself in my chest, bathe
me in kisses then withdraw as though
we were two strangers who bumped one
another in a traffic of hurry

coming to me at night
with no look then taking
me like a prostitute

the sweat upon your brow

the terror in your eyes

the silence in your heart.

copyright 1998 or 1999. fuck, i don't know

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Swinging From a Crescent Moon

The Boy is only three and, like his father, marvels at the sight of a bright crescent moon. There’s something romantic, I think, about the crescent moon that the full moon lacks. There’s the sense that, could you reach it, you could swing freely from the downward handle, or recline in its inverted arch, or if you chose, sweep away the shadows and make it whole again. There is a specialness to the crescent moon’s incompletion. A hint of things to come, perhaps.

Monday, March 28, 2005

03.28.05, Late Recap

Take that halfday Friday. Haul ass from MetroCenter to Bellevue Center for a gift. Up Highway 70 to Temple Playschool for Mr. Emerson. Come in at 12:15p and all the kids are having lunch. He sits at a table by himself, eating—all the others at another table—and I am suddenly sad for him. But no need as he is fine. I make a mental note to speak with the teachers, stick it to the side. An obvious distraction to the children who are not Emerson, I excuse myself and step outside for five minutes. Routine is pretty important when you are three. Or older. Hands clasped Star Spangled Banner style behind my back, I lean against the wall in the miniature hallway. I look at artwork, Stars of David, snapshots, poorly scrawled first names like Josh and Josh and Jacob and Ben and then again Josh. I wonder sincerely if other people find my son as ugly as I find that lot in the classroom I’ve just left. Jesus, what a group of blank slates. They each sported a Randle Patrick McMurphy-like post electric-shock-therapy gaze that was painful to acknowledge. I felt the immediate urge to rip out the water fountain, toss it through the back plate glass window and free the little monsters. And then there’s my animated little ape dressed in Beefaroni and fruit cocktail running to greet me like he has two slipped discs and one leg shorter than the other. “DAAADDDDYYYY!!!!!!” Could there be anything better. I am certain No!

Get that Boy home and pack travel stuff and Saturday and Sunday stuff. Snacks. DVDs, books, a couple toys. For me, khakis, and jeans, and genie pants (man’s gotta sleep comfortably as he can in another’s house). Button down and polo. And when L. is finally here we add her stuff. And I get my Nikon and video camera. I’ll get booze when I get there. Fast food before we find interstate. Good Friday is code for “everybody in Tennessee meet at Sonic on Highway 70 at 2:00.” More traffic than I’ve ever seen leaving Nashville at one time. Better than an hour and a half to Monteagle. Two major wrecks in Atlanta. Avoid Panola Road!!! Accident!!! Extreme Delays!!! Two miles before Panola Road, we find a five car wreck minutes old. I am thankful for those fuckers that anyone walked away from it. I don’t see how that happened. Six weeks later we are destination successful and arrive in Aiken, South Carolina—just across the river from Augusta. Family has waited many hours past “decent folks'" bedtime for us. Uncle G. has made the trip several hours before us and has had the good nature and decency to have a handle of Makers Mark waiting for me. Good Night, Sweet Boy and where’s the ice?

And Saturday brings Great Grandpa R. and Gigi. (It was they who so graciously hosted us in Australia.) Showers and hangovers and trips to the beer store and the cigar store. And let’s get another bag of ice. My, aren’t the people dressed nicely for a Saturday? Sort of a vibe, eh?

And to the famed Steeplechase we go. And that becomes our Saturday. This renowned event I’ve heard of forever (this time over 30,000 strong) is—apparently—a giant collective act of tailgating with an occasional horserace to interrupt. There are clouds to start and the occasional mist. But later there is sunshine and my coy spring is upon us. Lovely. Warm. She’s missed me. And a car two spaces down plays North Mississippi Allstars and I feel a little better.

Uncle G. and I take a walk to the infield and there are thousands of us. In a line fifty people deep, I spot someone I’ve not seen in almost twenty years. Is it her? I stop and stare like a fool, a flutter in my chest. But then I turn and walk on with Uncle G. in search of liquor.

Back at the house, I drink some. I mostly spend time with The Boy while others reacquaint. I do not feel unwelcome, but feel more welcome alone. I am in bed at 11:39, a recent record.

Easter is a nice time for a non-Jewish Boy who spends most of his time at a Jewish daycare. He spots hidden eggs the same way he spots airplanes on a runway—“And dere’s one. And anudder one…” He finds a money egg and wants to go to the Dollar Store. Breakfast. Goodbyes to Great Grandpa and Gigi. Hosts rushing to get ready for church. I don’t get ready for church and then realize later that I was never invited. This makes me smile. Surely they know I would have politely declined. Perhaps I’ll start taking Em back to Saint Henry’s (or The Hank as I call it). It’s a comfortable church—whatever that means. And on the times I’ve been, it has been a welcome comfort. I could do worse than taking him there. But how I loathe hypocrisy, and I want to make sure I take him for the right reasons. And Digression. A quick trip to Augusta and Em gets to see Aunt Nae and Uncle Steve and Grandma and his day is complete.

Back to Aiken and dinner and awkward goodnights. And for the third night in a row, sleep is miserable. In the morning, the family greets their Monday routines as most of us do. Obligation owns us, no? Goodbyes and goodbyes. Gathering up and it is done. Aiken/Augusta Highway to the 5th Street Bridge where I notice for the first time since I was a child the remnants of a building that was once called The Riverside. I pause in my thinking and drive on. Riverwatch to I-20 and on. As we approach our exit in Nashville, we miss having a serious accident by inches. Three minutes from home. But miss it we did, and I made it home to see my cats and turn my Boy loose on his toys and his homeness.

I shower the weekend off of me, my eyes closed, scalding water rolling off me lukewarm.

I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed. Misshapen from not flipping, it fits me like a glove. I’ll get almost five hours before I awaken to shave, put in my eyes, shower, and face my day. I’ll drift off picturing Emerson on the shoulders of his grandfather, watching a field of magnificent beasts running for glory; running back to me yelling, “Daddy! Didja see ‘does horses?”

I did, Emerson. I did.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Blue on Red Posted by Hello

The Gloam, a Caesura of Day

At one point I seriously considered Graduate studies in Alaska. Primarily because I was fascinated with the thought of living for long periods in a perpetual dusk. How was it described to me—as light for half the year; dark for the other half? Always dim? I like very much the thought of dusk at all times. That is the time of day I feel most comfortable, most like me. Dusk to me suggests the successful completion of another day and the promise of night—which is always exciting. I approach dusk with something akin to the literary symbolism attached by many to the dawn.

The gloam—yes, of course. It is the gloam for me that is the most perfect part of a given day.

A friend of mind has started a novel set in Alaska. That, I suppose, is what has me thinking there. In addition to Graduate school, I also thought long and hard of taking a spot on a fishing boat out of Alaska. Fifty thousand dollars for less than six months work seemed about right to me. But the reality is that I couldn’t be less handy or suited for real work. I still do a victory lap when I manage to pump gas without soaking the side of the Jeep. And I know that job has ruined men far tougher than me. So the fishing boat remains but an old misplaced thought. As I get older though, I ponder, you know, I could do that. Then I fill up the Jeep and think again.

Truly, I don’t necessarily require a full time dusk. The Southern gloam is as fine as anything I could need. Tennessee has a nice twilight or sunset or whatever the fuck. It can be a good red, or blue, or orange, or simple bruise of things to come. Ours is no Key West or Miami or Colorado Springs or Albuquerque, but it is ours and I would run it in a competition and expect no less than Honorable Mention.

And that time of day is special if you let it be. It means cold beer on the porch. Sometimes a cigar—(if Ken hasn’t sent you a Cuban, then a CAO Gold Double Corona will do just fine). Sometimes wine—(if Rodney Strong isn’t available, then just about any other Pinot Noir will do). Sometimes a full-on Ryan Drink—which is possibly Makers but most likely Evan Williams with a splash. It means the perfect silence of non-silence. It is the happy squeals of children in the distance. Perhaps a train whistle. On a really good evening, it is the sound of cicadas (or as I prefer, katydids) whining loud all ‘round, driving everyone but you to madness. And it is during those times when it occurs to me, “Ok. Ok. I can do this. I can get through this thing.” Because when you put a day to bed you’ve really done something. You’ve made it. You’ve taken the world’s best shots and come out standing. You may be tired, battered, disillusioned, but you stood long enough so that you can enjoy sitting on the porch with a drink (or not) and listening to the silence we so often take for granted. And Goddamn, that’s a nice thing isn’t it?

And you sit there and let the stress go like rainwater. And you hear Tom Waits drifting to you through your open window. Or maybe for you it is Diane Schuur or Paganini or NWA or Taj Mahal or… But you sit there and begin to feel almost human. And you wonder who is it that fucks with you so as to put you through the ringer and then sees fit to reward you with such a pause, a caesura of day. But your wonder turns to gratitude and then something like love.

At least mine does.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Founding Member of The Emerson Street Crips Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005

(But That Only)

We pulled into Augusta after 11:00p Saturday. I was so very tired and hardly a decent travel companion for the Boy or Mom. Sullen, quiet, and childish when we were in standstill traffic for over an hour in Atlanta. All the nicest qualities you like to see in a father and son. And since I was bordering on exhaustion—I think, but have no real proof of it or reason for it—I’ll chalk it up to that. I like to think that those moments are the ones in which I excel. I make light of situations that are beyond my control and like to thwart the Gods by living my own father’s words and not sweating the small shit. On this night, though, I was an ass and there is little I can do about it now except chalk it up as a lesson and try not to be an ass next go ‘round. Hmmph!

I was so exhausted on Saturday night, in fact, that I unloaded the Jeep, put my darling, handsome Boy to bed, took advantage of my mother’s good nature, made a road drink, and went downtown. Classy! I took Sibley Road to Wrightsboro Road to Walton Way to Broad Street. A sucker for the strip club I first went to at seventeen, I circled the block and contemplated a drink at the Discotheque. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t stop. I turned back up Broad and parked off a side street behind Metro. I paid my cover, showed my ID (how flattering), and strode with purpose past the band and to the bar. Sierra Nevada on tap. I have always liked the place, but was not comfortable. At all. In the right mindset, I can be comfortable standing on my head in a hammock. But for reasons beyond me, I was uncomfortable—not self-conscious, but uncomfortable just the same. I stayed for my beer and then walked with purpose up a block to The Soul Bar. I paid a cover, politely squeezed by folks while walking the length of the bar, turned, re-squeezed, and left. I then tried Stillwater where I’d had luck before. Not so on Saturday. ID, no cover, walked in, left. Back to Metro, where I jumped back on a Sierra. I stood awkwardly for awhile against the bar and then found a hightop in the middle of the room that I latched to. Another Sierra Nevada and a Woodford (neat ) then back to my hightop. I enjoyed the band, a young inexperienced group that may one day make pretty good music. That’s my way of suggesting I may have enjoyed them enough to say they have potential. Ah, the snobbery of a man who knows what he likes. Their rendition of the Sanford & Son theme was priceless if only that it was unexpected. It made me smile. And since that was my first smile of the long day, I give the band credit. It got later and I had the rare good sense to call it a night.

It was but a short trip downtown. How could the evening have met my expectations when my expectations were never defined? But the deal is thus; I was looking for something and I didn’t find it on Saturday. I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps it was at the Discotheque, hidden between the breasts of the girl with the vacant stare. Perhaps it was beside one of the foolish people I had to squeeze by in the Soul Bar. Perhaps it was riding shotgun on the note of a delightful jazz song. Perhaps it is hidden still—which is what I suspect. But I was out, so that is something. I was amongst strangers but they were from home. So I will give them that (but that only).

Once home, I let myself inside, drank a glass of water, peed, shed my smoke-heavy clothes, and climbed into the bed I shared with my son. His breathing was slow and heavy. His lips were parted just so. His eyelashes were a long, slow waltz. I placed him in my crook and ran rabbits in my head until I noticed nothing but the weight of him on my arm; his, the warmth of goodness and decency. And as sleep washed slowly over me, it occurred to me what I’d been looking for. And it occurred to me too that I’d found it just over three years ago. And as he sighed deeply in his sleep I sighed in mine. Saturday was done. It was now spring.

Head Back

12:45a Augusta time. Em sleeps in the room I slept in as a child. He ran like the wind all day. He christened this first day of spring like a robin on the hunt for all things early. He loves family so and makes me proud with his generosity.

I sat oustide with the last of several drinks and a cigar. From my experience there are few better ways to end a day.

The drive to Augusta was trying at best. I-40 construction meant an extra hour before beginning. Atlanta road construction meant another hour plus. Four lanes consigned to one meant a long delay. The six hour drive became nine. But I suppose there have been greater tragedies endured. In the big scheme of things the time delay was certainly minor--but it still pissed me off.

I hit Metro late last night against my better judgement. It was good to be there and I'm glad I made the effort. I saw no one familiar, but the unfamilar faces more than made up for it. The jazz band pleased me by playing the theme song from Sanford & Son. Does it get better than something unexpected?

8:30a Em slept hard. It's time to head back. A shower. Feed The Boy. Say goodbye. Gas up. Lay in a supply of Diet Coke. Nashville bound. Leaving at 10:00a Eastern should put us home by 3:00p Central--unless I-75 and I-40 converge to taunt us once again.

I bet the drive will be uneventful and quick. Emerson and I jabbering back and forth, him educating me a little more.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Em and I will drive my Mom home on Saturday. It is a jaunt but the open road can be good for the soul—or at least so says Jack Kerouac.

Soccer practice tomorrow. Soccer game Saturday at 11:30, if the rain holds off. We’ll take a victory lap, clean up, and be Augusta-bound by two p.m. I suppose. On Saturday I will learn that the soccer leagues do not keep score as they do not want any kids to feel bad. Those present will witness a grand achievement as I manage not to lose my shit over this atrocity. I’ve been pretty consistent and not offered my politics here and I will do my best to refrain again. Oh how I loathe politics and the fact that rarely a breath is taken that is not dependant upon the concept. But stifling achievement and denying a child the excitement of success is Goddamn criminal in my book. ‘Nuff said.

I’m so fucking swamped at work. I will likely, though, take Monday off so as not to ruin myself on the drive to and from. That will give me a Sunday in town and a much needed visit with my Dad and perhaps a drink downtown. There are too many folks that I need to call and see. These kinds of drive-bys make it fairly impossible to catch up with any of them. I will make sure Em sees “Grandpa with the Whiskers” (my Dad) and “Grandpa with the Dogs” (L’s Dad). And I will make sure he gets to see Aunt Nae again (he has already asked if he will see her). I would like to go to Metro and the Discotheque. I’ve heard also of a new place called the Pour House.

I think I look most forward to that two-hour stretch between somewhere on either side of Atlanta and either side of Chattanooga when Em sleeps the sleep of a spent soccer player (scoring winning goal after winning goal in his little boy dreams). The stereo playing John Prine. The muffled wind parted by the speeding Jeep. The sun slipping redorangeblue behind the North Georgia/Tennessee hills. My frantic, drowning thoughts treading water safely. Lapsing into a true driven meditation where no worries dance. The belief that the day will end perfectly, calmly, my Boy in his bed safe. Me in mine. The cool sheets pulled to my chin, my left leg uncovered. The taste of home bittersweet on my tongue.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Riverside

I’d always loved fishing. And now, still, I love to fish. The quiet. The patient anticipation. I like to be amongst the trees and the shore at once with only the slightest margin of error for a successful cast. And I like to be on open water in a john boat, or in a bass boat, the subtle current like making love, my line far from me, tracing the sunlight diagonally, disappearing to depths I can only imagine. I like the way the sun feels on my back and the way the beer tastes colder than cold from the cooler in back. I like the sounds of insects and birds and stillness and breeze. I like the way my eyes begin to ache from watching the sun-kissed water, trying to refind my line just to the left of where I tend to look. I like the hint of a pull that I feel at once in the fragile part of the rod and a millisecond later in my wrist. I like knowing she is there, cautious and reckless, but unable to ignore me, and so she tests me…

And so it was that day when I was still a child and excitable that my brother-in-law picked me up mid-morning to go fishing. The day was young like me and full of promise and fish to catch. The lake was forty-five minutes away. Clark Hill was both Georgia and South Carolina and life had always been a border to me anyway—to blur lines was not so foreign. Jimmy wanted to stop at the Riverside in North Augusta for a beer before we made the lake. The Riverside was but a stone’s throw from Augusta, still a distance from the lake. Each moment we spent not driving seemed to me a moment spent not fishing. Although only ten, the bar was familiar to me. It was like others I’d been in. It was dim and offered a smell that would take me many years to appreciate and later embrace. The Riverside catered to bikers and prostitutes primarily. Both groups were regularly decent to young boys my brief experience told me. I was certainly safe though uncomfortable. Inside, one beer turned into several and Cokes kept appearing in front of me. Jimmy knew everyone. He’d served three years in prison and had developed the right mix of friendly and dangerous. His was not a bad lesson to learn. Eventually, Jimmy disappeared with a woman they called School Teacher. His only words to me were I’ll be right back. But he wasn’t right back. He was gone forever in ten-year-old time. The bar filled around me with gentle rough-looking men. Someone put on a blue comedy cassette to which I made sure to laugh at all the right parts (I was a veteran of Richard Pryor and Gene Tracey). When someone noticed me paying attention, the tape was respectfully stopped until Jimmy reappeared and told them, Ahh fuck, he’s heard worse than that and it started again. Jimmy ordered another beer and asked if I needed another Coke. He proceeded to tell me about School Teacher’s special talent. It indeed seemed pretty special.

On the way home we were pulled over by a State trooper. I don’t remember why. Jimmy handed me his open beer and got out of the car to meet the cop. Even young it seemed to me a terrible idea. But ever smooth, Jimmy played it perfectly. He was off with a warning and I was on my way home.

Jimmy took me into his confidence that day. He told me not to tell anyone that we hadn’t gone fishing. We simply had not had any luck. I was tired and disappointed. Perhaps a little disillusioned. But I was somehow much wiser in a way I could never attempt to explain. My relationship with Jimmy was never the same after that. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Jimmy went to school that summer day. But I was the student. Sitting alone, more patient than any fisherman before me; my barstool a seat in an aluminum boat; my line there in the distance appearing, disappearing, the beads of water steady and precarious, catching perfectly the sunlight as it played through the pines. Strike after strike, I was just a sigh too slow. But my timing improved. One day I would be a fine fisherman.

Jimmy asked me not to tell anyone about the Riverside that day. And for twenty-seven years, I never said a word.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Smell of Diesel Fuel

In the summer of 1990, I ran away to Los Angeles, Ca. I ran away because of a girl. The need to love someone can be a powerful and devastating thing. It can send you places you needn’t go. I was in my early twenties and simply had to run.

I wasn’t there long. Less than eight weeks I suppose. I spent my time in two separate mobile home parks in San Dimas and then West Covina. Outside my bedroom window in West Covina I was a cat’s breath away from the San Gabriel Mountains. In the early morning, the mountains were bathed in an infection of brown and green from midrange to top—the same thick air I breathed each day. It was horrible and beautiful.

As it is in Miami—I would learn later—nothing in LA is less than thirty minutes away; and most things are an hour plus. West Covina is an aching stretch from LA proper. So the jaunt was lengthy as I made my way to Hollywood in a borrowed El Camino. I recall the drive as a series of four-way stops and winding lines of traffic. The winds blew hot and people rode bicycles past me while I waited my turn to wait at the stop sign.

In Hollywood I grabbed a cheap room off of Sunset Boulevard. I found an indiscriminate bar mere steps away and proceeded to drink. For a long time. My long hair made me feel at least remotely less self-conscious. Although the hair bands were singing a collective swan song, no one was admitting it yet. And in my mind, my hair was an in. I didn’t actually need an “in,” but young, heartbroken, and drunk knows no better.

That night I went to 8901 Sunset Boulevard. The Whisky. One of the most legendary bars in the country yet my recollection is muddled at best. Inside I drank Crown Royal. I talked to no one. I was lonely it seems. It was subdued wildness, just what I’d always liked. But ultimately it became another moment I let pass me by. I listened to a couple of bands, found my car, and somehow made it back to the hotel.

Instead of staying in Hollywood for the few days I’d planned, I awoke early and hungover, checked out of my room, and crawled back to West Covina. The most vivid memory I have of the drive back—and actually of the entire adventure—is of driving through a diesel fuel spill on the interstate. The spill had happened moments, perhaps seconds, before I drove up on it. It covered all lanes of a blind bend in the highway so there was no avoiding it. A young girl in a small car ran through it and I did likewise. The spray of fuel from her tires sprinkled the El Camino and the windshield. The fuel was thick and slippery and I nearly spun out. The car seemed loose all the way back. The very air around me was diesel fuel. Each breath I took was wet and oppressive. I felt the fuel in my nose, tasted it in my throat as I drove east of LA proper. I got to where I was staying, let myself in, and made it to the bathroom where I purged myself of the Sunset strip, lines of traffic, the bruised haze hiding the San Gabriels, and every sad moment I could think of.

Eventually I made my way back to Augusta. Embarrassed by the lack of effort I’d shown in Los Angeles and by the explicit failure the adventure had been. I went back for the girl who had sent me running. I saw her one time upon my return and then never again. I dealt with it and settled back into a life of work and running the bars.

It would be a long time before I returned to California, the smell of diesel fuel but a whisper.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sleep Well, Dear Books

I like the way my books look. Comfortably wedged together in the cheap handcrafted bookcases that line my walls. Their lives equate to a collective dinner party of sorts. Mr. Chekhov slips suggestively to another shelf to discuss The Cherry Orchard with Ms. Welty. Larry Brown and Harry Crews talk about the implausible merit of Charles Bukowski as if the old guy wasn’t sitting between them yelling obscenities to Toni Morrison (Hey Tones! Sula. Sula, Goddammit. You write one book of consequence and people call you a Goddamn genius? Jazz? Tripe! Tripe, I say! That Sula, though? That was a good one.). Shel Silverstein and Ralph Ellison make fun of James Dickey who challenges E.E. Cummings to a drinking contest. “Count me in!” bellows Hemingway from the third shelf. Tom Perrotta talks about a sense of time (and what that entails) with E.L. Doctorow. They can’t agree on anything. Kaye Gibbons is having an episode because Katherine Anne Porter asked her how the antidepressants were working out. Good ol’ Kate, subtle to a point. Tim O’Brien stands against the wall. He’s too handsome to be mad, right? Right! John Irving politely says hello to all and then disappears to rewrite something as compelling as The Cider House Rules.

The books are handsome to behold. I have a few signed first editions that I am prepositionally proud of. I have been lucky enough to meet Harry Crews, Larry Brown, Kinky Friedman, John Dufresne, Tom Franklin, Chris Wallace Crabbe, and a couple others. (Don’t get me started—I can drop names all night. I’m classy that way.) The books please me. I like to handle them. I like the way they feel when I open the covers. The giddiness that meets me halfway when I read that first sentence. The memory of a perfect ending. Thank you, Papa, for something so outstanding as “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” I like the way they smell; and I like the way they sound when I turn their pages or roll their names around on my tongue like a lozenge. I like the way they commit to me unconditionally. They are mine for as long as I decide they are. And they don’t hurt when I neglect them. They remember fondly the love I felt for them once long ago—and the love I surely still harbor. They are forgiving and love me back. They would never ask me to change. They embrace my quirkiness as I embrace theirs.

Sleep well, Dear Books. I covet your creators.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What the Squirrels Saw

My Mom is coming to visit this Friday. She is 72 and could pass for 55. She is known randomly as Mom, Darlene, or Charlie. The last time she was here she beat me 9 out of 11 games of pool at Sam’s. The work people love that story. This time she has a bum shoulder so I may have an outside shot at going 500 against her. She’s not a drinker but likes to practice from time to time with Miller Lite “ponies.” She usually makes it a few sips before sputtering and whatnot. But God bless her for trying. She has a fit when she watches me mix a drink. I make what are called “Ryan Drinks.” As I pour the whiskey into my glass she yelps, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” She knows I won’t stop pouring until she stops saying “That’s enough!” It delights us to aggravate one another and so this delights me doubly—I aggravate her and get more whiskey than I’d originally planned. (And a splash.) She’s convinced that the whiskey is going to ruin my other kidney. And while she is probably right, I’d hate to waste a perfectly good chance to mess with her. So whiskey it is.

She once asked if I thought it would be o.k. for her to put forty pounds of pecans in the washing machine since the gathering site had been overrun with poison ivy. She loves to fuck with me like that. I told her it was absolutely o.k., even advisable. She just grinned at me.

When I played Little League, she used to argue fiercely with the umpires. One of whom stopped a game and attempted to dress her down. He didn’t win. She also once got into an argument with a twelve year old boy from an opposing team. What an asshole that kid was. The exchange happened on our way out of the park, each of them on opposite sides of a twelve foot chain link fence. It ended with Mom asking him how he would like it if she jumped that fence and whipped his little ass. I was too amazed to be embarrassed.

On her rare days off she would take me to the movies. All these years later and we still talk movies.

She would take me to the mall and buy model cars for me to put together. She even helped me pick out ones that she thought were particularly cool.

Her work hours were such that I spent many nights alone. But she kept the freezer stocked and I was never without. From early on I was quite the little cook. I was not so much a latchkey kid as I was a self-sufficient little shit. I’ve never regretted the lesson.

When I go home to visit, she always has sweet tea waiting for me. She has written us once a week since we moved out of state. She loaned me money to fix the transmission in my 1981 Cutlass Supreme. Fifteen years later, she loaned me money to fly to Tokyo. And because she raised me right (as we are fond of saying in the South), I paid back every dime.

She refers to her neighbor of nearly 40 years as “that bitch across the street.” The neighbor has had numerous strokes, has emphysema, and is on oxygen. My Mom swears she is just looking for attention.

My Mom has an ongoing feud with the Augusta, Ga. squirrel population. Many years ago, she planted a plum tree. Nurtured and babied that tree. For a long, long time she waited for it to bear fruit. Eventually, a single plum appeared, ripened, and validated my Mom’s efforts. It made her happy. As she sat at the kitchen table admiring the plum through the sliding glass door one morning, a fat grey squirrel walked cockily up to the tree, inched up as far as was necessary, deftly plucked the single fruit of my mother’s labors, and was gone. The vision I have of her incredulity followed by all out rage sends me into hysterics every time. Since then she keeps a pellet gun by the door “for her prey.” I tell her, “Mom, you're 72. You got no prey.” But she does. And I am certain that plum-stealing son of a bitch rues the day he ever set foot in the yard on Evergreen Drive. At one point following “the incident” she was baiting the squirrels by making little sandwiches and putting them out in the yard. She’s a pretty good shot for an old gal. My Mom hates a squirrel.

But my, she does love a yard sale.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been homesick lately. My homesickness, though rare, is typically for a Sense of Place. A man needs a Sense of Place. My Mom will bring that with her on Friday. She’ll come in, love on Em (how she adores him), and make herself at home. She’ll set about making me feel better about myself—one of the few things about which she is subtle. She’ll cook for me. She’ll insist that I go out for some “Ryan time.” She’ll make faces at the drinks I make each night. She’ll sit on the sofa beneath the floor lamp with her legs folded beneath her, reading her latest choice. (I always picture her reading or doing a crossword puzzle.) She won’t judge me. And she’ll tell me—nearly convincing me—that I am a good father.

And that will mean the world to me.

Monday, March 07, 2005


late glides on silversmooth
like a silent moth
to the lamp.
midnight waits for
no one
and in a bare kitchen
the bourbon pours itself
in the knowledge that
her shift ended two hours ago
and the phone will never

copyright, 1998

Sunday, March 06, 2005

From the Third Floor Terrace

She bakes in the Georgia sun, a
way from the ugly pines that en
case the state.

Young boys watch her on the sly
and hustle their balls as only
southern boys can.

I smile knowing I was in
side her an hour ago and love
her in a way no one ever will.

copyright 1998

Blood on The Tracks

L. has to get up at 2:30a to be at work by 4:00a. Em is two hours into his slumber. Sea Turtle is on top of his head. Ta is snug in his crook. (Good old Ta.) I’m listening to Blood On The Tracks. Just finished Some Girls. Haven’t listened to either in a long while. Law and Order SVU was about child molestation. Disturbing.

Em and I went to the Red Caboose Park and the Germ Pit at the mall this afternoon. He got some good running done and it was a nice time. He has a tough time comprehending that some kids are simply mean. It will be difficult for me to not be overbearing as he continues to grow. Autopilot says scoop that Boy up and protect him from every bad thing there is. It is not an easy thing to let him experience the negative. For every flash of joy that traces my very being when he sees something new or is particularly happy, or proud of a new accomplishment, a thousand heartaches overwhelm me when he realizes that some people are just fuckers. His inclination is toward decency at most every turn; and putting as much bias aside as I can manage, I’ll say he is a nice person—generous and kind. He is genuinely baffled when confronted by a kid whose sole motivation is self, the promotion of self, or “let me knock you out of the way so I can get myself to the slide more quickly.” Meanness for meanness sake is a foreign concept to The Boy. That pleases me. I am comforted knowing that he will be the kid in school who comes to the aid of the one being belittled or bullied. He’ll befriend the friendless. Help when and where help is required. I have to resist that autopilot urge to protect him from all the bad. For one, it cannot be done. For another, it would be the worst thing I could do to him. He absolutely must know the unpleasant in order to appreciate the good. I do, though, wish I could absorb every pain he is likely to experience. Christ, how selfish is that?

Dalton’s was as crowded as I’ve seen it last night. I suppose folks are just stir-crazy with winter and rain at every turn. A couple Woodfords and draughts worked fine.

Lyle Lovett croons to me now from a mixed CD I’ve put on. I wrote a short story once called Lyle Lovett’s Crooked Smile. It stemmed from the time I saw him perform Tennessee Flattop Box for a Johnny Cash Tribute show. Terrible story. Great image. Great performance.

The rain is supposed to come back tomorrow. I hope it isn’t cold. And I hope to get some boxes put away. And I hope to be rested. And I hope I can figure things out. And I hope spring arrives in the mail on Monday.

And I hope Emerson always sleeps with Ta snug in his crook.

Friday, March 04, 2005

night strikes blunt like a lover

night lightning
reminds me of you.
a brilliant flash, power
to light a darkened world
in whites. blues.
only you could
usurp my being,
set the hairs of my neck
on end.
then leave just as quickly,
blackness enveloping
everything i
have been.

Originally published in Cotton Row Anthology II, 1997

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Lizards Don’t Need No Bubbles

Em was jabbering away at me earlier this week… “and a sword and you in the forest and the snake like ‘U-stralia’ and… God!!!”

Me: “Emerson. Don’t say God.”
Em: “Nooo. I didn’t say ‘Goddamn.’ I said ‘God.’”
Me: Long pause and blank look. “Okay then.”

He had me. He always has me. Lately he doesn’t want bubbles in his bath. I’m not a bath guy, but I sure thought bath people in general liked bubbles. Em these days? Not so much.

Me: “You want bubbles in there?”
Em: “No Thank you.”
Me: “You Freak. Everyone wants bubbles. Let me put bubbles in there.”
Em: “No. I just don’t want them, Daddy.”
Me: Long pause and blank look. “Okay then.”

Had me again.

Last night he’d been down (but most definitely not out) for an hour or so.

Em: “Daaadddyyy!
Me: Dutifully walking back to his room. “Yes, Boy.”
Em: “I want my Lizard pajamas.”
Me: “No, I’m sorry, Baby. We’ve got your sweats and Cubs tee on. That’s what we chose.”
Em: Whinecrying loudly. “I want my Lizard pajamas!”
Me: Tired and irritated. “Son, you don’t even have Lizard pajamas. Just wear what you have. You look great.”
Em: Whinecrying louder. “No I just want my Lizard PJs. I want them!”
Me: Tired and more irritated I open his dresser drawer, take out all of the PJs, and toss them on the rocker to show him there are no Lizard ones. “See, Son. There are none. That’s it.”
Em: Turning on his belly and sliding off his big bed and walking to the rocker. “No, I’ll show you.” Reaches blindly into the stack of 333 pair of PJs and pulls out the orange lizard Pajamas I’ve been dressing him in for the past 8 months.
Me: Long pause and blank look. “Okay then.”

So Lizard pajamas it was. I was a jerk putting them on him. I hate that. But once he clamored back to bed, I sat by his side and petted his head the way I do. His hair thin and a little long felt perfect beneath my fingers. "We need to take you to Duke for a haircut this weekend," I said. "Yeah," he whispered. "That'd be good." A pause as the last of his long day drained away from him. Then barely audible, "Don't go, Daddy. Just lay with me for three more minutes."

He had me again.

I lay there for five.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Plane Old Travel

I enjoy travel...(long walks on the beach, macramé, lunar eclipses, and just being held—call me?) No, I do enjoy travel. However, I don’t enjoy flying as I once did. Save taxiing, lifting-off, and landing safely I am all about destination. Whereas, I long ago found pleasure in air travel, I now approach boarding a plane with a subtle sense of dread. I find the fellow passengers and much of the airline staff to be impatient and crass. They are largely people I prefer not to be around. Also, if you are a drinker, order a double right up front because you will not see an attendant again until you disembark. And for God’s sake, have exact change unless you are prepared to endure the “Scowl that launched a thousand planes.” Typically four bucks a pop. Or is it five dollars now?

Last August our party of five (minus Neve Campbell, of course) boarded a 6:00 a.m. flight to Boston. Uncle G. and I ordered Maker’s Mark while L. had a Bloody Mary. Em went with juice. A. had nothing. Uncle G., sitting a row in front of me, didn’t know the rule of “Double or Nothing” and so half missed out. He looked back when he heard me order. I smiled my smug little closed-mouth smile—which I guess means I smirked—and commenced to pouring one mini bottle over ice.

Across the aisle from me, Em was simply mesmerized. He has long loved airplanes and does enjoy flying; as such he was in two-year-old heaven. As we taxied and took our place in line, Em was glued to the window. “Dere’s a plane. And dere’s a plane. Anudder plane and anudder plane. And dere’s anudder plane…” Because I think I am hilarious, I piped up with, “Boy, you aren’t at a bus station.” I greatly amuse me. Uncle G. thought it was funny too. Or perhaps he was just being polite. Em glanced over at me with a half smile of his own, and continued navigating a steady stream of “anudder planes.” He mixed his metaphors and I mixed anudder Maker’s and Coke.

Boston was wonderful—as it tends to be. I recommend the Seaport Hotel for your comfort and $6 (plus included gratuity) draughts. We did our wedding stuff. Our personal stuff. Our family stuff. Took Em to the aquarium and the Boston Common. Talked our cabbie into racing another cabbie through the busy streets late at night. Met up with friends from Chicago and New York who handled Em while we went to the wedding. And we managed the highlight of my baseball-loving life by going to Fenway Park (Red Sox 6, Tigers 1).

The following Monday was back to Nashville. Our party of five reduced to a traveling trio. With well-earned exhaustion we boarded, settled, and mentally prepared for the flight and the busy workweek that awaited us. A suddenly alert Em went straight for the window. As a gasp escaped him, the window began to fog, and he informed our fellow passengers gleefully: “And anudder plane and anudder plane and anudder plane…”