how do I get back now?

The long street in the dark, the branches hanging down low over the pavement, the lights and their yellow pools, the neighbor’s dog barking in her deep, slow voice, the other neighbor’s dog answering, the call going out, relayed across fences and through hedges, alert, alert. Danger, Will Robinson. Remember when Brazil’s National Museum burned? We didn’t see it, of course, but felt the heat, despite the distance, the oceans, the entire continent. We cried together in the living room for all that was lost. Notre Dame burned today. Something else tomorrow. There was an opossum on the porch earlier, digging its nose down into the recycling bin. I watched it for a while through the kitchen window. It seemed neither bothered nor curious about the barking next door, and went about its business licking out the empty tomato cans. I came out onto the porch later, but it was gone. It lives down underneath the porch. Now that the dog is dead, we have all sorts of animals in the yard. We had to build a fence around the gardens. Your mother designed them, and I helped build them. There’s nothing else happening here tonight.

When I’m out there, I’m never sure how to get back. I’m not sure how to get back now. I’m not sure I want to get back. I can go out to the tunnels or follow the trail down through the marsh and across the bog and down toward the industrial park and wander around in the Urban Forestry Center, but then I’m gone too far and coming back is a math problem that can’t be solved. When you’re deep in the Urban Forestry Center at night, you can see the MacDonald’s arches glowing across Route One. You can smell the coffee roasting at Port City Roasters. You can hear the crackling of the power lines and the ringing of the buoys out in the bay and airplanes coming down at the airfield. You can walk to the edge, and it’s like you haven’t gone anywhere at all.Down in the tunnels, I make my way to the iron door that’s welded closed. You can tell someone has been trying to get in. Someone has been hammering on the door with a rock or pipe. When I’m down there, I never see anyone. Someone has scratched an eye into the door. You can hear something coming from the other side, water maybe, or roots growing, or animals burrowing. The tunnels are broad enough for me to stand arms spread wide. Someone has spray painted in giant letters: Welcome to the Jungle, You’re gonna die. There’s one branch of the tunnels that I won’t go down. It splits from the main tunnel. It’s too dark for me, darker than the dark I’m already in. I leave it be. Once I sat down across from the other tunnel and turned off my light and just listened and I couldn’t hear anything. It was so dark that there wasn’t any sound.

I can go down through the bulkhead and into the cellar and get lost around the back of the furnace. Or crawl into the old coal stove someone pushed off to the side. I know the way through the fieldstones and the sand. I know the path beyond it all, but it’s different going out than it is coming in. The light is bright under the coal dust. There is a path in the sand that leads to a door with a name carved into the wood. I can see the name and the grooves made by the knife. I can trace the letters and slip in between the curlicues and lines. This is all alone. This is not here. I can’t get there. I can’t go. Once I’m down into the light, I can’t see anything. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. The only way to get back is to keep on going. Then I’ve got to go down into the rock, way down below the sewers, way down below the skin and scars. I’ve got to get down to where the bones are teeth are thick. It’s one layer after another no matter how far I dig. I’ve been down there, and I’ve been back, but it’s not something I can do now. It’s not something I want to do twice. Still, here I am. There I go. I’m not looking. I’m outside the door and down inside the teeth all at once. I can’t let it happen again, but I can’t stop it either. I can’t see any other way home.

These are the things I can see: our street; the trees across the street in Mitch’s yard; four gourds hanging in each tree; Mitch holding one of the fallen gourds, looking into the hole he drilled to see if there are any birds, or eggs; I can see the bridge; I can see the highway, barely a car going north or south; the remnants of a poster that said Welcome Home Joey; the American flag caught in the wind over at the Alternative School; the softball field that always has puddles; the fencing around the fish-stick factory; the coils of wire down by the power lines; the Great Bog and its trails; the train tracks down near the industrial park where I fell while walking a few years ago and scraped up my legs and side. I can see the hills past the Walmart and then I’m basically to the water. I’m almost there. I’m down near the marshes. I’m crawling through the rushes. The water is splotchy with oil. The birds are quiet in the trees along the edges. I’m down low. The wind is above me, cattails rustling. I’m down by the ranger station. I’m down on Cable Road. There’s no one awake. I’m past the ice cream place and the place that sells sunscreen and t-shirts to tourists. The path is thick with beach roses. The sun is just breaking the line. The terns and gulls coo and preen near the tideline. A sandpiper calls to me, drawing me away from its nest. He dashes past, hopping over the rocks, looking back, chittering once again. I say: I’m not here for your eggs, little one. The sand is cool. Rows of seaweed tell me where the tide has been. I’m down in the water. I’m up to my ankles. I’m up to my knees, my hips, my chest. I’m down in it now. The ocean is very still. I can see all of this. I can see all the way home.

What You Have Heard

What you have heard is true. He was born in a cone of sunlight, or perhaps it was a streetlamp, his birth beneath the skirt of stars, or perhaps there was no light and the cone of sunlight or lamplight has been invented for the sake of remembering, for the sake of memory. His father was present, either way, that big man with the frayed belt, whether it was daylight or night, brightly lit or dim, and he was carrying a camera, some boxy thing that he held near his waist and studied, chin bent to chest. Or maybe it was his mother we remember, the mother that stood with her camera on the balcony overlooking the runway, the planes buzzing down one after another in a haze of dust on that dry day, leaning into the railing, thinking, maybe this plane, or maybe the next, holding her camera at the ready, a Kodak Instamatic, eye glowing behind the viewfinder. And the light is different when we tell it this way too, perhaps not a bright cone nor a dark night, but something in between, a mist, the sky an undulating gray cloth, a scrim of mercury. Today the truth is not with the mother, today the story is not hers. We’re telling it this way: there is the father and his Hassleblad, there is his father waiting near the terminal in his overcoat, hiding his bulk, tucked into an alcove, waiting for his son to arrive in a cone of light or darkness or rain. Today our truth is this: the father, the camera, the rain, steam rising from the asphalt. Today our truth is light, mostly, and rain, light and rain, here and there, puddles like silver trays dotting the tarmac. The actual story changes. Do you think we do not notice? Do you think we care? We have our last story, our last memory, our last remembrance. There is no other way to say this. We’ve forgotten everything, or do not know what we had, or never had anything to begin with. We can remember our names, certainly, and our children and our jobs and the movies we’ve seen and the loss of our virginity and the fire that took half the city and the bombs and the cold nights that came later and the heat of the fevers that left us shaking, but those stories, those memories, are loose, untied, untethered, unattended, without tendency, ghost-memories barely present, absent the cone of light or the skirt of stars or the mist that drives us to our knees. We have his father. We have his mother. We circle now, waiting for morning, when we begin again.

Impossibilum

they said don’t leave us but who could look where he was looking and not leave, that’s what he asked himself as he was pulling away the brick, the first brick, down on his knees in the basement near the cistern, pulling away the brick and sliding down in the hole, or falling into the hole, stretching thin and just zipping down there, blasting into that dark fire, that dark fire, like an electric flare he’s pulled, zipped or zapped, like a hand reaches up and grabs him and pulls him thin, pulls at that one thread until all of him unravels and he’s just a longer sort of thread, and he’s gone, and who would he understand a thing like that anyway? Who would miss him now that May was gone? He’d go over to the Waterson’s where Frank is surely on the porch watching the finches, old Frank who wouldn’t remember his own name if Dave or Doris or one of the others didn’t say, Now Frank, or Here you go Frank, or How about a grilled cheese? Once, when Billy himself was a child, way back at the beginning of the thread, he’d gone to the Waterson’s to see Dave and there was Frank passed out on his stomach in the middle of the living room floor, ass hanging out for all the world to see, and Dave said, Ignore him, he’s so gross, and he’d never been able to see Frank the same again, even after Frank was on the wagon and sang in the church choir in a red robe. His voice carried through the whole church, a deep and lovely bass, and even though he never could shake the image of Frank lying dead drunk and buck-naked, he was sorry that he was so far gone that he couldn’t join the choir when they sang for May, Amazing Grace, it was nice, sure, but Frank Waterson’s big bass voice clear and sober as a judge ringing out, you couldn’t just replace that, and May would have enjoyed it so, and then he was home, eating tray after tray of casseroles and lasagna and deli-platters and hiding in his room drinking cans of Coors and then hiking down to the overpass and wishing for something awful to happen and then he was down in the basement looking at the old cistern and he saw the bricks move, just one at first, just the one, and the light coming from behind the bricks and it only made sense that something else was happening on the other side of the bricks and the field stones and the soil and the sediment and the layers of shale and granite and iron and all that pressure so far down, it only made sense that he’d see the opening when he was down on his knees, that’s how you found your way he remembered as he reached out, tugged on the brick, that’s the only righteous path, to be on your knees, looking in the right direction, and then he pulled the brick free and he was a long string zipping down into the core, either filling up the world or being filled with the world, he couldn’t tell which, and he was light, a particle, a wave, radio, x-ray, gamma, ultra-violet, transverse, longitudnal, electromagnetic, mechanical, a string, a thread, oh May, oh, he was gone

From “The Adulterous Woman” by Albert Camus

“Since the beginning of time, on the dry earth of this limitless land scraped to the bone, a few men had been ceaselessly trudging, possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom. Janine did not know why this thought filled her with such a sweet, vast melancholy that it closed her eyes. She knew that this kingdom had been eternally promised her and yet that it would never be hers, never again, except in this fleeting moment perhaps when she opened her eyes again on the suddenly motionless sky and on its waves of steady light, while the voices rising from the Arab town suddenly fell silent. It seemed to her that the world’s course had just stopped and that, from that moment on, no one would ever age any more or die. Everywhere, henceforth, life was suspended–except in her heart, where, at the same moment, someone was weeping with affliction and wonder.”

Stories that I’ll be teaching this fall #teaching #writing #shortstories

booksEach semester I teach a dozen or so stories to my fiction classes. I always keep a few of my favorites, teach them again and again. But I throw a handful of new stories in each semester. It’s a strange struggle to find stories that I love and that I think will resonate with students. Sometimes, what I think will resonate, falls flat. And often, those stories that I think will be a tough sell, really hit home. I’ve been combing through some books looking for the right stuff. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. “Going” by Amy Hempel
  2. “Boys” by Rick Moody
  3. “We Make Mud” by Peter Markus
  4. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
  5. “Good for Your Soul” by Tim Gautreaux
  6. “Kansas” by Stephen Dobyns
  7. “North Country” by Roxanne Gay
  8. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver
  9. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” by Nathan Englander
  10. “Safari” by Jennifer Egan
  11. “The City in the Light of Moths” by Tim Horvath
  12. “Murke’s Collected Silences” by Heinrich Boll
  13. “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw
  14. “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations” by Shani Boianjiu
  15. “Clear Over Target, the Whole Town in Flames” by Fiona Maazel
  16. “Hot Ice” by Stuart Dybek

New Year/New Writing Project

I know, I know. I’m not finished with the old writing project. The novel is coming along. I hope to be done with a good revised draft in a week or so. But I’m tired of working on the novel and can’t wait to get back to some short stories. I do well with strange self imposed guidelines and deadlines and when I found this little box of month-by-month journals, a project popped into my head. One story per month this year. Each story has to fit into the journal for its month. Here’s a photo of the notebooks and the first page in this months story. Stay tuned for updates.

New Writing Project

New Stories here, and here.

I have new stories (or old stories newly published, for the first time) appearing in Limestone and Nimrod. Both very nice journals full of good fiction, poetry, and other artistic hullaballoo. I’m in Nimrod with my good friend Hayden Saunier, a very fine poet.

Both of the stories are stories I worked on for years. I’m happy to see them both in print and grateful to the fine staffs of these magazines for selecting them and taking the time to make their respective journals look so darn good.

Here are links to their pages: http://limestonejournal.com/ and  http://www.utulsa.edu/nimrod/

 

 

 

 

I’m enjoying reading my story “Purple Jesus” so I decided to read another section. This one is a little longer, and near the middle, I find a mistake and sort of stumble over it a bit, but forge ahead. I suspect I’ll read a bit each day. This part ends at about a third of the way through. So much left to happen! Enjoy.