"I am larger, better than I thought, I did not know I held so much goodness."

--Walt Whitman


Fig.28- Otters

I was letting MayMay cry it out as the warm water ran over my hands. It was Sunday. She had been crying most of the morning; at this point I couldn’t even tell why anymore. I had put her on my bed and was washing the dishes while she whimpered and howled. No, I knew exactly why- we had done a test run in the tent the night before out in the backyard, and while it was a success, she, her brother and I were bone tired. My thinking was that if we could pull off a night in the back yard, then we were ready for the mountains. However, that would require money, and I only had one prospect anymore, a drunken contractor who only called me whenever he wasn’t too hungover and the sun was shining. I had told their mother a day earlier that I didn’t think I was going to have the whole child-support for this month, and my Monday looked like another call to my parents for a bail-out.

I tried to let the water soothe me as it often does, soap and sponge over dish after dish, but I cussed my trade, the economy. The industry I wanted out of. I cussed my good buddy who paid me for two years with straight cash, no insurance were I to fall off a ladder, and no unemployment so that now I couldn’t piss up a rope even if I wanted to. I washed the dishes and cussed God for the dishes, I cussed Him for the little girl crying for her mother in my bed and then I cussed Him for everything else.

I got the whole kitchen clean and went into the living room where Henry, the older of the two, had scattered Legos everywhere. A fine layer of red yellow and blue over the entire floor. Everything went blurry for a second, and I found myself shouting at him, “God fucking dammit. Do you have to trash everything?”

He sat up on the floor and got his scared look immediately, putting his hands over his ears. I managed to cool it a little. It wasn’t as bad as before; I could turn it off now. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Do you still want to try and go see the otters?”

He nodded. “Okay, could you help me clean up a little and we’ll go?”

He set to work and I went in to see his sister, tiny and squalling on my futon on the floor. She saw me and ramped up again.

“I waaant my mommy, waaaant my mommy.”

“MAY, We’ll go see mommy in a LITTLE BIT. Do you want to go see the otters?”

She threw her head back and howled “YES” at me.

“Then you have to STOP CRYING and get your shoes on.”

I stormed out on to the porch, lit up a Winston and whispered furiously to myself, I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay, smoked half of it and crushed out the rest on the steps. Henry had very quietly gotten himself together, May was still struggling with her shoes and whimpering. I sat on the rug next to the bed and buckled them up for her. Henry came in.

“I’m sorry buddy, “ I said. “Your sister..”

“I know. It’s because she’s three,” he said. After a year of this he had gotten used to us.

Henry was in the yard and halfway out to the truck. His sister was by the stairs spinning, one hand clutched around the white painted pipe supporting the tin roof.

“May,” I said, “you keep doing that and you’re going to fall down the stairs again.” I went in for my keys, came back out and sure enough she was face down in the grass that lay just below the green painted stairs of the concrete porch. I picked her up and she started screaming again. Henry turned around, “What happened?”

“She fell again.” I said, “Come on back inside for a minute.”

She writhed in my arms and howled. I did an old trick and told myself she was a person, not an animal. It had always kept me from hurting her when she was like this. I tossed her wailing on to the bed and went back out to the yard. Henry came up looking scared again.

“Just stay away from me for a minute.” I said and he went in the storm door. I noticed there was a pink envelope marked urgent in the mail box by the door. I paced the yard, doing my best to slow everything down and after a minute, went back inside myself.

She had gotten herself calmed somewhat, sitting up in the middle of the bed. I peeked first, came in and sat in a chair next to the old dresser across from her. Neither of us said anything. Her bangs hung down into her giant blue eyes, she was still whimpering a little. I did my best to smile at her and she stood up, arms outstretched and climbed into my lap. I clutched her to me and kissed her head. Henry came in and looked at us.

“Read your book, buddy.” I said. He sat down on the bed and picked Greek Myths for Young Children out of the stack of kid’s books and self-help literature that was on a little table I had made for their mother ten years ago.

The was a brush on the antique dresser next to us. I asked May if I could brush her hair. She nodded yes. I got out the tangles as gentle as I could and she finally got quiet. Henry was skimming the pages, looking at pictures and I noticed he had settled on one of Heracles battling the Hydra. I made a note to read “the Trials” to them later, or maybe to myself first. I put May-may’s hair in a ponytail and clipped her bangs back. I noticed she always looked like a different child with her hair out of her eyes.

I wanted God to tell me it was going to get easier, that I wasn’t a horrible father. I wanted to yell at Him. What I said instead was, “You guys want to try it again?”

Halfway to the Nature Center Henry suggested we go get me a coffee. “It always helps mom out when she’s feeling cranky.”

“Yeah, maybe later. I’m okay now. Thanks, buddy.” I said, thinking about what else I could buy once my check cleared. May in her car-seat on the bench between us pointed out the window suddenly and said, “There goes mommy!”

We passed her mini-van at the intersection leading into the park. She waved and we all waved back. May asked “Is she coming with us to see the otters?” I said I didn’t think so, but we could maybe stop and say hello. In the rear-view mirror she turned and followed, two cars behind us. Henry twisted around in his booster to see where she was. I took the turn in to the Nature Center and she kept on in direction of the Nickel Bridge.

“Is she still behind us?” Henry asked.

“Nuh uh, I think she’s headed out to Southside.” I said. Everybody knew who lived in Southside, a man I hadn’t spoken to in over a year. A man who I used to call my best friend.

Henry got out his side of the truck and I unloaded May out of her car-seat and onto my hip. The parking lot was packed, I angled around the side, going the back way in. Henry found a stick on the ground and took off into a small thicket of trees bordering the sidewalk.

“Short-cut!” he shouted. May wiggled down and free of me and ran after him.

“Short-cut!” she yelled. I let them go and lighting another cigarette, followed them into the trees, pines and a couple of oaks. There was a soft bed of needles on the ground and trails of dirt crisscrossing throughout where I imagined hundreds of children had run rampant under the canopy, temporarily free from supervision.

I caught up with the two of them in the middle and led them back toward the sidewalk. I noticed small stumps clustered around one tree, burnished almost shiny from wear, and realized I hadn’t been around a cypress in maybe twenty years. I took May-May’s tiny hand in mine so she wouldn’t trip on the stumps, pointed to it and said “That is a Cypress tree.”

She responded, “Uh huh! Cypress!”

The older lady running the front desk didn’t automatically buy my claim that we had a family membership. She was small and efficient and looked us up in the computer to make sure of our status as I tried to keep my children settled and in place. As I picked May up I smelled something like burning hair or skin so I checked her over.

“Mr. Blancett, it seems your membership expired last February," said the lady.

“Oh, okay.” I said. I was busy keeping May still and making sure her or her brother weren’t on fire.

“It’ll be fifty dollars. Would you like for me to go ahead and update that for you today?” she asked.

“No, ma’am. I’m sorry, I don’t have it.” I said.

There was a wedding or party of some sort going on. The place was over-run with kids and grown ups all dressed to the nines. A little boy in a cumber-bun and his mom followed us through the exhibits. It occurred to me that even the Nature Center was hurting, hustling up yearly memberships from dead-beats like me and hiring out to West-end couples for their wedding receptions. I found myself hating the families that were dressed up. The dads looked fat and happy and well employed. I really didn’t want to hate them, but I was broke and everyone looked simple and white and suburban, and they were down here running wild in my part of town. Even our snapping turtle seemed to be holding back, poking his head out from the very back of the tank, his three foot worth of shell tucked away under a rock overhang. I let the kids move about from the tanks to the water exhibits, Henry furiously working an auger to show how water was moved up-hill. I wanted to tell him that what he was doing was first done by the Egyptians, but instead sat in front of a monitor chronicling all of Richmond’s great floods. May came and crawled in my lap and we watched decades of news footage showing our city being destroyed again and again by flood. I tried not to enjoy it. I smelled the burnt smell again and found a place in her hair where it seemed to come from and cleaned a few ashes out from the spot. I realized suddenly that the cherry I flicked off from my cigarette outside must have found its way into the back of her hair and burned some of it. She hadn’t been hurt, and I told myself that it was one more reason among a thousand to stop smoking but what I felt in my stomach was bad father, bad father, bad father.

We made our way through, spending time to check up on the owls, the various tidal fish, till at last we were down by the otters, the main attraction. The room was half-submerged, lined with eight foot tall lengths of glass, so you could watch them swim as well as scamper about on the rocks that lined the pool. Henry followed them back and forth along the glass as they twisted effortlessly through the water, while May-may hopped up and down on top of a small carpeted series of boxes that served as the seating area. I sat on the next level down from her. They were happy and I understood why. An otter swimming is about the purest image of joy I can think of. It is like watching music. Vivaldi perhaps. I called Henry over to me, pulled his thin frame onto my lap and squeezed him tight.

"Hey. Guess what?" I said.

"You love me." he said

"Yeah," and kissed him on the cheek, "Thank you."

We had the place to ourselves for a minute then another group came in. Two overweight white girls, one pushing a stroller and two black thugged-out boyfriends following behind. The guys looked tough but seemed to feel about as out of place as I did. The girls acted as though they owned the place. They settled in next to us and I tried to ignore them. We were tiny little families watching a tiny little family of otters and we were all okay. They stayed there for a minute and one of the guys turned to the girl with the stroller.

“Hey baby, you want to go outside into the park?” he asked.

“Hell no, can’t you see I got my flip-flops on?” she said “I can’t go walking those big hills out there wearing flip-flops!”

“Well why you got your flip-flops on for?” he responded.

“I got em on cause I always wear them!” she said, “Don’t you know by now I always wear my flip-flops?”

“Well shit, baby. What you want to do instead?”

After they moved on I wanted God to explain to me why we couldn’t be otters instead. Me, Henry and May. I actually sat there and prayed and asked Him that. Swim all day and eat, and when it got cold and dark go inside to our otter-hut or wherever the hell it is that otters sleep and cuddle together for warmth and forget all about people and their fucking talk and their fucking money. Whenever I can sit and quiet my mind, I find I can ask the right questions, and when I do this I can usually count on a response, however it may or may not be to my liking. Sitting there, I asked why couldn’t we be otters instead, and the response I got was this: The only way to make our journey is to do it honestly. Because only those who honestly make the journey succeed.




Really Need to Get My Motorcycle Running.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick


I Will Build My Own Monument

Something to indicate a story, or significance; a marker that says, "This is place where something occurred."

Remembrance and Mourning

The major work of the the second stage is accomplished, however, when the patient reclaims her own history and feels renewed hope and energy engagement with life. Time starts to move again. When the "action of telling a story" has come to its conclusion, the traumatic experience truly belongs to the past. At this point, the survivor faces the tasks of rebuilding her life in the present and pursuing her aspirations for the future.

--Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman


All the Gods are Screaming

I submit that Neurosis is the purest current manifestation of the Blues.

Ulysses and the Hare

It was only after God had taken everything was he allowed to rest, released for a time from His malicious salty grasp. Washed ashore, harried over oceans, a wake of shattered mariners and drowned vessels behind him, the insane anarchist king feeling keen tired muscles stretched over a broken frame. Ulysses, cipher of lost geographies, wonders over the notion of what to do next. I imagine he dreamt there on the beach of Penelope.

Pale skin flushed with activity, arteries running blue carrying blood just under her surface like hidden tributary rivers. The wide unflawed expanse just under the subtle ridge of her collar bones, the country punctuated by her ribs, the plunging region to that juncture where they meet, and thus entwined and locked in a kiss, become a circle complete.

I dream of the faraway Nation of Ulysses under a shower I procrastinated all morning for fear of losing the smell of Her on me. Rivulets run down my own chest in clever patterns. I am navigator of my own mind, I am not lost here. I grew up, left and returned to Tennessee and eventually became un-enslaved by my story. Ulysses found by Nausicaa and thus restored, wandered wide away from that place, homeward to hammer out a solution.

In the mountains, in a cold rain, he came upon a large hare lying wounded under an olive tree. A rabbit no longer running, out of tricks. Ulysses crouched, helmet pushed back on his head, rain shattering on the shield strapped across his back, holding the animal close to his chest. The matted fur and breathing of the rabbit, Ulysses’ cloak trapping their warmth. This is my story and my story is me.


North Florida

The thing about Florida is that I always want to call it a swamp, when it's not really. Up near my folks it's mostly pine trees over dry sand, the typical live-oaks draped in Spanish moss. Northern Florida which is where we always ran around is desolate yet lush, empty and lonely Southern. Busted-up road-side fruit-stands and abandoned trailers, good proper Gothic.

A couple years ago, my dad and me took the bikes across the state to the trailer park retirement community where my grandparents had lived outside Ocala. From there we rode south, covering every bit of six hundred miles in a day. We got headed out early, before my kids were up, and roared westward.

We were into it a couple of hours, moving fast on a large empty four-lane, when one of those ubiquitous shitty little gas station came up on the left. You know the kind I'm talking about, concrete block and Winston ads. Nowhere you'd want to be late at night. At the same time we reached the apex of the curve the structure was tucked into, a lone man strode out of the woods immediately to our right.

The man was tall and lanky and walked through the tall grass the way a tall thin man walks after he's been at it a while. It's the same way I walk when I am working. I don't remember having seen any structures other than the Quickie-Mart for miles and miles. It was August in Florida but he was wearing long pants, a flannel shirt and a battered gray jacket. There was a wool confederate infantry cap on his head and an axe-handle firmly in his right hand. We rode right past him but he never once looked at us, his crooked nose and salt and pepper beard pointed intently in the direction of the gas station. It was maybe ten in the morning on a Saturday. All of this occurred in seconds, and years ago, so I'm not sure how much is properly remembered and how much has been fabricated for your benefit.

Me and the old man got stopped an hour later in a town by a train crossing the main road. We thumbed the bikes off and leaned back in our seats, balancing the bikes under us. I turned to him and asked "Did you see that guy back there?" and he laughed and said Yeah. I said "What the fuck was that?" and he just shrugged and laughed even harder.


The Varsity- I-75, Atlanta

September Third, Two Thousand and Nine

For years whenever anyone asked me when my son Henry was born I’d start to say September instead of August 25, 2001. Sunday he had his eighth birthday party at his mother’s house, and I stayed here. Most of his mother’s friends don’t care for me much. The feeling is mutual. Tonight coming home from work I started stitching what I’m about to write together in my mind and suddenly got very afraid. I thought for a moment that I was about to go get drunk, which might very likely be death for somebody like me. I was sure I was going to change direction of the truck, that I’d drive the same route I always did back then, that I would stand by the register and stare at the bottle in my hand without really knowing I where I was. I think it has to do with the weather finally changing and perhaps that Henry’s mom and I are no longer together. I sat on the porch of my little house and called a friend and told him all this. He listened and after a while I felt better, which is exactly how these things should go. When we decided we were done he told me I should go in and write all this down.

I worked on through that whole day. Most everybody else on the job had stopped and listened to each of the radios on the different floors or cried. The asshole Turks I was framing a bathroom for wouldn’t let me quit. They had tile to run. I found it made me feel better to keep going anyway. The laborers cussed me when I asked them to move so that I could use the table saw, a natural gathering spot on any job. They seemed to think I was calloused or hard-hearted and it was because I was from Tennessee. It just now occurred to me that maybe they were right.

That afternoon, when it was determined safe to walk across the bridges, most of the job, the other carpenters and trades-people, wandered home to Brooklyn or Queens. Me and the two left to close everything up had it different as we lived in Jersey. Anthony, the boss, was big and red-haired, red faced and lived in Hoboken. Duane was in charge of demolition and waste, was a little shorter and darker, and lived in Secaucus or maybe somewhere west of that I think. They squared off on each other frequently. It always reminded me of two walruses going at it on a beach.

Whenever we went out to the bar afterwards Anthony would have a Bud tall boy in each hand at all times, the waitress would come up with four for him whenever we sat down. On the job we liked to yell at each other, I once told him I was doing him a favor by giving him such an easy target, and he never missed an occasion to oblige me. Duane was a single dad, dark haired with deep sunken yet kind eyes that always seemed to have bags under them. One of the black laborers told him once he was the most Uncle Fester looking motherfucker he had ever seen. I tended to agree.

We locked the job up at four I think, humped it across the park through the smoke to the A-train. There was smoke forming a mist around the trees of central park that day. There were no flower children loitering at Yoko’s “Imagine” monument to barge through. Our thinking was to get downtown to the Path train. We had no idea that two of the stations had been destroyed. It didn’t matter, we were underground fifteen minutes before Anthony vetoed the idea. People were running wild through the stations, on the trains, everything was panic and Oh Fuck and Anthony had no intention of being underground. He had a funny look on his face that I couldn’t figure out. It wouldn't occur to me until later that the big man was very afraid.

In the years since I have always wondered why people have reacted so strongly from that day. Later we would go to war because of a something that happened one day in New York City and this has always seemed really strange to me. I guess what I mean is that I was there and never wanted to kill anybody because of it. Most of the time I just thought it was very strange and sad and mostly just very interesting. I only remember ever crying about it twice. The first time was a few months afterward, I had quit Anthony to stay home with Henry. Part of our routine was to watch Sesame Street. One day in the winter there was a skit where Elmo got very scared because of some smoke and noise that was never identified. I suppose in this case it was a nameless fear. A New York City fireman came on screen and hugged him, told him it was okay to be scared, Elmo, and that everything would be alright. I remember little red furry Elmo hugged the fireman tight. I held Henry in my lap and cried into his fine blonde hair.

It was the fireman that did it. I still get upset when I think about the firemen. I have had a lot of trouble with cops in different times in my life, but I never had a problem with any fireman I ever encountered, drunk or otherwise. They seem to me to be a different animal entirely.

Anthony, Duane and me ran into two firemen on the deck of the cruise boat that carried us across to Weehawken. They came in and collapsed on the painted metal floor, shedding boots and letting their helmets roll away. Some people applauded weakly, others asked questions, they just stared at us and said nothing. It didn’t occur to me until much later they were probably the only ones from their station who lived. Other men that for years they worked with, ate and fought with, got drunk with were dead. There was a bar I frequented in Jersey City a few blocks from our house where a couple of weeks later I saw three firemen in dress uniforms. One was between his partner on a stool and the third who was older and may have been a captain. The captain was clearly upset, swaggering and poking the other two in the chest. Everybody else was trying hard not to pay attention to what seemed about to develop into a fight. I think later I saw the old man leaning against the bar and weeping openly, he must have been sixty at least.

I got drunk in this bar Sept. 10th while my wife and kid slept back home. She’d start nursing and pass out with him and I’d head out to roam. The thing I liked about this place was the Sinatra on the jukebox, so that night I loaded it up and sat at the bar listening. I think it was the first time I’d ever heard “Summer Wind.” The tattooed brunette tending bar must have thought it was cute because she serenaded me, singing along with a couple of the songs. There was another man with a mustache further down the line who was putting the blast on her and didn’t seem to like me much so I got the fuck out early. By “early” I mean I didn’t close the place.

I won’t tell you what we saw on the boat ride across the Hudson, you’ve seen it already. We unloaded at Weehawken and everyone, thousands of high end refugees really, started walking south towards Hoboken where we had been told there were buses waiting to take us home. I noticed that even wearing boots, the three of us walked faster than the others. We were construction workers living and working around Manhattan and we were very good at walking. I remember being comforted by walking with them. Hundreds of buses lined the streets of Hoboken and the three of us walked the length of that town. Anthony broke off about halfway to head home. A couple of weeks later I showed up having laid out drunk for two days and told him I had come for my tools. He looked at me and didn’t say a word. He mailed me my check. I haven’t seen the man since.

Duane and me trudged the rest of Hoboken together. I heard that not soon after I left he was let go to cut costs and that not long after that he got into a bad time with a prostitute on rt. 1 & 9. The smoke in Hoboken was thicker than in the city and the fumes from streets filled with idling buses finally got my hangover to officially kick in. I told Duane about how I’d had “Summer Wind” playing as background music in my head all day. He laughed and began singing the song, each line perfectly. We got through the crowd easily, after hours of walking together we had finally hit a stride together. We were marching, really. There was the giant blue sky of the day broken intermittently by smoke and there was the roar of diesel noise and Hoboken and Duane singing Summer Wind to me; some punk kid from Tennessee who had no business being there.

The only other incident I remember having to cry because of some assholes who decided to fly planes into tall buildings was coming across the Manhattan bridge one night after carrying my sister-in-law home to Park Slope. She would come over most nights to hang out with the baby, and around eleven or so and in various states of sobriety I’d be asked to drive her back home. I never hated the terrorists for invoking a War of Terror, I hated them for causing enough terror that it fucked the roads up. Shit got closed for what seemed no fucking reason whatsoever. One day coming back from the pediatrician’s office, Henry got stuck howling in his car seat for four hours because the Holland Tunnel was handling too much traffic and we were too afraid to take him out of it because of the cops everywhere. My sister-in-law and I spent a lot of time in the Saturn together on the nights I drove her home. I can’t remember what we talked about, probably everything. I haven't spoken to my sister-in-law since I moved out last summer.

This particular night the Brooklyn Bridge was only operating east-bound into Brooklyn so after I dropped her off I was diverted back across the Manhattan Bridge in order to get back into the city and eventually home. The Manhattan Bridge back then was still under renovation and I guess has always been the ugly, cross-eyed cousin of the Brooklyn Bridge. I got stuck on it, moving slower than shit, and staring at trash and old faded plywood encasing the little bit of wrought iron and Neo-Classical elements that were left up by the arch. Off to the left t seemed as though the entirety of Downtown was illuminated from the work lights that were set up down by Ground Zero. Downtown glowed with lights that were set up to look for people that weren’t there anymore. The DJ on WFMU that night was playing a super slowed down cover of the B-52’s Song for a Future Generation. If you’ve heard it, you’ve probably laughed, it’s a ridiculously chirpy pop song. I’ve always loved it. The lyrics go a little like this:

Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy
Wanna be the king of the universe
Let`s meet and have a baby now

In between each stanza, the different members give spoken-word tidbits of information about themselves. For example Ricky, the original guitarist, was a Pisces and “loved computers and hot tamales.“ Ricky also died from AIDS back in 1985 when people still had no idea what the disease was.

The version I heard that night had slowed the tempo to that of a blues song. The dip-shit ironic hipster that sang it reflected this. Stuck on the bridge it felt as though I was listening to a lament. What reduced me to tears, smoking Winstons in my little Saturn station wagon, was the feeling that whatever was left of innocence had recently been or was about to be brutally murdered by pig-face, ignorant men. Wanna be the first lady of infinity. Wanna be the nicest guy on earth. Let's meet and have a baby now.

On the Cliff by the Sea

--by Studio Ghibli




8.21.09 About An Object

Pink. It is pink,
like everything she owns
is pink.

Tiny. It is tiny,
like everything she owns
except her ideas.

Thursday she played
with (pink) tissue paper the way
my cats gnaw on ribbon:

Free, colorful,
and un-dampened by
posture, awareness.

Starch-free spine,
she hugs, she bends, she wraps
herself around the world. It hugs back.

(If I was young
and I am young but
not young,

If I was young I hope
I could turn life into a chocolate milkshake
and be the straw,

the way she is, she does.
Safety. There is such safety
in not knowing you need safety.)

It catches her, or tries to.
It is a seat, a chair, a container
for the uncontainable,

a plastic reincarnation of
god’s palm, holder for wiggly
little lives.

It is a car-seat,
left behind in the back of my
2005 Honda civic.

Friday morning,
I took them to the airport.
Friday afternoon,

I was startled to find in my car a bright pink plastic
reminder they haven’t left me, reminder that
we all try to sit still, toddlers in the hand of

the universe.
Prayer, like a seatbelt,
keeps us in. Together.

--Ruth Baumann, Aug. 2009


Pungo, Virginia 1990

The nursery had a greenhouse south of Pungo almost to Carolina. There was an old low barn outside of it surrounded by oceans of tobacco. We'd spend a ten hour day running the machines, the smell homosote, dirt and thousands of azaleas. Or pansies, imagine the colors involved in a gymnasium sized room filled with pansies. We got sent down there as the mother and son team who ran the place got busted smoking pot all day and embezelling funds. I'd gotten muscles digging with the other landscapers, I'd spent the whole summer digging. At some point I discovered I could get laid. There was a black stray who hung around the place that someone named Buckwheat. He had been hit by a truck and had a crooked tail, crossed eyes and walked in wide looping arcs. I'd lay down on the cool slab after lunch and Buckwheat would crawl up on my chest and drool on me as I pet him. One day down there we finished up early. I got tired of bullshitting in the hot open room so I went and smoked out by the trucks and afterward climbed up the side of an open barndoor and scrabbled up a valley of the rusted-out standing seam roof. I scared a crow off of the peak, took his place and squatted there, looking out over tobacco waving and clouds and Pungo. In a month I'd be back at school. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I was nineteen and I didn't fucking care.


"Follow your strange creative cravings and you will be led into change a step at a time." - Julia Cameron.

Fig.4- Marianas Trench



Laura H.

When she called, I told her how it finally ended.
The only one to know the whole story, to have lived in it
For a while. I imagined her smoking out on her porch,
The twins sleeping inside, in a pseudo hippie skirt
Same harness boots as me, last of the big-trouble girls,
Up on her nighttime hillside in Charlottesville.
She is a good friend, wife to a good friend,
Brave foot soldiers in the war of the disease.
They are two of those who have come out the other side
Of long darkness wild and new and innocent.

I told her my dream of the war, how everyone we know
Will die, and that's all. But the disease is only the beginning,
There's money and sex in it and of course the children
And the only thing we can do is wake up each morning breathing
And fight as hard as we can in an endless struggle to live well.

I told her how when you lose someone you care about that much,
You have to focus all your rage against their memory in an
Attempt to kill whatever you carry of them in your heart.
She understood me. I told her everything.
I paced around the backyard in my own boots,
the streetlight in the alley shining above me against the cedar.

At the end she said, "I'm sorry Clay, that sounds terrible."
Which surprised me, because I never thought about
Any of it as being terrible, just events lined together
In the fabric of a story, but I heard for the first time,
Pure sympathy in that and I thought of her eyes and god bless
Or damn her one for somehow she remembers the exact date
Of every event, every conversation, the names
Of all the players, my therapist, the guys I work with.
She knows the Grove job and the shop in the basement
Where I break down every day. She holds, perfectly,
The whole of the story, and she said that to me.
Which is all anyone ever wants, really, which is
For someone to hear them, to understand, to say
"I'm sorry that happened. Everything is going to be okay."

--Oct. 22, 2008

Prayer 1

God watch over the hard-riders, the fast-movers
The ones with music loud in their ears. May they
Ever supernova upon heaven's blessed highways.
Keep us safe from fires of the mind, ever wary
Of our disease, the wounds we carry with us.
Keep careful watch over all of us, as we watch over
Each other, as we watch over ourselves.

--Nov. 21, 2008


Early one cold spring hangover in Tennessee I staggered out onto the side porch that faced the mountains and found the silver bowl we used to feed the strays with teeming with starlings. There was snow on the mountains. The eight or more of them burst from their knot in an explosion of black. I remember feeling suddenly terrified by the world.




It's just a matter of a single sentence to inspire me to keep doing what I'm doing.


Season in the Sky

All I've seen

walking through

the fire, the figures

in my dreams

run back on me

in a psychic scar

as I ride to the dawn


Monument Avenue


The Four Agreements

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

--Don Miguel Ruiz


War of the Disease 1

Whatever I believe my notion of God is, which changes daily, it is not necessarily always pretty.

If I let it, my day can be sketched in by angry defiance.
I sometimes believe this to be a form of prayer.

This disease mires itself into every aspect, I feel driven to dig it out root and branch.

If you're not behind me, if you're not going to help me, then I want you to stay the fuck out of my way.


Overcoming Toxic Shame

"Toxic shame and its imposed displacement affects not only people in recovery from addictions, but those whose brain chemistry has a different rhythm and pattern than others who meet the cultural norms. i.e. artistic and intuitive types. Modern western civilization favors the left brain (logic) over the right (imaginal, intuitive and artistic nature)."

--Tova Gabrielle (the rest of the article here)



Because her brother and her mom have the flu at her house, and because her daddy’s been out of work all week, May-may came over yesterday to make art. I roll out another five foot worth of paper and cut it to length. I grind up a piece of charcoal in a tea cup with a big three-eights allen wrench, wishing for a mortar and pestle. She watches me, asking questions, I get her to take off her shoes. I tell her this one is for her friends Kelly and Kevin, who moved to Texas. She doesn’t remember them, I say Kelly with the giant blue eyes that she loved, and she says Oh yeah. I spread charcoal out on a cutting board, lift her up by her arms and stand her on it. She stamps around in the stuff, and then I put her on the paper. She hops and runs all around, trailing jet-black foot prints, laughing. I attempt to guide her where I think marks should go, but it’s mostly useless. I suppose it is a form of letting go. I’ll hang the paper and draw something on it afterward, trying not to obscure her footprints too much. For some reason I’ve been thinking about the Mariana Trench again lately, seven miles deep, and swimming elephants. I have no idea why I do things the way I do. After May has tracked all over, we go straight into the tub before she gets the funny idea to hop into my bed or something. Some days I feel like a passable father, like I’m not handing down what I got to them. As I scrub the bottoms of her tiny feet I feel like maybe we’re going to be okay.

I’ve been told lately then when I feel the panicked rage coming on I should concentrate on my feet, where they are, what they are doing. This is useless on the days when I’m not even sure how exactly it is I happen to be walking. I’ve also been told that it helps to close your eyes and say to yourself, I am standing on the earth.

Back before I had any clear idea of what it was that I had, I’d find myself most nights in an immense warehouse downtown called the Shot-house. I could lie to you and say that I went down there to stare at my friend John Deeds’ painting, but mostly I went to keep the drunk going. The D.J. booth overlooked the dance floor, and just under it was a place darker than the rest, where sat a thing called the “Heroin Couch.” One could sink into it and stare at the fast movers out on the floor, but I mostly would drink my beer and study John’s painting.

It was immense, at least twelve by sixteen feet and it climbed right up the huge walls of the place. It had an exquisitely rendered rhinoceros in the lower left corner opposite a Porsche Nine-Eleven in the upper right. Thin straight lines connected various areas of the two entities like a technical drawing. In the middle of the piece was a great white streak of paint with foot prints leading away from it. I got loaded with John one night and got him to tell me all about it. I had thought he painted it off a ladder but he informed me that it was done on the floor of his studio, sometimes laying down on the canvas. I think he said it had something to do with class and art. The only other part I remember is how he said he got drunk one night, dumped a bucket of gouache onto the middle of it, took a running leap into that, slid out and ate shit and then walked off the canvas, leaving a trail behind with his Chuck Taylors. The crowning Fuck-it-all moment. I think I may have been trying to recreate this painting since nineteen ninety three.


After a month, I’ve been at it long enough that the oak I’m working with has etched its' grain pattern into my head, so that when I close my eyes at night to sleep, or not sleep, its' heavy red figure dances up before me. The garage gets over ninety five by noon, it is my sanctuary. I’m lucky, building furniture, however it’s almost exactly six hundred miles from home. Just before this job, a friend gave me three albums by a band named ISIS, which I’ve just about worn out, listening to the point that it no longer resembles music but more of a colored texture lining the jumbled sanctuary between my ears. Violet. Reds and Blues. The days run together.

People have been telling me about ISIS for ten years. The music is huge, complex and lush. It is metal, but not the same kind we had growing up, the music has grown up with us it seems. I skulk daily around my machinery in the garage and let it wash over me.

For the better part of a month the song that encourages me most is one called Hym, the last on their second album, Oceanic, and it sounds to me like exactly that, a hymn. It ascends, it climbs and then it breaks. One day I’ve had it, homesick and covered in sweat, so I turn this song up as loud as I can take it and walk out into the sun and the heat. Daydreaming, I imagine the group set up on a hill near sunset playing at the foot of a mountain range. They are playing music at the mountains. The guitars wind around each other. The sound the singer makes is less like a roar than usual. It sounds as though he is howling at God. This is what has not changed since our adolescence; the thing most rooted in this music is pain.


Ruth's Dream


. We were looking. We were looking as if something seriously depended upon our finding, but I was unsure what we were searching for—that is, until we found it. Aisle after aisle, we seemed to be hunting the elusive “Aisle 14”, the non-existent aisle, the aisle of no return—or perhaps we were just heading there but hunting something more tangible. I couldn’t pinpoint it, just yet.

. It was day-time, I think. Or day-time nearing night-time, the murky in-between, always an appropriate setting. We were stalking through the grocery store, one person always ten feet ahead of the other, mission-style, no eye contact no pause no slow absorption of breathing. We had come here to get it and we were going to get it and be gone. But get what? Ladybug lamps. The answer came simply, as reasonable as light spooling through a sewing needle: ladybug lamps. There was the thread! Immediately, as the realization lit up my mind, he turned, triumphant, a box in hand and a fervent gaze, an intensity trembling through his whole. It was a box of pasta, but lady-bug shaped pasta—the lamp kit, some assembly required. And then it faded and then

. It un-faded and I was in his house. In his living room. Surrounded by at least two dozen baby white tiger cubs, poking up from behind the couch, underneath the TV, on top of the shelf, crouched below the table. All of them mostly immobile, save for the helpless look of love and innocence actively radiating from their big round eyes and rendering captive all the people in the vicinity. And there were people—but it was hard for me to notice at first, because I just kept realizing that there was not him. There were people, yet, people and tigers aplenty, but not him and it took more than a few sludges of time to pass before I realized in front of me stood a little him, peeking out with none of the tentativeness of the tigers. Backwards, perhaps, the confidence. The little him was a little-she, and she stood in front of me, stepping on the table to even out our height a little bit and leaned forward, nuzzled my nose. “A nuzzle-kiss!” She pronounced, and the rest of the words got lost in the cute. There was a long yellow dress on the little-him little-she, and for a moment I thought that was where the sunshine came from, but then I noticed light-clumps all over the periphery.

. Ladybugs. The little ladybugs, there were a few in the living room, as though circling the heart of a prize, but mostly I saw them through the window. And I paused the adorable inside and opened the door, stepping out onto the steps of the unsure outside. The outside that felt something like an inside, raw and opened up and warm, trusting. There was only this familiarity, this comfort oozing from the earth because of the trail of lamps I saw leading out into the wild. Tracks. Bread-crumbs for the eyes. There was a path, I realized, long and winding and lit up on each side with ladybugs, wings spread open on top of the lamp like hearts, like hope, beckoning him to come back, to come inside. Little parcels of light and direction hunting him down to show the way home. They buzzed, faintly, shook a little bit, and I knew they were as alive as I was and I trusted them as love-beacons enough to close the door, turn back to the life there at the moment. I knew he was out there somewhere, looking, looking as if everything seriously depending on his finding and I hoped he knew that what he was searching for was home, waiting.

--Ruth Baumann



for Ruth Baumann



She had been gone a couple of hours when she sent me a message saying she'd fainted at the student health center. I smoked a cigarette, thought about it for a minute and sent one back that said I was on my way. I threw on something that I hoped didn't make me look too much like an out-of-work carpenter, got out to the truck, and called her. She said they had drawn blood to run some tests, that everything was fine, she was okay, just blacked out for a second and hit her head on the floor of the waiting room. No big deal. I asked could I bring her back to my house for a while to make sure she was okay, she said yes, once the nurses let her go.

I had been thinking about work, or making art that day. Another morning spent thinking. Outside was spring and cold and the sky was blue and clear. I had mostly been thinking about her. She was the only thing I didn't worry about. I thought about the blood pulsing through her, that maybe they had taken too much of it at one time. I didn't like the thought of that.

There was a water line broke or something under Broad street there, with guys in yellow down at one end of the block and a hydrant gushing torrents at the other. I parked in maybe a half foot of fast moving water that ran quick against the curb, hopped it and made for the entrance of a large building that hadn't been there when I originally left town. I had my phone out when I went in the big double doors and met her coming out of the elevator, her eyes blue and clear like anything that was ever blue and clear. I realized I didn't give a damn about what our chances were anymore.

She was a little shaky, and I walked her to the truck. I laughed and mentioned that even if I wanted to carry her, she wouldn't have let me. She agreed. I unlocked her door and noted the impromptu creek of cold water flowing just at our feet. She said that the health center had no water. The small stones embedded in the road shone cold and clear and brighter than anything. I helped her get in the truck and together we went home.


It was already late in the day when I blew out of Boone. I picked up 421 and made for the Tennessee line. I knew those mountains, in that I recognized the general rhythm of the curves and the general direction I was heading, but I didn't know anything other than I would not stay in Boone. The bike was running fine, and I was not too tired but everything was wrong. I had spooked myself earlier that day on the parkway after I blew a couple of turns. I had been gravitating to the latter half of a Nine Inch Nails album on my headphones. Trees and houses and North Carolina flew past me, I was eating up road but I was very conscious of the fact I was afraid. It occurred to me that I wasn't sure what I was doing or where I was going. I was a long way from home. It felt like too far out, too alone. I was troubled by the idea that perhaps I had unconsciously come down here to die on a mountain.

I spent an hour of this in country I had never been before. There was a juncture in the road, a small town, maybe Mountain City, I don't remember. I pulled into the gravel lot of a empty laundromat, used the bathroom, got out the map and smoked. I bought a coke from inside, drank it and ate another trail bar, trying to lose the thousand yard stare. Two old men in folding chairs on the porch to a cinderblock building next door regarded me and my machine. I was strung out from the road, heartbroken and afraid. My phone had no service. The sun was blazing pre-dusk orange, edging close to the ridge of mountains. I decided to head more North than West, pick up the interstate outside Abingdon and make for home, something like four hundred miles. I would curl my boots back under me onto the rear pegs, lean down on the tank and run it wide open all night. I could ditch maybe at Tom and Laura's in Charlottesville if I got too tired. I would not go back to Boone. Because I felt like I had to, I dialed up the song that matched the sound my head was making and got the bike back on the road.

I rode it fast out of town on a straight empty road that opened onto miles between two vast fields. The machine thrummed along beneath me. The familiar ache in my shoulders came right back. Everything immediately looked alien again. It was getting cold. The song I'm talking about has only drums and vocals with a strange desolate synthesized noise throughout that sounds like exactly like despair. The only lyrics I can recall are "and I am still inside you." The song's name is "Home."


Crawl Back In

Hammer in skull I am waiting to return your suffering.
In my mind I see you distant, broken and lost again.

When you come back I won't know you.
We won't fit right like it was before.
Time is truth, hard and cruel
and my heart has turned to stone.
I crawled back in, I am hungry,
I made sure my traps are set in space.

We had been standing on these tracks,
all the winds never called us back.

We laid so long, eternal night, in my heart it never left.
I'll stand here, you go on, when you see me I'll be gone.
Every road brings us on the past is never forgiven it is atoned.


Excerpt 2

...I was giving Henry a bath one night when I asked him if he remembered when I was very sick and had to go away to get better. He said he did remember. I told him that I was still sick and had to move out in order to get better. He asked me when was I coming back, would it be in a couple days? I said no. He asked would it be in a couple months or a year? I told him I wasn’t sure, but that I didn’t think I was coming back, but that I would get another house close by and that he could come stay with me whenever he wanted. That it was going to be like his friend Rowan, a mommy and daddy in two different houses, and he seemed okay with that. I promised him I would never be very far from him. It was sometime during the first week of April, 2008. I did my best not to cry when I explained this to him.



...I don’t remember what else we did that day except take the kids down to the river. The house we had bought is very close to what is almost a cliff that overlooks the tracks that line the James. We went down to the river and coming back, ventured to the end of the dead-end road across from us. I had my daughter May-may in the backpack, where sits the oldest house in the neighborhood, a massive old brick colonial, vacant for years. We discovered old overgrown gardens in the woods just past the steel barricade where the road ends, and just below the house found a huge pit, lined with massive boulders with a center that almost looked to be excavated for some reason. It was a good twenty feet down. There was a small grotto of trees in the center and a narrow passage out at the very bottom. It was strange in the purest sense. It was as if we had stumbled onto an ancient ritual site. We decided it was too dangerous to climb down into it with May so we headed home. Coming out of there I realized my entire perspective of our little neighborhood had been altered. Everything I thought about where we lived seemed changed somehow.

I am writing this down so that I can remember it, because almost a year later, most of it seems forgotten to me somehow, and I don’t want to forget. I’m not sure how the dates line up exactly and I’m not sure how important it is that I line them up. I think I am the only one involved who remembers it all accurately, if anyone else even thinks about it at all anymore. To remember it now, it seems to have its own texture. It is painful yet somehow not unpleasant to think about.




Stones from the Sky

...and the music comes apart again.


Affirmations of Some Basic Rights

Nobody has the right to know my mind or my business or to tell me what to think, what to feel, or what to do.

I have a right to my own thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs.

What I share with others about matters that concern me is determined by what feels right to me, not what they want.

If people are abusive or disrespectful to me, I have a right to tell them so, to ask them to stop and to avoid them.

I don't have to be nice to people who aren't nice to me.

I don't need abuse or to be disrespected.

I have a need and right to love myself, respect myself and to stand up for myself.

I always have a right to express what I feel and think for myself, as long as I don't try to tell others what's right for them.

I have a right to be who I am and to harmlessly live my own life regardless of whether others don't like it.

I don't have to feel guilty for not behaving as others might want me to or for not giving others what they expect from me.

I accept myself just as I am in the moment with whatever thoughts and feelings I have.

I accept my right to make mistakes-otherwise I couldn't learn and grow.

I accept my right to my imperfection and shortcomings and don't feel guilty for not being perfect.

I believe we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us- to be treated with love and respect.

I believe that if I am true to myself and live by the highest truth I know that things will turn out for the best in the long run.



1. We will become mature, responsible individuals with a great capacity for joy, fulfillment, and wonder. Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential.
2. We will discover that we are both, worthy of love and loving. We will love others without losing ourselves, and will learn to accept love in return.
3. Our sight, once clouded and confused, will clear and we will be able to perceive reality and recognize truth
4. Courage and fellowship will replace fear. We will be able to risk failure to develop new hidden talents.
5. Our lives, no matter how battered and degraded, will yield hope to share with others.
6. We will begin to feel and will come to know the vastness of our emotions, but will not be slaves to them.
7. Our secrets will no longer bind us in shame.
8. As we gain the ability to forgive our families, the world, and ourselves our choices will expand.
9. With dignity we will stand for ourselves, but not against our fellows.
10. Serenity and peace will have meaning for us, as we allow our lives and the lives of those we love to flow day by day with God’s ease, balance, and grace.
11. No longer terrified, we will discover we are free to delight in life’s paradox, mystery, and awe.
12. We will laugh more.
13. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.



Sometimes when I take the bike out I head up Main to Robinson, then bank east down Monument Avenue and open it up from there. For some reason I don't really care how much noise I make going down a cobblestone road punctuated with sculptures of Confederate generals. My favorite thing to do in the whole city is to make a complete circle around the Lee monument. Once a Starving Students moving truck got half into my lane on the southern half of the radius, so I throttled past him, finished the circle and then smoked his ass for the second time just before Jeb Stuart. This summer I started leaning the bike up and hanging my body into the corner like one would on a sport-bike. I've found I can run it a little faster this way. Last night, once I got a good line established, I reached down and let my left glove skim the curb. I've wanted to do that for three years.



Sometime Last Week,

It occurred to me that every bad thing that has ever happened to me has been a gift.

I have no way of explaining this.

Laid the Fuck Off


At seven fifteen I am the first one on the job, smoking and still in the truck, insulated and waiting for the music to atomize. It is the beginning of my nine hundred and fifty fourth day sober. The sun has not yet cleared the trees, and there is no one back home sleeping warm in my bed. I realize I do not want this job anymore. The mason hasn't shown up yet, his mortar would probably freeze today anyway. The guitars shatter, the music comes apart again, I squint through the light coming through the naked trees. I am doing everything I need to be doing at the moment. I do not even roll the window down for the smoke to escape. I'm only writing this because I'd like to show you how it is.


Margin Walker

I got outside her building and stood there on the stoop in the pale orange street-lit dark, fishing my cigarettes out of the breast pocket of my jacket. I really didn't need one, but it was cold again, and I was still sick. I got it lit and hearing a dog bark, looked up. There was a woman sitting on a porch in the stacked row bungalows across the street, looking at me. I suddenly felt marked, filed away in a catalog of whoever else came and went from the quiet dramas of that building- "Lanky Construction Worker." I got down the steps wondering myself what business I had here.

I had done work around the corner, so this block was known to me, but not on a sidewalk level of intimacy. There was a big filthy white 80's era caprice that was mostly always there, covered in anti-abortion propaganda. I tried not to notice the black and white images of fetuses lining the dash. It was mid-winter in my city, my boots conspicuously loud on the sidewalk in one of the few times I had been out of doors in three days. I pulled on my cigarette and tried not to appear skittish.

This block was the new marginal, pushed further away from downtown, tall buildings filled with one-rooms, Victorian porches replaced with treated-lumber decks, packed with bicycles and reckless debris. I marked each alley as I walked. Down one I heard the low guttural roar of a big diesel, and glimpsed a yellow tow-truck dragging someone out of a far lot, orange lights skimming the periphery. I avoided the memory of getting my own truck that morning out of a ragged lot under a too-big cold blue sky, and the money that I didn't have for it. I tried not to think about work.

The side streets punctuating the long blocks there had small one-story shops in them. I walked the length of one, wide windows open to a wide room, pregnant with opportunity. I placed a work bench in the middle of the space, in late-day sunlight, covered in thin purple walnut shavings, or else a crowded room encircled with bright canvases, children chasing each other around a maze of grown-ups.

I crossed the street to the closed laundromat and the Korean grocery I had been making for, pulled on the cigarette twice outside the door, and left it burning, cherry end off one edge of a newspaper box.

The man, mid fifties, greeted me in the empty store and went back to his paper. The shelves were plywood and thinly stocked in that stripped down 50's grocery kind of way. I tried to imagine what I could bring back that she could keep down. I noticed a bag of Chips Ahoy and remembered, suddenly, my mother microwaving them so that they were soft and the chocolate slightly melted. I decided against it, that would be for my kids, next time I saw them. I imagined them sleeping, miles across town. I considered how much of my daughters left-over anti-biotic I had, and whether I should be sharing it with the girl. I settled on a box of Ritz-crackers and a bottle of Ginger ale, the same thing that had gotten me through the last few days.

The Korean man's dark eyes were friendly but hard to read as he rang me up, probably because I myself felt suspicious. He asked, "Cold outside?" and I responded, "Yes, sick. Stomach," gesturing at my purchases. He said, "Ah, yes, going around." I got some money out of my wallet and handed it to him, wondering about the last time I had washed my hands as well as the next time he would wash his. I tried not to think about the money.

He had on a navy baseball hat with the same Blue-Ridge Parkway patch I had stitched on my leather jacket some months ago. The emblem of a tall pine next to a road. He bagged me up and I got out the door, thinking of high country in North Carolina and running it fast and alone. A country were not much else grows except mountain laurel and pines. I decided I did not want to run away.

The street was as empty as ever, and quiet now. This was not home anymore, it was suddenly Brooklyn except I was not strung-out tonight, I was merely sick. There was no reason for me to ever go back to Brooklyn anymore, and that I probably wouldn't for a long time. No bridge, no tall narrow channels of avenues, no dirty open water where they ended. There were bricks underfoot here and more trees and that was good enough. It was not a grim feeling and did not make me sad. I filed it away, my purpose that night was to get back to the girl I had left on the couch and care for her if I could. I picked up my pace.

She had blue eyes that were different from mine, neither the blue-green of a turbulent ocean nor the steel gun-metal blue of the sky in November. Startling blue, they flashed and were quick and hard to lock on to. They were more blue than anything I had ever seen before. They sometimes frightened me with the thought that anything could happen. I rounded the corner onto her block and considered once more the abortion car. It's Virginia plate said "ALL GOD," and the owner had carefully filled in either side with black letters, so that he carried more of his message across the bumper. It read "We are ALL GOD's children."


I got laid off today

and I think I am tired of doing what i do for a living.