January 15, 2012


I was not on the job for a week before the team stopped an old powder blue imported station wagon. The driver was one of the expendable pack mules doing his best to appear ordinary, innocent and innocuous. He did not speed, he had no defective equipment and he passed through in the middle of the day. What he did not do was look over at the deputy sitting in plain view perpendicular to the interstate in a large and clearly marked bristling black SUV. No glance, no nod, no recognition. The mule made a point to look straight ahead and did everything in his power to be invisible. Glued on his dashboard was a topless hula dancer swaying in the 70mph rhythm and a small flag holder holding an American and a Canadian flag. Normal and ordinary. Horseshit. All this intensive attempt at normalcy succeeded in doing was drawing the deputy’s attention. And the interdiction deputy on duty this day was Buck Blackwell. Buck is of medium height, thick set, with a sense of latent power and irresistible sense of humor. He was the only man who wanted out of Mississippi so bad he drove himself to boot camp at San Diego and into Jarhead legend.
Buck’s contraband gland thumped hard in his chest when the ordinary station wagon rolled by at 69mph. He pulled out from the median accelerating rapidly to catch the wagon before it passed over the Theotokos River into Nassau County, the headache of Florida extradition and the sharing of the spoils with another agency. Almost immediately the driver’s fraying normalcy betrayed him and he drifted over into the center lane and gave Buck just what he needed, the old standby, failure to maintain the lane. He lit up his blues and radioed dispatch. The fun was at hand.
Many innocent travelers (with you probably included) see Buck and his brethren as stereotypical Southern cops complete with standard issue donut and blackjack. They are nothing more than simple Roscoe P. Coletranesque wise-fool cracker hillbillies enamored of racin’, wrasslin’, dippin’ and The Lost Cause or just as likely a badge-and-attitude smartass in love with his ticket book and just looking for a reason to lock somebody up. Either iteration is annoying and tiresome but ultimately just another trial the weary traveler must endure before he can be on his way.
Think again. This day the dear harmless traveler (or any number of imitators) has just ridden into a well-crafted web from which he may or may not escape unscathed (or at least unburdened). This peace officer you think is a borderline inbred idiot is a professional outfitted with the best training and equipment (including an MP-5 fully automatic machine gun if things get real ugly) drug dealer’s money can buy (it spends as well as any) and he is using the incompetent doughnut eating stereotype to your disadvantage. He appears affable, almost apologetic for having to stop you, luring you in. He will ask you and your passengers a few seemingly routine questions. He will watch your hands. He will keep his back away from the flow of traffic. He will keep his weapon well out of your reach. He will watch your hands. Buck Blackwell is a near-cyborg, bringing to bear the practiced eye of experience and a full range of skills to identify even the most subtle clues. He is also paying the closest attention to the intangibles, his nearly infallible internal alarm and he takes full advantage of the gift of fear. He sees the small signs, the subtle shifts in body language; he will note your hands behind your back, your nervous inability to stand still, your lack of eye contact, your pulsing carotid. You won’t know it but he is asking your passengers the same questions. Do your timelines, your destination and your reason for taking to the road match up? One time there was even a rented family. The driver said it was his wife and kids. She didn’t even know his name. Criminal stupidity is sometimes our greatest ally.
But I digress. All these processes, the question and answer, your body language, your vehicle type and the look in your eye are all running in the background of Buck’s mind while you think you’re just shooting the breeze with Barney Fife. Just when you think you’ll walk away with a warning he will very politely ask to speak to you again. He’ll say we have a very real problem with drugs and weapons being transported on the interstate then he’ll ask if you have any guns, knives, drugs or perhaps an atomic bomb in your vehicle. He’s looking for a chuckle the normal response. If you were to say no in a serious or offended tone it’s another piece of the mosaic. Your response will determine the next step.
In his vehicle is a dog that is your worst nightmare. She doesn’t/won’t take commands in English but in Dutch or German or one of a host of other languages depending upon her country of origin. She is so highly trained/proficient she can find almost any drugs, drug paraphernalia or large currency stash no matter how well you think it is hidden. She has found cocaine smothered in axle grease, she has found cocaine wrapped in a plastic bag in the gas tank, and in coffee, and in moth balls, in produce, in spices, even formed into china tableware. No matter which precautions are taken scent molecules are left behind which her sense of smell, which is 400 times more sensitive than yours, will detect. The courts see any positive alert on her part as probable cause to search your vehicle and if Buck told the dog to do so the bitch would chew your arm (or some other appendage) clean off. Like a thoroughbred horse she is bred to be one thing, a supreme synthesis of form and function, breeding and temperament.
Imagine if you can a workplace where no encounter is ever routine. This is not a world of familiars but a steady stream of strangers, some compliant and respectful but also others who are openly hostile and hating what you stand for, the authority of which you are the embodiment. Every shift is life and death. There are always at least two interdiction deputies working together and watching each other’s back, they can even listen to each other’s body mics. If you’re fool enough to tangle with one you’ll soon have to contend with the other. They value teamwork so highly because experience teaches that when hunting dangerous prey it is far safer to hunt in packs. They live and die by the belief that it is better to be tried by twelve than to be carried by six. So the next time you go flying by remember to be polite and wave.

May 30, 2011

Slave To The Machine

            I was rereading Fred Saberhagen’s excellent short story collection The Berserker Wars (the Berserkers are machines that destroy all human life) and considered how much we fear that our own creations, our own attempts will turn against us. I guess then we’ll know how God felt.
            Thinking machines, machines beyond our control? I suspect they already are. It is fashionable to see machines and computers (which are the machine equivalent of brains I suppose) as symbols of evil, as Jungian projections of our ultimate nightmare, an electronic Ragnarok. Reason run rampant.
            This view is imprinted on our culture as entertainment, interesting conjecture, pap for the masses, a klaxon unheeded. This anxiety of man vs. machine or even man and machine is deeply rooted. Edgar Allan Poe in 1839 published the Man Who Was Used Up about an old military veteran made almost entirely of prosthetic devices (even his tongue) as the result of injuries sustained fighting the Indians.
            The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin’s 1972 novel Cyborg), Darth Vader, the Borg in Star Trek are not far removed from the creations in Blade Runner, the Terminator movies, The Matrix, the Cylon’s in Battlestar Galactica2001: A Space Odyssey and a host of others. These are just fear echoes of the same anxiety felt in A Clockwork OrangeChildren of Men1984, Brave New World, We, The Handmaid’s Tale and the all too true One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch.
            Our failure to act against oppression, our failure to value our solidarity, our willingness to que up at the computer/phone store and take what they hand us will have catastrophic consequences. I write this knowing it to links forever back to me, that I carry a phone that is essentially a tracking device, that we live in a world that not many decades ago would have been unthinkable. A cell phone to a railroad baron would be like the Spirit of St. Louis to Shakespeare. The world changes at the speed of light and we must be vigilant. It should be more obvious.  Any freedom we surrender whether it to a tyrant, a system or a machine is freedom cheaply sold. That which we do not control enslaves us.
            One need only read Tadeusz Borowski’s achingly horrific This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen to be reminded our fears are well founded. 

November 24, 2010

Life After Death - A Thanksgiving Story

Thirty-nine years ago today my father failed to pull out of the final plunge of his decades-long death spiral. Like today it was the eve of the designated day for giving thanks. I was eleven, the third of five children. We all witnessed both his descent and it’s fatal culmination because we had no choice.

My youngest daughter’s life at eleven is vastly different from the frozen hell of death and despair that was my reality then. There is no abuse in her life. Meals are regular, love abounds and ghosts have no place here. She has never witnessed me hitting my wife nor my wife reciprocating in kind. Screams never shatter her sleep, bloody whelps never scar her skin. She never has and never will see me in an alcoholic blackout bathed in my own piss and vomit.

While far from perfect hers is a life of plenty. There is no alcohol. The bills are (for the most part) paid. She has no real hunger, no want, no lack. Life is not marred by violence or the permanence of memories best left buried. Love and laughter abound. Thanksgiving is for her a time, a state of mind, an acknowledgement of the good life that everyone in this family enjoys. 

It has not always been easy and has frequently been a process of three forward and two back but I am a proud husband and father with a family well cared for. Finally the past has passed as the Lord continues to bless me and mine. We all give thanks.

August 25, 2010

Death Of A Friend

It was a broken leg that so abruptly ended her life. Descending the three stairs she had gone down thousands of times she fell and shattered her leg, a fracture almost as long as the bone itself spiraling down from near the top to the lower joint. My wife was there first and saw the leg hanging at an odd angle and clearly unmoored.  A strange, almost nauseating sensation, a limb should not just hang free, out of control.

She shared our home nine years and was as firmly a part of the family as any of us. Her fast days were behind her but was still breathtakingly beautiful. She slowed with the coming grey but her nobility, her innocent beauty only increased. Cancer had weakened her bones. Incurable. The break would not have healed. Amputation and chemotherapy would have only delayed the finality, the slope to death perhaps not as steep but just as sure, just as final. She died in the embrace of the man who perhaps knew her better than all the others. For her the crash of pain eased then ceased. For us the pain ebbed with false hope then came the flood with the true loss.

Angie was a beauty, as kind and gentle a soul as ever there was. She was a Greyhound, an ancient breed and to my mind, the most beautiful of all dogs. Before injury forced her out more than a decade ago she had literally lived in the fast lane, racing under the name Angie’s Foxy Lady. She was more than a friend, more like a daughter. It was an honor and a privilege to have been there holding her when she crossed the bar.

June 19, 2010


            Lardas Johnson has a decision to make. Not an ordinary 'smoking or non-smoking' type of decision but one that truly troubles him. It perplexes and taxes his mind. There is a deep-seated doubt in Lardas that he cannot shake.
            That is the core of his quandary. He cannot decide whether or not to send more money to Brother Carl Wayne Speck, the pastor of the Blood Bought Baptist Church Of The Risen Savior Who Bled For Us.
            Lardas is a big man, just a smidgen over 350 pounds. His suit de jour is a faded and oft repaired pair of bib overalls over a blue t-shirt. Unless he's going to work when he puts on his white mechanic's shirt under the overalls. Handsome is never used in the same sentence as Lardas. Except by Stormy. Stormy is the other half of the Johnson clan and built to fit Lardas. She knows he is a gentle man and always content with his lot in life.
            Until a year ago when the miracle happened.
            "But Darlin' I feel obliged. We pledged to send the money and we ought to keep our solemn oath," said Lardas.
            "I don't care. That man ain't nothin' but bad news. He is a liar and a cheat and I hope he burns in hell for what he done to us."
            "Come on Stormy we got to keep our promise. What happened was not his fault."
            "The answer is no Lardas. As long as there is a breath of life in me that man will never get another penny of our money."
            The Johnsons live in the middle of a barren field in Cumberland County, Georgia at the bottom midsection of the state not far north of the Florida border. Not quite the middle of nowhere but somewhat west of Hahira and the Okefenoke Swamp
            The doublewide is in Hidden Oaks, a community of trailers just off of State Route 188 between Cairo and Ochlocknee. In the yard there is a battered blue plastic swimming pool full of stagnant brown water and black bugs. A brindle mongrel dog, vicious now from the captivity, is staked in the middle of the yard. His only respite from the unflinching Georgia sun is a doghouse made from an oil drum. It has been seven human years since the dog has been free of his chain. He believes his name is Shut Up.
            Stormy and Lardas have been married for 10 years. They married because they both realized they had found someone they could at least tolerate. But over the years as they shared life they fell in love and Lardas, like most married men, wanted to perpetuate himself by siring a full brood of little Lardases.
            But despite their enthusiastic and not infrequent exertions the younguns were not coming. Both went to the doctors in Jacksonville and medically they were fine. So Lardas and Stormy started praying and seeking the Lord. Lardas was especially smitten by the program from the Blood Bought Baptist Church Of The Risen Savior Who Bled For Us.
            The show was broadcast from Valdosta where Brother Wayne Speck and his bee-hived wife Sister Angelica Jean preached a peculiar message they called plantation faith. They seemed to be saying that if you sent your seed (money) to God (but addressed it to them) then He was scripturally obliged to use all the workers on his earthly plantation to bring about doubling your harvest (usually money) and send it back to you. Brother Wayne and Sister Angelica Jean never came right out and said God was willing to swap favors but it was clear that Brother Speck was willing to grease any palms, even those with scars.
            But that was not what necessarily interested Lardas. He was interested in the miracles Brother Wayne performed. It was American primitive kabuki. The stock characters, the obese woman, the child in a wheelchair, the blind man or the gaunt heroin/crack addict Satan worshipper would be pushed into the frame and Brother Wayne would announce their malady. He approached them like a man with a newspaper ready to swat a cockroach and smack them dead center in the middle of their forehead with the palm of his healin’ hand while screaming with holy spittle thick in the air, “In the name of Jeezuz I rebuke Ye Satan, flee this child of God in the name of Jeezuz I command it!”  Suddenly the blind could see, the lame could walk, the mongoloids quit drooling.
Lardas, despite believing in his heart of hearts that some of the healees made repeat performances, secretly sent off a substantial love offering for a miracle prayer cloth and reverently placed it on Stormy's stomach while she slept.
            A month later she was with child.
            "See Honey, I told you it would work if we had enough faith," he said.
            "I wish you woulda told me you was puttin' that thing on my stomach every night," Stormy said. "It's kind of spooky is what it is. How do we know that ain't nothin' but an old cheap piece of pillowcase?”
            “That don’t matter. What matters is Brother Speck putting his healin’ hands on it and praying to the Lord. My faith paid off and God answered my prayer. And now we gonna have us a son.”
            “How do you know it’s gonna be a boy Mr. Smartass?”
            “Because that’s what I prayed for.”
            Despite her initial misgivings Stormy succumbed to the power of Mommyness. Her love for Lardas deepened as she slowly accepted the idea that here was the opportunity to create their own family and to break the chain of some of the issues that plagued both their families. Together they would raise their boy right. Wayne could teach him to hunt and fish, to respect the land to only kill what you can eat. Stormy would make sure he had good manners and treated women right. He would be a little gentleman.
            And so they did. Darnell Wayne Johnson (they both called him Bubby) came fully into their lives as the days cooled and the world turned brown, red and yellow. It was love at first sight. Bubby was a handful, curious and gregarious. Lardas insisted he wear overalls and a Mohawk. Stormy insisted he brush his teeth and say Sir and Mam. Lardas took him riding on the four-wheeler. Stormy made sure he was buckled correctly in the carseat. Lardas taught him it was OK to pee in the yard so long as no one saw. Stormy insisted he lift the lid and wash his hands.
            The only thing missing was another one just like him. But as a girl of course. Stormy longed for tea parties and calico dresses. Lardas longed to meet a little version of Stormy, to watch her grow to be as beautiful as her mother. To be able to say, “That beautiful young lady is my daughter.”
            So they tried. And tried. They tried to count their blessings, to be grateful for the precocious boy who filled their days, who hijacked their lives and set them free with his unadulterated, unconditional, non-judgmental love. He saw only the good, still blind to their faults, still innocent. Still. Another child would complete the family picture.
            “OK, OK. We’ll talk about it later.”
“No we will not.”
“But Stormy I feel like I owe him for all he done for us.”
“And just what has he done Lardas other than bringing us more heartache than anybody oughta ever have?”
The call came at work.
“Lardas you gotta meet me at the hospital.”
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s Bubby. Just get to the hospital fast.”
The boy was in the grasp of many monitors. Unresponsive. Asleep. Lardas hated himself as soon as the thought crossed his mind, but it looked like a pit crew. They were checking the boy's oil, looking under his hood while others filled his tank and checked the pressure. The crew chief/doctor said it was like a coma but not. Such trauma was hard to treat but children are very resilient and can often endure much more than we believe they can.
Inside himself the boy was at peace. He was playing, running and jumping with his father on a cool November evening. Outside his inner reality, unable to pierce the veil, Lardas and Stormy were stunned, frenzied, unable to cope with their only son, their only child, reduced to this.
“What happened?”
“I’m so sorry. I was backing the truck up. I didn’t see him. I told him to stay in the house. He could not have moved that fast. The back wheel, it ran over him. It was the mudhole, the ground was soft but still I run over him. I am so sorry.”
“Oh my God Stormy how could you do that?”
“I didn’t mean to I love him just as much as you do don’t blame me please don’t blame me it was an accident oh God oh God please don't blame me.”
Together they stood lost on the tide of grief and unbelief.
            Next came the vigil. The boy was never alone. Always Stormy or Lardas were with him. Lardas began putting the prayer cloth on the boy’s head. Weeping in prayer, crying out to a deaf god. Stormy talked to him hoping her voice would pierce the veil, having to believe her son could hear her. Her voice was the voice of God for the boy. He more felt than heard her but it eased his pains, slowed his decay.
Lardas wrote a letter to Brother Wayne telling him what happened and asking for a new prayer cloth, a new miracle. Instead Brother Wayne came and stood all night with the father joining him in prayer, easing his mind.
Still. It was not enough. At shift change with Lardas and Stormy both in the room Bubby’s body jolted, his small body tensed and went limp and he released/set free a long slow breath as this life left him. Alarms screamed as all signs of vital activity ceased. Stormy’s soul erupted in a scream, a primal otherworldly blood chilling lament, the sound of all hope and joy forever gone into the ether, the cry of a mother left bereft and now childless by her own hand.
            Lardas found he needed to rest. He could no longer hold his body upright, he fell to his knees, his head slumped onto his chest. His mind slipped into a void of nothingness, the pain, the grief too visceral, too much.
The doctor and chaplain came. One offered only physiological reasoning, the other trite observations on our inability to understand God’s plans or his reasoning. In essence he told these two no longer parents that they would just have to reconcile themselves to the ways of an unknowable and unfathomable God and wait for time to ease their burden.
            The funeral was standing room only. Family friends and complete strangers gathered to remember the boy, to love the parents. Wayne Speck sat and wept unobtrusively on the back row. An unfamiliar sensation overwhelmed him. Prayer cloths and plantation faith were no solace as the fist of God held him.
Lardas arranged with the funeral director to have the prayer cloth that brought them Bubby put into the boy’s hand before they sealed the coffin. He felt the boy should have it with him over on the other shore.
            After the red-hot grief had cooled enough to speak the boy’s name without it burning his tongue Lardas continued the conversation with Stormy. She had resolved within herself that the trouble lay with that piece of shit so-called preacher in Valdosta. He had done this. If he had stayed out of their lives none of this would have happened.
            “But Stormy it ain’t his fault and I gave him my word.”
“If it ain’t his fault then who’s is it? Tell me Lardas, who’s fault is it?”
“It ain’t nobody’s fault. We just have to remember the time we did have with Bubby. They were good times Stormy, the best times of my life.”
“I’m telling you right now and you listen good Lardas Johnson. You send that man another dime and I will leave you. You gotta decide, me or him.”
Lardas decided his wife, blind in her rage was wrong and he took the biggest gamble in his life. He sent cash money to Brother Wayne to get another prayer cloth as full of the anointing of God as Brother Wayne could make it.
            At night when left with only his thoughts and his regrets and the sound of his forever wife succumbing to the solace of sleep he took the cloth from it’s hiding place, unfolded it like an altar cloth and laid it on her belly.

 © 2010 William Terrell

June 15, 2010

A Killer Poet

I distinctly remember the first time I worked a full shift at the Sheriff’s Office. I was driving northbound on the interstate enjoying the sensation of being THE MAN. The Poe-lease. The Five-O. I was armed with a 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic firearm, pepper spray, a ticket book and just enough experience to be dangerous. A poet I was not. A warrior I was really trying to be.
Then, reality. My mind began trying to embrace the reality that whatever came out of that state-of-the-art super-duper Motorola radio would be my responsibility. Whether it be a burglar alarm, a murder, a broken down vehicle, a rape, a funeral escort, a suicide, a stranded traveler, an armed robbery, an unruly juvenile, a molestation, a hazard in the road or any of the other innumerable versions of malice and mayhem I would have to respond.
My mind might have the luxury of having a few minutes to formulate a plan en route. Or it might not. It could erupt so quickly right in front of me that my body would respond quicker than I could think. And either way I would have to get it right. And fix it. Or at least contain it till the fixer could get there. This was heavy and I was suddenly not sure I could handle the weight.
What to do? I could trust my instincts. Believe in my training. Clear my mind. Respond to the situation at hand with flexibility and react appropriately to even the smallest changes.
Sounds easy enough.
Except it isn’t.
It’s life and death.
To be unprepared is to be defeated.
How did I get myself into this? Am I as ready for this as I can possibly be given the amount of mental and physical preparation available to me? Many times while practicing aikido I have asked myself the same questions.
One of the reasons aikido attracted was the notion of being a gentleman warrior, to be able to defend myself without resorting to unnecessary violence, to possess the latent ability to respond to a threat quickly and effectively, to be a coiled spring. To contain the dichotomy of the calm, polite, well-mannered berserker.
There has been a great deal written about the concept of the warrior-poet, just exactly what the term means and the role of such a person in different cultures. It is an interesting concept but I am too much of a novice to speak intelligently about anything but my own experience.  I profess to be no expert. My thoughts reflect a great simplification of a very complex concept and are not my final thoughts on the subject. This is just one of the ways I have examined the idea of a warrior poet in my own life.
For me the concept of the warrior poet can be fairly straightforward and not necessarily an esoteric dissertation (although there is a time and a place for such things) on mind and no-mind. Simply stated in this train of thought the poet is my conscious mind, the warrior is my body. Training the mind is much harder than training the body.
There are times when my body takes over with reflexive movement faster than my conscious mind can formulate. Call it instinct. Call it training. Call it muscle memory. Either way I know that in some threat situations my body will respond independently without me knowingly/deliberately willing it to.
One day at the office a co-worker came up behind me wielding a pencil as if it were a knife. My arm rose in response so fast I drove the pencil lead into my arm where it promptly snapped off. I do not remember seeing her until after I responded. My body acted of its own accord. There was no time to dash off a haiku. No time for mushin no shin (a relaxed but hyper alert state of mind). No time to decide which stance I should assume in response to what was basically a shomenuchi  (overhead blow to the head) attack. My body responded in defense of itself, true self-defense.
In this situation it is to my advantage to have a body that is flexible and strong, to be relaxed but alert. The kind of body developed through the steady practice of aikido, the situational awareness fostered through the consistent practice of aikido techniques both on and off the mat and the mindset of not expecting a threat to be around every corner but to be prepared for it nonetheless.
One night while again patrolling a stretch of I-95 I pulled over a passenger car for speeding. The location of the stop was miles away in either direction from the nearest exit. Any backup would be at least 10-15 minutes away.
The driver got out and so did five other adult males. Then to really jack things up the driver proceeded to urinate right in front of me. He was saying he believed himself to be the alpha male and that I was just another dog.
My first response was to notify dispatch to have my brothers in arms coming to me. Just in case. In this case having a strong and flexible body would help. Aikido technique would help a great deal but if this situation escalated the S&K .45 semi-automatic high velocity projectile tsuki (a straight punch) would have been my optimum technique choice.
It was my strong and flexible brain, the poet, the thinker, the rational, conniving part of me that kept me alive. The aikido training, the breath control, the soft focus, the confidence. No panic. Staying calm and cool and waiting for backup. Keeping all of them in sight and not let them get behind me. Use my training and experience both on and off the mat to place my body in the best possible defensive position. To keep my weapon guarded but available
And to talk. The five passengers leaned against the car and broke out the cigarettes. I kept a running conversation going with the driver, consciously trying to defuse the conflict, to avoid the use of deadly force. But if they had bumrushed me the warrior, the instinct, the training, the muscle memory in me would have taken over and I would have fired at them. I would have done everything possible to go home and not to the morgue at the end of the shift.
Of course the best possible way to avoid conflict would have been to never have put on the badge. Or the gi.  But where’s the fun in that?
This essay was also posted on my dojo's blog and on two prominent aikido websites.

June 7, 2010

A Great Legacy Pt. 2

These are but a few of the many talented writers and poets from the great Southern tradition in American literature. My favorites in this particular group are William Faulkner, a visionary and genius by any definition and the writer who set the standard for all who came after, Flannery O'Connor, unrivaled writer of short stories and Fred Chappell, a ferocious talent as a writer and poet.

I was not aware of the strong Southern contribution in American letters until I was introduced to some of these artists  in college. One of the reasons for this outporing (especially with Faulkner) was their ability to combine their sense of history, a tradition of story telling, a strong sense of history and place with new ways of writing and thinking (stream of consciousness etc). They were able to look both forward and backward across the historical landscape.

At a time when many considered the South a land of poor, racist, unlettered folk who couldn't get over losing the Civil War these artists were creating works that will stand the test of time and remain some of the best writing in any language from any time period. It is a tremendous legacy of which I am very proud.

April 20, 2010

Come Listen To My Story . . .

How I found myself sitting in my driveway at 1:00 in the morning with a loaded rifle across my lap is a short story that can be summed up in one word.
Armadillo. Or more specifically the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).
He drew first blood.
I’m sitting here in my small town Georgia bliss minding my own business when out of nowhere, divots. All over my pristine, immaculate lawn  divots the circumference of a saucer. The sod torn up leaving a hole just big enough to be very, very annoying.
I tried mediation. I sealed up every spot under my fence through which he could launch his nightly raids. He only redoubled his assault mocking me with his ability to appear out of the ether to continue his nefarious nocturnal munching before vanishing back to whatever hole he called home.
            I considered using a trap but scuttled that plan when I realized I didn’t have one. There was only one option left. I would have to launch a projectile at more than twice the speed of sound into his abdomen with extreme prejudice. A bushwhacking was in order.
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. . . Oops, sorry, flashback.
It took about two weeks of nocturnal missions until last night I finally had him in my crosshairs. He crossed my perimeter not realizing his nights of digging divots were about to cease.  But he didn’t come alone. Another armadillo from his squad came with him. There was no safety in numbers.
In the end it was not really a fair fight. My ruthless cunning, my well-honed killer instincts, my bigger brain sealed their fate. They are now a part of the circle of life taking a dirt nap in the empty field next door. I love the smell of de-lifed armadillo in the morning.

April 13, 2010

The Acid Kiss Of The Jelly Fish

Life weary children roam the blue hills
On paths half hidden through the wild woods,
Across deep creeks, over sharp fences
Out running the demons at their heels.
The demons dance in the growing night.

Strengthened by hardship, hardened by pain
As night drops the deep valley darkens,
Mother’s voice carries down the dark holler
The porch light calls the blind moths home.
To home, home, the pain in the night.

Wading now in sleep's black pool
Today fading into yesterday,
Cadaverous King Nightmare awakens
Patient, waiting for dreams not yet dreamt.
Dreams of hope, hope in the night.

Without warning Her pain is loosed
Warm blankets yield, baring white flesh,
The wide black belt brings bloody red welts
Like the acid kiss of the jellyfish.
The merciless belt biting in the night.

We are the anvil for Her hammering rage
The legacy of all the wrong done to Her,
Beatings beyond measure on innocent flesh
Her father wielding a wire coat hanger.
Her father beating her in the night.

Don’t inflict wounds they only fester,
Rotting into scars that won’t ever heal.
Don’t leave your children
Don’t leave your children
Don’t leave your children
Trapped in the cold night.

April 8, 2010

In A Surrogate Tomb


I have a visitor.

I possess a deadly seed. The doctor, young and arrogant in his omnipotence, told me It had spread.


The cancer. This is, I suppose, the ultimate irony. A body that has always been clean, almost immaculate, would turn upon Itself. What triggered the malignancy? I smoked for a lot of years, ate too much red meat and was as sedentary as a tree. Or maybe it was the bran muffins, the vitamins or the sun screen.

Carcinogen. Car-sin-o-gin. Such a ghastly word. It is inside me now, blind and voracious in Its' hunger and unaware that the host It feeds upon is Itself/Us. By consuming me It consumes Us. The damage is done. Inoperable. Malignant. So do not weep, do not pity. I do not need or want your cheap consolation, your words, your unbearable sorrow. Do not come to me with tears, or cards, or flowers, or cheer.

But, if only. The memory is forever etched in my mind of the shafts of summer sunlight slowly slide up the wall as the sun dipped away. The room is quiet, the dust slowly swimming in the sun's amber beams. Outside boys played a noisy game of basketball oblivious to our presence. Many days we spent there forgetting the world moving on around us. Or the embrace of my child, to watch her sleep. Her unadulterated love and energy held at bay only by sleep. Do not think me vain or shallow. I know the embrace of a good thought, the immeasurable joy of a solid book as well as I do the pleasures of the flesh. But in those arms, in the embrace of my child I was whole.

No. Enough already. The past has passed and the future is futile. Please accept my apology. I have been feeling sorry for myself again. My intention was only to let you see that I am well and to describe this odd habit that I have recently developed.

I like to grow cold as the warm soapy bath water gurgles away down the drain. I lie still as a corpse, forgive the morbidity, and concentrate on the sensation of the minute ebb and flow of the water as it follows the unalterable principles first articulated by Johannes Kepler and spirals down and away. I bathe because I can. The bath keeps away the ghouls. Every trip to the tub is potentially a matter of life and death. So I am careful. I bathe every night. I keep my home so cold the hot water makes copious steam clouds that flow out into the hall like a cheap magician's act. Step right up folks and see the dirty old man perform his death defying act before your very eyes. Watch and be amazed as he soaks beyond any measure of human endurance and then soaks some more.

But I digress. When I have soaked until my fingers are prunish I slide down into the tub and pull my head under. I would pull my whole body under but the tub is short and I am long so my old knees stay exposed like gnarled Cyprus roots in some bubbly primordial swamp. I bring my head out of the water and kick open the drain.

At first there is no sensation as the molecules fight gravity. As my warm skin is slowly exposed a ring of chill starts on my neck and knees. It is an eerie, ethereal sensation. The sensation grows as the water continues to fall away. Eventually my shoulders, calves and thighs feel the creeping chill. The water spirals full force now, pushed down by gravity, the drain choking with the flow. The soapy water slowly reveals a faded prison blue tattoo of a snarling bulldog on my right forearm. A constant companion in my journey to stupidity. The flow slows because I sometimes put my foot partially over the drain to extend the sensation.

As the water drains, more and more of my body chills. Old age has not been particularly kind. You are as old as you feel. Forget the platitudes. Old age sucks and then you die. My memory is shot, I can barely hear and my glasses make me look like an owl. If only the memories faded as fast as the flesh.

My torso is prison camp gaunt and unearthly white. I look, and feel, like the victim of a personal holocaust. An unholy ghost. Spindly legs, with ankles like rocks under my opaque skin. Oh, such ghastly horrid flesh.

Epiphany. Last night as the last of the water drained I realized what I have been doing. These long baths letting the water drain as my body chills.

I have been practicing.

© 2010

This is a work of fiction. I am healthy and whole.

March 31, 2010

Instrument Of Grace

This seemed appropriate for Pascha.

How I found myself standing in the Holiness Church of Deliverance during a Wednesday night prayer meeting pointing a loaded pistol at Bob is a short story with long-term consequences. It started the week prior when Bob asked me to come to church. Bob is Pentecostal and I am strictly part-time high church so that puts us at odds theologically speaking, he’s dancing in the basement and I’m sleeping in the attic. In his own not so subtle way I know he is trying to proselytize me (I am long since immune), but we grew up together and he has been a good if somewhat too enthusiastic friend. So I agreed.

I found the pistol in Bob’s car on the way to the service. Small and compact it easily disappeared when I closed my fist. Without being too consciously aware of it, I slipped the pistol into my coat pocket.
As Pastor Wayne Mueller pulled the service along to it’s crescendo I felt the pistol warming in my hand. It was not premeditated, but during the altar call, with every head bowed and every eye closed (except mine) I discretely took aim directly at Bob. I unlocked and unloaded and in the last microsecond, I swear the water was en route, he leaned back and threw his arms up like a funnel to catch the Holy Ghost. Problem was, he ruined my shot.

The squirt went between Bob’s right arm and his head, through the Holy Ghost and hit a small, elderly woman whom I did not recognize more or less between the eyes. She fell/dropped like one of the little plastic parachute men children get out of the quarter vending machines at the entrances to restaurants. This was not a choreographed collapse like you see on TV when the so-called faith healer slaps people between the eyes with the palm of his hand and yells out, “In the name of Jesus be healed,” and the so-called healee falls gracefully into the arms of a waiting usher. This was a genuine, honest to God collapse. Slowly, first forward, then back, she threw over her aluminum walker, succumbed to gravity and crumpled to the carpet with her white beehive coiffeur still intact, water running out of her left eye like a dirty tear.

When she hit the ground it started a ruckus that I thought would never end, I’m not so sure it has, at least for me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Her husband knelt beside her calling, “Grace, Grace” as he lightly chafed her cheek. Needless to say I did not ‘fess up. The last thing I wanted was to be known/thought of as a man who would engage in such tomfoolery during a Holy Ghost meeting. Everyone in the place congregated in a large circle around Grace gawking, unsure if she was dead or just dying. Even for a Pentecostal meeting this was something to see.

Pastor Mueller began braying, telling everyone to step back, to give the woman some air. Grace opened her eyes and looked straight at me. Or more accurately she looked through me or maybe didn’t even see me. Our eyes locked but there was no acknowledgement on her part, we were on different frequencies.

Just then the paramedics arrived, bundled Grace up and took her away, her frightened husband in tow. While waiting to clear out with Bob and bring this nightmare to an end, I heard several people say Grace was in the very last stage of inoperable, incurable cancer. The consensus seemed to be that at least she died in church.

Now I was really feeling poorly. I had scared an old woman to death, pushed her down the stairs of life. Outside, in the cool Arkansas evening while Bob smoked and talked tractor repair with one of his business/church cronies I dropped the pistol into the unshorn grass and ground it underfoot.

Bob was strangely quiet on the drive home. I thought for sure I was busted. He seemed to be struggling with something he couldn’t name.

“I just cain’t believe she died in church,” he finally said.

Despite my best efforts the truth was knocking hard, pressing to be let out. I started to mutter.

“I just cain’t believe she died in church,” Bob said again, relieving me of the burden. “I know you don’t know her but she is one of the sweetest souls you could ever meet. Would do anything in the world for ya. Her only daughter died a year ago in a car wreck, then about six months ago she found out she was eat up with the cancer. We were surprised she lasted this long. Wow. Dying in church. Now I seen it all.”

Bob reverted back to his reverie, aiming the car toward home, the headlights parting the curtain of darkness that cascaded shut in our wake.

I told no one and for a few days my life continued unabated on its long slow slide to senility. But ours is a nosy newspaper, rife with gossip and not immune to innuendo, to flights of fancy and spells of speculation. True to form there was the headline: Holy Healing At Holiness.

Halleluiah, I was off the hook. Hot damn. The story said the old woman did not die but rose from her bed, claiming to have been healed in church. She would tell what happened from the pulpit Sunday morning.

I called Bob.

“She didn’t die?”

“Naw man, she just got the Holy Ghost. Ain’t that great. We have witnessed us a genuine miracle.”

Bob and I were back at Holiness Church of Deliverance Sunday morning. It was as crowded as Easter Sunday when all the backsliders slink in. Nothing like a miracle to titillate the masses. Only it wasn’t. It was just me and a squirt gun.

The old woman, there was no frailty in her, ascended to the pulpit.

“I feel led to talk this morning because of what God has done done in my life. Most of ya’ll knows I been real sick, ate up with the cancer. Most of ya’ll also know I fell out during the Wednesday night meeting. I’m truly sorry for causing so much commotion. But what ya’ll don’t know is that right before I passed out, while Pastor was praying for the Holy Ghost, I felt the Spirit come upon me. It felt like warm water on my face, then I was taken up into the heavenly places.”

Grace stopped to wipe the tears of joy from her face.

“Lord it was purdy, shining so bright and I didn’t never want to leave. I saw Jesus and he looks just like His picture. He told me I was healed.”

He was telling me I was a heel for letting this go on. It was time for confession, time to set the record straight.

“That’s not right. She doesn’t know what really happened.”

I found myself standing amidst the stupefied stares. Grace stood stunned, my words had pierced like an accusation.

“Continue, Brother,” said Pastor Mueller. “Give us the word of the Lord.”

“I know what happened.”

For the second time I met Grace’s eyes. This time she was not looking through me, but in me. Expectantly. Trying to find my frequency.

Bob nudged me out into the aisle.

“What you think happened is not what really happened. It was me. I had a squirt gun in my pocket. I aimed it at Bob. I was messin’ with him during the prayer. Lord knows I know it was wrong and I never meant for any of this to happen. I had no intention of hurting anyone, especially you Grace. I mean, you seem like a decent woman and I know you think you’re healed, but it was just water.”

I stood, ashamed.

“Brothers and sisters,” Pastor Wayne said, “This man is a healer sent into our midst by a providential God, the God of Abraham and Isaac.”


“God has taken this unbeliever unto Himself and through him has revealed Himself to us.”


“We are all instruments of grace in the hands of the Lord.”

Lord no. No.

“Brothers and sisters the Lord is telling me that we need to lay hands on this young man, to share in his power.”

I fell into the dark embrace.

© Copyright 2010

March 16, 2010


"Not a word he spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe."

This post was inspired by Matt Kish at his http://everypageofmobydick.blogspot.com 

February 22, 2010

In The Gloaming

As Day succumbs to the persistent entreaties of Night
When Daynight becomes Nightday
That moment when charms and curses are best hurled
A moment when potions in the cauldron best swirl
The gloaming.

That momenternity when rules don’t apply
An open portal wherein all things can be,
When the ghost at the foot of your childhood bed
Was just your winter coat.
When the tree in your yard
Was a shaggy green demon.

Living stars flutter in the falling twilight
Persistent fireflies glow in the growing gloom
Flashing out their desperate SOS
Seeking that brief tryst before dying their work done.

We sit locked in our houses, trapped in our homes,
We've gorged on the electronic teat
We fail to mark the days passing from one kingdom to the other
The eternal cycle of welcome and goodbye,
An ending that is a beginning that is ending.

Night knows that with the slow glow of morning
He too must flee to the west.
A billion repetitions seem an eternity
In the endless rhythm of the heavens.

Day pushes out over the great Pacific expanse
Bringing life/light to the islands scattered over the deep
Like diamonds on dark velvet

Day continues Her eternal retreat
Bringing abundant light but scarce heat
To the frozen Siberian steppe
Scattered across the tundra/forest
Like black blood spatter
The Gulags.

February 9, 2010

I Know A Man

I know a man who has a daughter. She is a woman-child, grown but unready. She is beautiful and bright, a father’s dream. It is an unsteady relationship. His father abandoned him and for a time her father abandoned her. He tries his best to do right. Raw, she struggles to set her own course but runs aground again and again.

Well into middle years the father struggled to steer. He sought a sure current but his battered, tattered sails tore in the blow. Time and again he altered course but still the storm held. He sailed into the swirl, spilled and only just broke the surface. He learned to work the oars, to steer, to tack.

The woman-child now suffers. The roar of the past permeates/envelops at every point. She is blind to the storm approaching and sails an erratic course, seeking a safe harbor but finding only choppy water and more rocky shores.  No anchor, no calm, no still.

From his safe moorings he watches her struggle to trim the sail but again and again the ropes foul. He longs to pilot as she is no hand at the tiller.

His cries to her to take to the oars, to save herself as he cannot. Too late. The child plunges unprepared into the maelstrom. He prays please right yourself, navigate the gale.  Too late.

I know a man. He has a daughter. She is lost.
I know a man. He lost a daughter.
He is lost.