Poetry: How it was

 

we were wine drunk in a sad state
rain fell softly, our feet bare in tall grass
we discovered and devoured everything
it was a time, I wish we could go back to

a place that no longer exists
nothing is the same
we are not the same
like rain runs off an old tin roof

we did our best
we were all winging it
without a book of instructions
we loved and tried and cried

sickness taught us about mortality
and of time
of right and of wrong
of a balance of life based on mystery

life gave us as much as we took
we were brittle, we were broken
we looked deep to encompass pain
to draw a circle around it and around us

the circle around us, that was grace,
I, just a boy, you, a girl, we
to each other, every boy and girl
we had ever had and lost

we wanted to leave, to not exist,
to go leaving no tracks or marks
to be forgotten and not followed,
we yearned only for us to be

we wondered how to live
for ourselves and for life and
because we believed
in each other as one spirit

we wanted to see the sky,
to go home, but how ?
we did not think past us
over our shipwrecked lives

everything was falling and not falling
the next toehold in life was
sore tired hearts and bodies
of the children we were, we are

we lost, unsure of what was real
we didn’t know what to do or to write
or to say or to ask, to only feel a sad
liberating acceptance of a deeper sadness

we were stripped of a dignity in life
of all things tried and failed
all the love we’re ever given
can be invoked long after it’s gone

I’m here
we are here
in this moment, this place, a time
when once there was this: us.

©Bill Reynolds 1/21/2019

Look both ways, but love the past we’ve lost to the cosmos.
Those gaps are gone, sadly.

Mo’ Po’ Poetry – Quit whining! Write.

This is the second poem like this. To see the first, ‘Blatant Babble,’ click here.

Am I dead when I cannot write? Did I stroke out? Are my feelings hurt? I can write. Shit! I can write drunk. I can always write! The haunting of the living, the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others who may read my screed; so they bar me from my work, my art, my love. My inner say of séance. The ghosts of failure, the confusion of thought, the confessor imposter! The loss of muse; the stark naked strawness of boned-out creative nothingness. But, to fear bland boring blight? I can write. I’m physically mentally capable of stringing words with a good or bad mix into a pot or onto a page. I can write! I can always write; always, always, but not always write a win: my first Pulitzer. Needs work. Write words. I can write. Write?

 ©Bill Reynolds 12/20/2018

I agree. Do you?

Look both ways, but life can only be written backwards.
Mind the gaps, they are spaces on your resume.
Is this all write right?

When It’s a Mere Story (fake, fake, true)

It is a story, a fib, a lie (if you like). I prefer reading and writing nonfiction (reality), but like any writer, I sometimes make things up and present them as literature. They also surface as fiction or reflections of imagination in my poems.

In my writer’s tool box are words, ideas, experience, knowledge, limited imagination, and scant creativity (I know where to get it), technology (a long list of software and hardware goes here), language, and some ability to read and write. Admitting my shortcomings as a journeyman of letters, I consider every editor I know to be a (god or goddess) helpful resource along with a multitude of other writers, authors, and critics.

I like to work with parable, symbolism, simile, metaphor, allegory and allusion, analogy, and soliloquy in poems and essays. I am talking about verisimilitude (all 14 letters and six syllables), or the appearance of reality or truth. I found that word on a list as I researched this piece.

When it’s not biographical and is just a story, it gets tricky. It’s not the writing. It’s what (WTF) am I talking about? Fiction resides in reality and truth. Fact can likewise be disguised in fiction. Names, dates, situations, and persons are often fictionalized in truth.

I know twins (grandparents) who, as children, were both present at a memorable and emotional family event. They both remember it well. However, when they discuss it, each has a different version of the same event, even though they stood side-by-side as eyewitnesses. Each is telling the truth, but how each one saw it and remembers it is different.

One of my favorite authors is Pat Conroy. Pat wrote autobiographical fiction. His stories were based on his real life: his family, people he knew and loved, his schools, his job as a teacher, and other real events. Indeed, his fiction was based (often heavily) on real life.

Conroy paid a high price in several ways. A lot of people got mad at him. Some fellow writers looked down on his creativity (or lack of) in using real world events and people to write fiction. I like the ties to the real. But that does not mean there was always such an entwinement. Other autobiographical fiction writers include Tim O’Brien, Sylvia Plath, Sandra Cisneros, and many others.

Sometimes I make up a story from a thought or memory, but the reality is only a setting or a trigger. It is not necessarily autobiographical or about current real-life circumstances. It is not a message to someone, not a plot applicable to my personal life, not real at all. Many people assume it is. However, sometimes (often?) it is all of that.

I like the ‘how-to’ memoir book by Tristine Rainer, “Your Life as Story: Discovering the ‘New Autobiography’ and Writing Memoir as Literature.” While one should never intentionally lie (fib?), it may be necessary to fill gaps in events with things that may not be exactly precise, true, and factual.

I have been told that every writer (artist or person) puts part of him- or herself into everything he or she writes. I agree. Still, not everything I write is real, or happened, or is about any real person. It may be about how I feel or what I experience emotionally.

Indeed, it was or is true or partly true, or the true facts as I recall them. Often, for me, my writing is a search for myself – for my truth, my honesty, my story, my interpretation of actual events. Maybe it’s just psycho-babble, but writing seems to be part of me trying to say something about me. I’ve written a memoir. It is unfinished, but I will get back to it.

I wrote a poem about a door. A suggested title was ‘An Ode to Agoraphobia.’ While the poem was not intended to be about any mental condition, after I wrote it, I realized it was clearly about fear of going out into the world. I’ve never had such a fear. When I researched possible submissions, I discovered that some publications only wanted it if I suffered from the malady. I ain’t sayin’ I do when I don’t.

The mag’s policy made sense technically, but it was a true poem about a real emotional or mental state that I can only imagine. I’ve written stories about men committing suicide and people doing all sorts of things I never have or will do. Human behavior, bizarre or normal, is interesting. Fiction and nonfiction rely on interest.

The catch is that when people assume what I write is directly associated with my life, they’re usually correct. People who know me personally would certainly assume autobiographical or nonfictional writing, especially other writers. They know how I work. However, sometimes it is just my overactive Irish blarney oozing onto the page with a bit of imagination peppered with fib to improve the taste.

And that, my dear friends, is the absolute truth.

Look both ways in fact and fiction.
Let reality peek into the gaps of light in everything.

Essay: God do what?

While I say I don’t pray, I kind of do – accidentally. A believer might consider my praying to be blasphemy, but so is embracing atheism or agnosticism. As with so many words, blasphemy is only a thing if god exists (like sin), and it is only bad if you happen to believe in god (Satanists not withstanding).
No god = no blasphemy, no sin, no hell – make sense?

I have a few old habits and knee jerk reactions I’ve tried to shed without success. Two phrases I use too often are God damnit! and God bless you. In both cases, I am apparently invoking the supernatural to my wishes. But since intent matters, in the case of god damning, few of us mean it. In the blessing case, it is an old version of universal well-wishing when people coughed or sneezed. It goes back to the bubonic plague days in Europe. How well did that work?

Since I speak fluent profanity, I don’t blurt out the damning one very often. I’ve always been more of an f- or s-word guy. Yet, if someone near me sneezes, I usually have god blessed them before their next breath or sneeze. I’ve been doing that most of my life. When I don’t say something, I feel like an ass. I need to use gesundheit or one of the other secular phrases from around the world, of which there are many. This sounds like fun.

‘Thank you for covering your mouth and I wish you good health. Live long and prosper.’ (Vulcan Salute)

I used to pray often and for many people, but I didn’t pray for everything. I didn’t pray for rain to start or stop, or for any other change to the weather. I never prayed for bad events, personal wealth, or my own health. I don’t know why, but all that seems in bad taste. Likewise, I would never have prayed for anything bad to happen to any other person, unless you count the god-damning of nouns.

I carried a notebook where I kept notes of who to pray for and why. Seriously. People would ask me to pray for them or for some other person. If I didn’t write it down, I’d forget. Weekly, I would go late at night to a chapel room at our church for what is called perpetual adoration, and there I’d pray in the actual presence of the body and blood of JC (Holy Eucharist). That’s why it was there.

God was literally several feet away in a gold sunburst thingy called a monstrance, behind a tiny piece of glass, in the ‘actual’ form of the body and blood of Christ. He and I were alone most of the time. If what the Church proffered was true, I prayed a lot of folks straight to heaven – big IF. That was then. I still carry a notebook, but not for the same reason.

I’ve often prayed for dead people. That is customary for Catholics. Most Catholic parishes have a Book of the Dead which contains the names of the deceased loved ones we prayed for on All Souls Day (November 1st). It’s called praying for the ‘repose of the soul of’ the people we assumed might be in Purgatory; not in heaven yet. That’s how they say it. The repose part was to get them to heaven. A good thing, right? Just an odd way to say it.

Yep. Praying for other people, especially dead ones, was my favorite. Most of my other praying was reading (often aloud) from prayer books; prayers of adoration, love, or general holy stuff. I had my favorites and I still like what some prayers say. Like this poem by Mary Oliver:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

— From “The summer day”;
New and Selected Poems 1992

I am sure that many protestants thought the real presence deal was bull shit. Maybe they were envious. The last time I prayed and was serious about it was about nine years ago.

When people say they will pray for me, I am unsure how to gratefully and gracefully decline the offer. I was diagnosed with cancer. People unaware of my atheism would offer to pray for me. If I requested a pass, they ignored me. So, I just said thank you and moved on.

Some who know of my unbelief would offer to pray, but then would backtrack. I would thank them and explain I understood the intent. I used to pray. I know why people do it.

 Lori Arnold’s (McFarlane) memoir, The Last Petal Falling, talks of her experience regarding prayer. That helped me realize I should be more diligent to replace prayer with action, honest love, or the offer, how can I help?

I usually don’t care what others do. Read a book, contemplate their navel, drink scotch, listen to disco music, meditate, or pray. I think one of those is wasted time, but that’s for others to decide. It’s not my business. Even if others pray for me. It’s okay. If that’s their thing, have at it. However, there is one well-intended prayer I would adamantly decline, if asked.

I hope no one wastes their time praying that god forces me, or any atheist, back to religion. It’s hard to explain, but that’s insulting. It is asking their god to take away my free will. If someone believes in god, I accept that as their belief and I’m ok with that opinion. May they cheerfully return the acceptance.

This kind of ‘praying’ usually involves more famous atheists. For whatever reason and given all the dumb-shit stuff there is wrong in the world to pray for, or all the people who are in need, especially the children; why so many people find it necessary to pray that an atheist will come to the opposite conclusion is mind boggling. I understand why some may wish and hope for change for loved ones. But it is still wrong.

One of the most prayer-group-prayed-for persons in US history was the late Christopher Hitchens. He was a famous writer and atheist of celebrity status who often debated with religious people. These people needed to find something better to do with their time than to pray for atheists (agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) to stop believing as we do. It is insulting and demeaning. I will personally never recant my atheism. Never. Ok, if god physically shows up, I will. But not due to prayers.

How would a believer feel if atheists prayed for them to apostatize? What if we asked their god to turn them into atheists? How would that sit? Admittedly, a believer would see it as a damning petition. In a way, when people pray for us to recant, it’s the same thing; that we’re damned to hell simply for what we think.

I have a right to believe what I think truth to be. It’s unnecessary for anyone to respect what I believe (or don’t), but at least in quid pro quo fashion, one should give the nod to my right to believe it. Praying to take away that right, or doing so in the practice of one’s religion, is an attempt to take away an inalienable freedom: my right to think.

Some religious folks have the piety to keep their religion to themselves, but too many don’t. In many cases, that would be against their religion. If they must do something, they should follow the many religious who do something useful. If one knocks on my door, I may ask them to read my tract and come over to my way of thinking. Many do.

Look both ways and allow others the dignity to do the same.
Think. It’s free and helpful if you don’t over do.
Mind the gaps.

Poetry – Am I This Beast?

 

Am I This Beast?

Am I not my own beast? May I set him free?
This beast lives and he lives within me.
In some manner or way, I am he, and it is I
who fears the beast. And I know why.

This is no charming fucking poet.
He is no eloquent reader of verse;
he’s no lover of beauty for all to see.
‘tis me, this beast, but is he also not me?

Summon your magic, bring on a shaman,
twist my beast with the best that you can.
Bring on the robots. Cast the day’s best witchery
into the face of this monster, who really is me.

Cut him and burn him and poison the beast.
More lives than a cat, he’ll find his way back.
From annihilation, he’ll rise-up, again to be me.
A beast: one with me. Here to kill me, you’ll see.

Look deep. Dig deeper still. Search for his mark.
In this battle for life, made from my nature,
his shadow will be there for as long as I lurk.
This beast that we seek – has control of my future.

© Bill Reynolds 8/8/18

 

Recently, I read about a British poet named Peter Reading. He and I were born on the same day. His poetry is said to be ugly and morbid in its honesty. Yet, I do hope to read more of Peter’s work soon. While Peter was not the inspiration for this specific poem, his attitude was.

I am also trying to write my words as they come, regardless of what others may think. That is not easy, but it’s not like I’m trying to make a living writing poetry. Sometimes, it is just bleak.

This outburst is just another poem. While it shouldn’t be taken lightly, I reject any perceived notion that I need counseling or psychiatric care. I’m fine, but this is how it came to me.

Peter Reading, ‘Collected Poems’ cover

 

Look both ways, inward and out.
Mind the gaps as well as the beast within.

Essay: My FWB Neighbors (4 of 4)

This is the last of my four-part neighbor-knocking recall from our time on the Redneck Riviera (Florida Panhandle).

 

Part 4 of 4: Meet Dangerous Dixie

Directly across the street lived an inspirational hero named Dixie. I met her when she was 97 or 98 years of age. I went to the 99th Birthday bash at Dixie’s home, the same house she and her late hubby moved into 50 years prior, in 1964, when the houses and the neighborhood were all new.

A wee bit bent over, Dixie walked unassisted and talked bitingly sharper than many folk decades younger. If I had a favorite people list, Dixie would be in the top five. I don’t know what it was about the little bull dog that we found so compelling, but Dixie was a treat to behold. A pill, but one you must love.

Meeting and making new friends when they are in their late 90s (Dixie was 30 years my senior) is like no other relationship. There were many things special or unique about her (not all of them sweetness and love), but at that point in life, attitude is more important than ever. One of Dixie’s last great adventures had been an excursion to the Galapagos Islands ten years earlier. She told me all about the trip, remembering many specific details and saying that she got around much better back then, at age 88.

Dixie was convinced that a local lawn guy had dumped a pile of yard-waste at her curb. He hadn’t, but that was not the point. She refused to permit me to dispose of the waste. My wife talked to the guy and offered to pay him to clean it up. He said, “I know she thinks I did that, but I did not. However, I will clean it up without charge.” He did. In Dixie’s mind, he was guilty, and she had won because she had waited him out. We let her go with that.

I have attended exactly one 99th Birthday Party in my life: Dixie’s. She wore two-inch heels and personally greeted each of the many guests. As she would introduce them around the room, naming each guest, she accurately told a little story about each person or couple.

That went on for more than an hour before Dixie finally sat down and took her shoes off. Dixie looked at my wife and asked if she still drove. Dixie’s Mercedes was parked in her driveway, but she had only recently stopped driving. When Yolonda said that she did drive, Dixie said, “Good. Because we need to get out and do some running around and have some fun.”

I don’t know what doctor thought a cardiac pacemaker would be good for Dixie at 99, but a few months following the party she had that surgery. Some weeks later, Dixie was found dead in her split-level home, ostensibly from some form of cardiac failure. Dixie’s 100th Birthday Party was combined with a memorial of her passing as well as celebrating her life. I knew Dixie for less than two years of her long life, but I will not forget her.

In many ways, I would like to be like Dixie. However, I could never measure up to her spark, enthusiasm for life, or love of nature.

Look both ways in life, even when there is a lot more was than will be. Mind your gaps.

 

Essay: My FWB Neighbors (1 of 4)

We moved from San Antonio, Texas to the Florida Panhandle (aka southern Alabama or the Redneck Riviera) in 2012. It was to be my last assignment before retiring three years later and subsequently relocating to live near Seattle for a few years.

I got the idea to blog about my neighbors from reading one of Joey’s posts. To be brief, I’ll post it in four parts, each with a featured glimpse of one of the real-life characters/neighbors I met whilst living in the Sunshine State.

Part 1 of 4: Wheeler-Dealer Danny Boy

Not the real guy, but almost.

The neighborhood was built in 1964 and was mid-century semi-modern (i.e., small and old). A man who was a native of either the Empire or Garden State named Danny was my neighbor and lived in the house to the left of ours. Several feet separated our long, sloped driveways.

Danny was an interesting character. If I were to write a book titled, Wheeler-Dealer Meets Reality, Danny would be the main character. His first name was the same as my estranged half-brother and I noticed similarities. Danny’s house was in an uncertain stage of foreclosure. For whatever reason (I neither knew or cared) Danny-borrowed using his home as collateral when the housing market value was increasing. He told me that several times he went to the bank for more as the assumed value increased.

After the collapse of the housing market, Danny owed far more than the property was worth. So, he stopped making all payments. He moved out for a while, opening the door for repo, but then (with legal advice) he moved back in so that they could not repo so fast and easy.

Danny went to different doctors for medical care and used two services. VA for free and some other docs covered by his mail carrier’s insurance. The way he explained it to me was, “I kind of play them against each other.” I cannot recall responding to that comment, but I know what I was thinking. Irony is coming.

I am not sure exactly what marriage Danny was on, but it was number three or four. I never asked him if trading in wives for newer models was precipitous to his financial problems. For as long as I knew him, Danny was deep in debt, in default, and living in a house that was going to be taken away “any day now.” But living there virtually for free. He kept the lights on, but was no longer buying his house. Danny was interesting and while I liked him, I was not gunna follow any of his get rich quick plans.

One day a pre-teen boy knocked on my door. He was a pleasant lad between the ages of 10 and 13. He asked me if he and his friends could use my driveway, which was probably the largest hill in Fort Walton Beach, to ride their bikes (and skate boards and whatever else with wheels) down. I was impressed that he asked, so I said yes provided that their parents knew about the deal. I agreed to this in a town where all children’s swings in the parks had been removed for fear of litigation. While there were some minor crashes, no serious injuries resulted, and I have not been sued. The kids had fun almost every day and I liked the idea that I contributed. It was my driveway on my rented property, or so I thought.

I forget how I learned that Danny had told the kids to go away and that they were not allowed to use my driveway for recreation. But, he did exactly that, and I was pissed. Before I could calm down enough to confront him, Danny had a severe heart attack and was hospitalized for bypass surgery. He recovered, and I decided to let it go. The kids would not return, even if I explained the problem. Danny and his wife eventually moved (evicted), and his home was finally repossessed by the lenders or banks, flipped, and then sold. I don’t recall the new neighbor’s name, but they were not as interesting as Danny. Normal neighbors can be boring.

Look both ways to see your neighbors. Mind the gaps and the children.