08 December 2016

Grace (A Response to James Joyce)

Tommy’s knees were hurting and he was longing to adjust his position, but he had not yet confessed a single sin. He thought of his big sins and wondered whether he would have time to address them before Pastor Henman moved on to the Scripture section, or whether he should talk about the little sins now and the big sins later. He imagined sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows, which never happened in Seattle except once on Easter Sunday, and Tommy imagined that it was a spiritual experience. The window-sills were decorated with candles, but Tommy knew they were really lightbulbs made to look like candles. To have real candles would be a serious fire-hazard. No point in taking unnecessary risks. University Presbyterian Church was well-funded and widely attended. It was well reviewed, too.... Tommy broke into a coughing fit, and his mother offered him a cough-drop.

Next to Tommy sat John Cunningham, whom Tommy didn’t think much of but whom he tried to be friends with because he was part of Power’s group. Michael Power was in the pew behind him, who scribbled a note on the service handout and handed it to the boys. John gasped and feigned mortification, turning redfaced with suppressed laughter. Tommy understood the joke in a vague manner, so he put his hand over his mouth and pretended to be affronted. Behind Michael was Wilken M’Coy, who strained over the pews to see what the note was about, but Michael ignored him, and the rest followed suite. 

Three pews ahead of Tommy sat Grace, who was busy unloosing her braids. Tommy watched her fingers elegantly remove the bobby-pins from the complex yellow loops of hair, and then watched it fall gorgeously upon her glowing shoulders. Tommy thought of passing a note to her, but he couldn’t think up jokes like Michael did. He wondered if the chandelier fell, would he have time to leap over the pews and throw himself over her before it crushed her. But now the confession was finished. Tommy resumed his seat and let his mind wander to other subjects.

Pastor Henman was reading from Romans. He said:

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grace…grace…grace. What was he saying about Grace? No: now he was talking about his high-school days. I was never good at sports, he said. I tried out for the basketball team, but I was so short that the boys could dribble a ball on my head. 

Murmurs of laughter rippled through the congregation. 

— Now for the point, he continued.  We all have our failures. I have failed too. Show of hands: who watched the Seahawks game last night? Wilson should have made a pass to the thirty yard zone, but how could he have known, at the time? It’s hard to make those decisions when we’re caught up in the chaos of life. 

He made a few more jokes and sports and politics that managed to draw out some more murmurs of laughter.

— But the point is, he said, we all have our failures……Jesus says that He forgets our sins. He came to abolish the Law. He called us friends…

Later, Tommy stood in the foyer, pouring his coffee into a foam cup. Michael pulled him away by the arm.

—Catch a ride home with me, he said. You won’t believe what John and me picked up.

—What? said Tommy.

—I can’t tell you now.

—Aw come on, said Tommy.

Michael Power lowered his voice and said:

—John got his hands on a pack of camels.

Tommy was thrown into an internal panic. He had no idea…..he had forgotten what a "pack of camels" was. For a moment he thought he might have to confess to Michael, and then he remembered he had heard it once in a show, in reference to cigarettes. But you couldn’t know for sure. He tried to test it by saying:

—Isn’t that a fire-hazard?

—Naw, there’s no fire-alarms in the basement, said Michael.

—I don’t know, I’ve got a cough and… began Tommy, who was sure by now what it was.

—We’re just gonna try a little, said Michael. Tell your parents you’re just going to my place to hang out.

Tommy thought about it and said, OK.

Grace was sitting at the round table. Tommy thought of going up to tease her, but he couldn’t with her friends all around. Instead, he sat down loudly and tried to enter the conversation.  His forgery was successful, and he said something that made Grace laugh.

—You’re funny, Tommy, Grace teased him. Tommy tried to say something else funny, but the joke died out, and the conversation moved on. He remained silent for the rest of the dialogue, and began think that perhaps Grace’s crowd wasn’t so great, after all. He began to get excited about going to Michael’s, and wished to get away from Grace and her friends.

Then Grace came to him. Tommy, we’re going to get smoothies later, she told him. Would you like to come?

Tommy felt sick. Suddenly the idea of going to Michael’s seemed absurd. Why had he even agreed? For a moment he considered dropping the whole thing. He would tell Michael later that he had discovered other things he needed to do that afternoon.  But surely John and Michael would find out he had gone with Grace. And they would tease him about it.  So he said:

—I already said I was going to Michael’s, trying his best to sound reluctant and obligatory.

Grace gave him a disappointed glance. 

—O, she said. Well, it would have been really nice if you’d have come. What are you doing at Michael’s?

—O, I don’t know what the heck they’re up to now, said Tommy, waving his hand. He wished he had gone all the way through with the swear word, but he couldn’t do it in front of her. Infirm of purpose!

Grace looked as if she was going to say something, but then she simply shrugged and bade him see-you-later.  Tommy wished dearly that things have gone differently, and called after her:

—Come by later.

Grace threw a glance over her shoulder, wearing a half-smile on her face, but not enough to reassure him.

◆   ◆    


Michael Power’s house was in the more wooded part of Tommy’s neighborhood. It was dimly lit and smelled of cat-fur. But what really made it odd was the life-sized likeness of Mr. Power painted directly onto the wall by the staircase. Tommy had passed it often as he descended into the basement, but he never asked about it, for fear it would appear anxious or childish. Tommy once came over for dinner, and Mrs. Power had politely cross-examined him about his family and his school. Tommy only managed to stammer out a few unsatisfactory replies and a lame attempt at humor before lapsing into silence. Mr. Power tried to make a comment, but Mrs. Power shut him up, reminding him that they had changed the subject now.

—Gotta keep up, she said, snapping her fingers.

Mr. Power looked down again and poked at his cold dinner, saying nothing.

The basement door was always hard to identify. More times than once, when Tommy had come upstairs for a bathroom break, he would open up what he thought was the basement door and instead find himself in the food cabinet. This was embarrassing enough, but he became even more self-conscious when he realized that Mrs. Power was always sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of black coffee, watching. He pretended not to notice, but he couldn’t help muttering to himself, loud enough for her to hear:

—Stupid. That’s the food cabinet, not the basement.

When the boys arrived, Mrs. Power informed them that John and Wilken were already waiting downstairs. She also reminded them that when the movie was finished, they were not going to stay down there chatting, or she would come down and send them all home personally. I’m leaving the house to run some errands, she said, so remember not to answer phone calls or anyone who comes to the door. Michael gave Tommy an inside-look of elation. Before he led Tommy into the basement, he locked the door behind them. 

—Just in case she checks in too soon, he told him. Tommy’s heart was thundering horribly.

At the bottom of the staircase, Tommy saw John and Wilken poke their heads out from the door.

—There you are. Where have you been? We tried calling you.

—You better not have started without us, said Michael.

—No, of course not.

Tommy followed Michael down the stairs, and Tommy thought he could already smell the cigarettes.

—Guess what else we got, said John, and he pulled out a cardboard caddy of Jack Daniel’s from a grocery bag. Michael slapped him on the back and congratulated him, asking him how he got it, and everyone seemed extremely pleased. Tommy felt he ought to put something in.

—Hash-tag real-talk, he said. Everyone gave him a look, and Tommy wished he hadn’t spoken.

It took a while to get one of the cigarettes lit, and John wasted three of them before Michael, cursing John, snatched the lighter from him and grabbed one himself, expertly twiddling the small roll in his fingers, as if he had done it all before. He got it right on the first try, which was just dumb luck, as far as Tommy was concerned.

—You exhale through the nose, he explained. In through the mouth, out through the nose. 

He demonstrated. A few weak coughs tried vainly to escape his lips, but he manfully suppressed them by transforming them into a clearing of the throat. He passed it around the circle. All of them coughed some. Tommy figured that it shouldn’t be that hard not to cough. If he could just keep it down, maybe they’d even think he’d done it before.

When Tommy inhaled the smoke, he felt a horrible burning sensation in the back of his palate. The coughing began almost immediately, but it was far worse than his usual coughing fits. This one seemed to resound throughout his head like a gong, and sent a sharp sting up his sinuses. Weak wisps of smoke escaped from both his mouth and nose. 

—Woah, Tommy, are you crying? said one of them.

Tommy tried to say he was fine, but he couldn’t. He gestured for something to drink, and Michael handed him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Tommy chugged down three unhappy gulps, and nearly gagged from the taste of it. This set the three of them laughing.

—You can’t just gulp down whiskey, Tommy, they cried. 

Tommy wiped his eyes. It seemed his whole throat was on fire, but at least he was able to speak.

—You didn’t tell me it was whiskey, he managed to say. 

This made them laugh even harder. Tommy, you didn’t know what Jack Daniel’s was? What did you think it was, apple-juice?

Tommy tried to laugh with them, as much as he could without starting the coughing fit again. This was fun, he thought. He was having a good time. But then the thought occurred to him that right now, he could have been getting smoothies with Grace—beautiful, golden-headed Grace—and for a moment, real tears threatened to form in his eyes. But he mastered it.

—It’s not the smoke, he said finally to Michael after the commotion died down. It’s the phlegm. I told you I was down with something.

Michael’s gaze wandered away from Tommy’s, wearing that half-smile expression. A sudden chill possessed Tommy, because for a moment it looked very much like Grace. The association repelled him, and he pushed it out. If it looked like Grace, it was only a kind of vulgar parody. Both possessed the absence of reassurance; both looked on him from the inside of city walls, but while one seemed to pity him, the other withheld entrance in scornful triumph. Grace shut him out because she couldn’t let him in, but Michael shut him out because he wouldn’t, and relished in the injustice of it. 

 —Have some more whiskey, Wilken said finally. That’ll help you.

Tommy shook his head. He hated Michael’s crowd. He wanted to get back to Grace. He stood up and announced he was ready to go. Michael Power said:

—Hey, hey, come on man, we were just teasing. Can’t you take a joke?

—I have somewhere to be, said Tommy, trying to look as if he were going to cry.

—Where? Where do you need to go? demanded Michael.

Tommy didn’t know. An insane plan began forming in his head to find out where Grace and her friends were getting smoothies. Somehow he would get there, maybe take a bus. And perhaps it wasn’t too late; perhaps they were still there and would be elated to see him. Tommy! Grace cries out. We were hoping you would comeHow was Michael’s?

Ah, boring, replies Tommy, as they pull up a chair for him.  I only went there ‘cause I promised. Gosh, what a stick in the mud…..

—Hey, hey, Tommy, are you listening? interrupted Michael. We’re sorry, okay? Besides, not until Mom gets back …

—Come on, try another whiskey, said Wilken. You’ll get used to it.

They were all staring at him now: the moment was his. Michael sensed his hesitancy.

—You gotta harden up to this stuff, he said. You’re a man now. He’s a man now, right guys?

The other two cheered in approval at Michael’s comment, and various reiterations of you’re a man now, Tommy, circled around the room. Then Michael said:

—But first, we gotta fix you up. We gotta liberate you. That’s what friends do. Trust us; you’ll be grateful we did.

Tommy stared at the drink in his hand. He was still lightheaded from the smoke, but now he saw this to be an unbearable shame. He was resolved to crush his sensitive, understimulated Presbyterian upbringing, for he hated the way it looked on him. At last he would purge himself of all childish traces of naivety and softness, command his body to succumb to his will, beat his unsteady hands into submission and swallow the pain that swayed his purpose. With renewed vigor, he opened the drink, sucked the vile substance, and once again thrust himself into the conversation.

◆   ◆    

When Tommy woke up, the first thing he noticed was that the smell of cigarettes seemed considerably stronger than it had before. Secondly, although he had fallen asleep comfortably on Wilken’s lap, it appeared he had been thrown aside like a parcel, and was dangling half upside-down on the couch. Thirdly he felt a strange warmth on his skin which delighted him, and he wanted to get nearer to it. Lastly he noticed the voices of the boys, all cursing and running about the room.

—Throw your clothes on it! came Michael Power’s voice. Throw your clothes on it, you sons-a-bitches!

Tommy turned himself upright, and saw thin, pale fire, already spread to multiple places on the carpet, now catching the wooden stand where the TV stood.  He never noticed before how beautiful fire was. He wanted to get nearer to it, for he was so very cold…

John and Wilken were now half-naked, having flagged their shirts uselessly and lost them to the fire. Tommy was not frightened, but he felt some vague obligation to assist them. He cracked open the last bottle of Jack Daniel’s and dribbled the contents over the flames. The flame leaped to life and Tommy was engulfed in wonderful warmth and brightness. He glanced at Michael with a watery smile, hoping he would give him a word of approval. But Michael’s expression was incomprehensible; his eyes so wide the lids had nearly disappeared.

—You idiot! he cried. You f—ing idiot!!!

Tommy’s smile faded and the fluttery feelings of comradery and good humor turned into sudden contempt for Michael. He gave an animal-like growl—grrr…ow! and made a lunge for his throat.

For a while several things were happening. Tommy’s arms were interlocked with Michael’s, hands about each other’s necks and faces inches apart, as if they were lovers ready to kiss. Flames flickered around them like the tongues of serpents, while the other two boys, scorched and shirtless, had run up the stairs to the basement door, and had discovered that it was locked. Tommy heard them hammering the wall with their soft fists and crying:

—O my God! O my God!

For a moment Tommy believed he was frozen in that image for all eternity. No one else was there to witness it besides the tall greyscale image of Mr. Power who surveyed the scene with his hands in his pockets, half-smiling, and unable to assist them. In the next moment, it all dissolved, for a blinding light had come flooding in from the top of the stairs. Michael went limp and his body crumpled at Tommy’s feet. Tommy wondered if he was dead. Then he saw the two boys become absorbed into the light, and a white figure standing in their place. He wondered whether he recognized the figure, and then, with a strange mix of relief and fear, he saw Grace come bounding down the stairs.

Tommy! he heard her cry. TomCome out!




27 November 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

This blog is not "moving" strictly speaking, but recently I have become a creator for a student-run newspaper called the Odyssey Online. For a newspaper, I write very little news (nothing's news to me) but if you want more posts of the thoughtful/philosophical bent you are well-advised to find them here, at my very own corner of internet real-estate! It's called "www.theodysseyonline.com/@dokupil". I've already created quite a few figs for your mental consumption, and new content comes out every week! You can also follow me, which benefits the both of us, because you get to stay updated, and I get to have five followers instead of four.

I will still be cranking out content on this blog, but it will probably lean towards more creative and experimental writing like poetry and fiction. And possibly art. So stick around and leave comments, so I know that someone reads this.

Stay beautiful,
-The Minstrel Boy


17 November 2016

Unbound

I had a dream that a thousand books were crashing down on me
yellowed, dusty hard covers that had aged and aged like wine
pages torn from their spine, come to the end of their line.
I braced myself for the overwhelming wealth of words
fluttering fervently with impending proximity
but as they hit my head,
they turned into birds.

they brushed past my cheeks with swift and silky lightness
(some blue, some yellow, some red)
but their talons did not scratch me
and the multitude of beating wings
engulfed me in a whirlwind of breezes
from all directions, the air was thick
with the vibrant spectrum of feathery colors.

every bird (that was once a book) was different,
shimmering with every splash of ink the book once contained
and contained no more. Each was singing
the melody of a story that had at last escaped words
the masculine became males, the feminine, females
and not a single melody felt wrong or out of place
amidst the wild warble of primeval music.

the sound itself I could not understand
but the sheer concentration of urgent energy
caught me up within it and had
me shivering with excitement, excitement
for I knew not what, but it did not matter,
for now I was one of them, dancing, singing, (flying?)
who could say, playing my part
in a four-part symphony larger than life.





And every word was set free
From the tyranny of words
What every word had wished to be
Before it became a bird.





14 October 2016

Farmer Brown

“Hush, Joseph. Someone’s coming up the hill.”

“Another dead one, I’ll warrant. The pace picks up every year.”

“No. Alive.”

“What’s his business up here? Admiring the view? I swear to God folks are so much more sentimental than they used to be. Why, when I was among the living—”

“Hush, Joseph!” said everyone.

It was Farmer Brown. He was carrying a bouquet of flowers in his hands, just like last week.  This time, he chose to lay them on the gravestone of Julia Brown.

“Well, one thing’s certain, he likes you the most,” said the grave of Joseph. “He’s given you more flowers than anyone else. Are you sure you don’t know who he is?”

“I know I’ve seen him before, I just know it,” said Julia Brown helplessly, as she watched Farmer Brown weep silently at her feet. “But it was all so long ago.  You know when you’ve been dead for so long, all the faces of the living begin to look the same. You ought to know best, Joseph.”

“Yes, they all look the same. Ignorant and miserable.”

“Look here,” said one of the cleverer gravestones, who had been an attorney in his waking life. “There’s something fishy about this whole business. This chap has been coming up here for God-knows-how-long. And every time, he chooses the same four gravestones: Edith Brown, Robert Brown, Susanna Harrington, and Julia Brown.  Notice anything peculiar?”

“I don’t see much of a point,” said Joseph blankly.

“Isn’t it obvious?” expostulated the attorney. “Three of you have the same last name.”

“Why, he’s right,” said Julia suddenly. “Now that sure sends a chill up the spine. We could have been—we could have been—”

“So you all have the same last name,” grunted Joseph. “Lots of people have the name Brown. My mother’s maiden name was Brown. Besides, what about this Susanna Harrington? It’s all a coincidence, I tell you.”

“All the same, he still puts flowers on my grave,” said Susanna, a little defensively.

“Stratford has a point, Joseph,” said Robert Brown. “Look at us. We’ve all been placed right next to each other. I think the case could be made that we were all related in our waking life. What do you think, Edith?”

“Yes, it’s all very peculiar,” agreed Edith. “But if it’s true, why can’t we remember him? Surely we should remember him if he were family. If we were family.”

“Like I said, they all look the same,” said Joseph bitterly.

“The question is, who was he?” asked Edith, ignoring Joseph. “Father, brother, cousin?” she hesitated. “Husband?”

“I should have remembered him for sure if he were my husband,” said Susanna, almost dreamily. “He can’t have been that. At least, not my husband.”

“Well, there’s one thing we could do,” said Robert, who was always the reasonable type. “We could read our gravestones.”

“What a swell idea, Robert!” Edith beamed. “I’m proud of you. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“I’ve been meaning to do it for years,” said Robert humbly. “But you know how things are up on this hill. Things like that sort of slip from your mind.”

“Well then, let’s start with yours,” said Edith. “Hm. Here Lies Robert Brown: 1956-1989. Brilliant businessman and talented organist.  May God grant rest to his restless soul. Why, you were only thirty-three years old. Still, it doesn’t tell us much about this fellow here,” she glanced again pitifully at Farmer Brown, who was still on his knees before Julia’s grave. It had begun to drizzle, but Farmer Brown did not seem to notice.

“Read mine, read mine,” said Julia eagerly.

“Now, now, dearie, one at a time,” said Edith. “What does mine say, Robert?”

Edith Brown: 1932-1982. Wife, mother, and friend. Organist for Southern Orthodox Presbyterian Church, before Our Lord took her home. We will miss you, Edith.” Robert whistled. “So then, you were married.”

“I was a wife,” said Edith, in wonder. “And a mother. I wonder how I died?”

Stratford grew ecstatic. “See, see, it’s all coming together!” he exclaimed. “Could it possibly be a coincidence that two people, both with the name Brown, should both be organists? There’s no other explanation!” He sighed in contentment. “No other explanation” had been one of his favorite phrases in the glory days.

Joseph made a loud scoffing noise, but nobody marked him.

“Let’s recap,” said Robert. “You were a wife, mother, and organist. I was an organist and businessman. Could it be—could we have been…”

“There’s no way she could have been your wife,” Susanna interrupted, with a tinge of haughtiness. “First of all, no one would marry you. Secondly, look at your birthday. 1956. She would have been your elder by twenty-four years.  Imagine a marriage like that! She’s old enough to be your mother…”

She trailed off. They all fell into silence as Susanna’s words sunk in. It had stopped drizzling. Joseph coughed.

“That has to be it!” Robert burst out. “You—you were my mother! Well, I’ll be. All these years on this hill and I never knew I was standing right next to my own mother.  Funny what a little conversation can do, eh?”

“You still can’t know that,” Joseph mumbled, although he knew he has lost the argument.

“What about you, Susanna?” said Stratford. “Let’s hear it.”

“I’m always the last one,” complained Julia. “And Joseph said that the man liked me best.”

“You’ll get your turn, Julia. We’ve got plenty of time,” said Robert. “You’re not getting any older,” he added with the ghost of a smile. “Now, let’s take a gander. Here lies Susanna Harrington: 1959-1987. Loving mother of two boys. And then it has a Bible verse at the bottom. Well, that doesn’t tell us much.”

“28 years old,” remarked Susanna. “None of us lived very long.”

“None of us live very long,” growled Joseph.

Robert, losing his patience, turned upon Joseph. “You know, you’ve been griping and grumbling this whole time. It made me realize that we haven’t read your gravestone.”

“Hey now! That’s my affair!” Joseph started, speaking much louder than he intended.

“Robert’s right,” said Edith. “We’ve all been reading our gravestones, Joseph. It’s your turn now.”

“You’ve no right. No right I tell you. That’s private!”

“No one has rights after their dead,” said Robert wisely, “Come on, why get all defensive all of a sudden? There’s nothing to hide up here. Not on this hill.”

“Besides, don’t you want to know what’s written there?” asked Edith. “It seems we’ve all forgotten who we were since we came here.”

Joseph said nothing. He did not want to tell them that he already knew. Robert began.

“Here lies Joseph—” He stopped.

“What’s wrong, Robert?” said Julia, after a silence. Joseph expelled a tragic sigh. He looked as if he were attending his own funeral.

…Joseph Harrington,” continued Robert. “1977-1996. Who loved his mother and brother more than anything else in the world. Joseph, we wish you were still with us.

A deep silence fell over the hill as the sun, made bittersweet by haphazard drizzles, disappeared with disquieting finality behind the western mountains. Farmer Brown had fallen asleep at Julia’s feet.
Edith spoke first.

“Joseph,” she began, more tenderly than before, “why did you never tell us?”

Joseph began to weep sad, ghostly tears. “I just wanted to forget,” he moaned. “That’s all I wanted. Oh God, that’s all I ever wanted. Was that too much to ask? It’s not fair. Why did everyone else forget? I’m the one who wanted to. It’s not fair.”

“Joseph,” Julia whispered breathlessly. “You remember? You remember what was like to be alive?”

“Every damn moment.”

No one said anything. No one knew what to say.

“It was my own fault,” said Joseph miserably. “I was ten years old when my mother died--when you died, Susanna Harrington. You needed surgery, and the procedure went wrong. The doctors overdosed the painkiller and…” he trailed off. The faces of the dead were all looking at him, open-mouthed, mystified by his words.

“You,” continued Joseph, addressing Edith, “You died of breast cancer. Died in the hands of deceiving doctors and deceived loved ones, just like my mother was.  You, Robert, you fought the hardest. But you loved the wine-jar too much. Died of alcohol poisoning. Of all the people I knew in my waking life, you were the only one I remember who died with a smile on his face.” He paused. “I couldn’t stand that.”

“How do you remember all this, Joseph?” asked Edith in amazement. Joseph only shook his head mournfully. And then Julia, sounding reluctant, spoke so quietly it sounded like the rustling of the grass:

“Joseph, how did you die?”

The silence that followed Julia’s words lasted for hours. But no one spoke, and no one thought of changing the subject. It was as if the very air refused to receive words, and would continue to refuse them, until the question had been resolved. By the time Joseph spoke, the moon had taken her post and the sky was throbbing with stars.

“My father told me I needed to be strong,” he began at last. “He said my brother was counting on me. He looked up to me. It’s what Mom would have wanted. If it looked like I was losing hope, he would lose hope too. And I tried. God knows I tried.” He directed this last comment heavenward, with an unmistakable note of accusation in his voice. “But if you don’t have hope, what’s the point in pretending to have it? Even for someone else? You can lie to them, you can lie to yourself, you can dull the truth with painkillers and soften the sting with laughter, but we all know who gets the last laugh: Death.”

At this word, every clock in town—in homes, in churches, in stores, over all the unsuspecting heads of the living—struck midnight.  At that same moment, a chilling wind swept over the hill, passing through Farmer Brown. His body quivered for a moment, then was still: as cold as ice. The Moon, in the height of her glory, cast a single beam of cold melancholy on the hill, and at last the invisible was made visible. Each face in the Brown family, including Stratford, began to form—first hesitantly, then boldly, for they had always been there. Robert, Edith, Susanna, Julia, and Stratford, all glistening in the wispy blue moonlight like snowdrops, possessed a certain holy beauty that inspired awful reverence. They were like the saints of old, and Farmer Brown—if he had been awake—would have fallen on his knees at the sight of them. But Joseph, hunched in the shadows of the forest, only half-touched by the moon’s light, was barely recognizable. His shape, indistinct and beast-like, thrashed violently in the breeze and looked as if it bore some horrific scowl.

Robert spoke. “Joseph,” he said in gentle rebuke, “You know very well Death need not have the last laugh. You said yourself that I died with a smile on my face.”

Joseph did not regard this, but continued with his story. “I grew tired of pretending,” he said. “I loved a girl in high-school, but it didn’t last long. She said I took everything too seriously. That’s what everyone says, but that’s because they don’t know. They don’t know the truth about life. I know what’s beneath it all. One night, I was alone in my apartment. My room-mates were out for the weekend enjoying themselves—weed, orgies, nightclubs—the usual stuff. I locked the door, swallowed enough painkillers to kill ten men, curled up on the couch, and died.”

“Oh, Joseph!” cried Susanna, with real anguish in her voice, “if only you had waited! If only you had waited for Death to take you in his own time!”

“Did Death wait for you?” retorted Joseph, as he writhed in the darkness. “You were twenty-eight! Twenty-eight! And you, Robert, well, you practically killed yourself. What’s the difference between you and me, really?”

“Joseph,” said Edith, with sudden tenseness, “be careful what you say.”

“I knew I was going to die,” Joseph went on hysterically. “I watched every single one of you drop off like flies. For the love of Christ, Julia was only eight! I knew, I just knew down in my gut, that I was next. And I wasn’t going to let it get to me. I thought that if I approached Death first, I would at least have the better of him. I would seize his throat before he seized mine. And then, best of all, I would forget it ever happened.” And then, with a red-hot rage that had been burning in the bottom of his heart, he threw up his face and wailed to the stars in unholy wrath. “But still, after all I went through, the joke was always on me! I thought that it was the only way. I thought I could blot out every single moment and memory of my life. I never knew—no one ever told me—that when a man takes his own life, he remembers it forever. They make you remember it. They grind it into your head so deep that you have to watch it happen—over and over again—for the rest of your God-damned existence. Why did no one ever tell me? Did they hate me so much as to wish this upon me?”

His words seemed to be swallowed up by the blackness, and no one—not even an animal in the forest—rose up in answer.

Stratford spoke up, awkwardly. “You know, it just occurred to me: we never got to reading Julia’s gravestone. She’s waited long enough, hasn’t she?”

“Oh. Of course,” said Robert, a little surprised. “Julia, would you like…”

“No,” answered Julia, not unkindly, but with a mysterious firmness.  “I mean, it would be nice to know,” she admitted, somewhat doubtfully. Then suddenly, her face grew beautiful beyond description, and she said, “But it just occurred to me that it doesn’t matter.”

As she was speaking, the early birds of morning let out their first warble.  It was almost as if the very sound of her voice had commanded them.

Dawn was coming. Joseph, still muttering and groaning to himself, grew more and more indistinguishable under the budding light until his shape disappeared altogether. But the five other ghosts did not fade.  On the contrary, they seemed to be becoming more and more solid and wholesome by the moment.  Slowly, knowingly, they turned their faces to the East, where a gush of orange warmth was growing on the horizon so rapidly that they both yearned and dreaded its’ arrival…



And Farmer Brown opened his eyes to the brightest sunrise he had ever seen.




02 October 2016

Take me home // I want to go // Down the road that will take me // To the living oak

My friends are probably wishing I would shut up about this band, but what I want to know is why everyone else isn't freaking out about it. I just turned up with a free Sunday afternoon (a rare specimen in college) so I would be committing a heresy not to geek out about it.

This is a band formed in 2011 by a brother and sister named Tyler and Maggie Heath. I am not just a fan because they write songs inspired by C.S. Lewis novels (oh yeah, they do that too) but because they write freaking amazing songs, period.

Here are a few of my favorites (who am I kidding, they're all my favorite). Just a little sampling from all three of their albums (The Oh Hello's, Through the Deep, Dark Valley, and Dear Wormwood)





Fire and brimstone fell upon my ears
As their throats of open graves recited fear
Like the bullets of a gun they drove my tears
And my feet to run the hell out of here

See, I was born a restless, wayward child
I could hear the whole world calling me outside
Of the masses I routinely sat behind
And Lord, I had to see with my own eyes

Take me home
I want to go
Down the road that will take me
To the living oak
And Lord, I know
That I'm a weathered stone
But I owe it to my brothers
To carry them home

Take me home
I want to go
Down the road that will take me
To the living oak
And Lord, I know
It's a heavy load
But we'll carry our brothers
Oh, we'll carry them home

And oh, there is no power on Earth or below
That could ever break our hearts or shake our souls
And when you lay me down, you'll only bury bones
'cause oh, my heart and soul are going home





Brother, forgive me
We both know I'm the one to blame
When I saw my demons
I knew them well and welcomed them

But I'll come around
Someday

Father, have mercy
I know that I have gone astray
When I saw my reflection
It was a stranger beneath my face

But I'll come around
Someday

When I touch the water
They tell me I could be set free

So I'll come around
Someday





Well, it's a long way out to reach the sea
But I'm sure I'll find you waiting there for me
And by the time I blink, I'll see your wild arms swinging
Just to meet me in the middle of the road
And you'll hold me like you'll never let me go
And beside the salty water, I could hold you close,
But you are far too beautiful to love me

It's a long climb up the dusty mountain
To build a turret tall enough to keep you out
But when you wage your wars against the one who adores you,
Then you'll never know the treasure that you're worth
But I've never been a wealthy one before
I've got holes in my pockets burned by liars' gold,
And I think I'm far too poor for you to want me

It's been a long road, losing all I've owned
And you don't know what you've got until you're gone
And it's a nasty habit, spending all you have, but
When you're doing all the leaving, then it's never your love lost
And if you leave before the start, then there was never love at all
And heaven knows I'm prone to leave the only God I should have loved,
And yet you're far too beautiful to leave me



I can't even wrap my mind around this. Oh my gosh oh my gosh it's so good




Was it you 'mid the fire and the ember?
Were you there to bedevil and beguile?
See, your face wasn't quite as I remember
But I know that wicked shape to your smile
Bury me as it pleases you, lover
At sea, or deep within the catacomb
But these bones never rested while living
So how can they stand to languish in repose?

He has thrown down the cavalry as gravel sinks
And as the stone founders underneath the sundered sea of red and reed
The shadow of Hades is fading
For he has cast down leviathan, the tyrant, and the horse and rider

Where is your rider?

He will hold with all of his might the armies of night,
Still as boulders laid to the side 'til we pass by
He has hoisted out of the mire every child
So lift your voice with timbrel and lyre
"We will abide, we will abide, we will abide"


Other songs you need to check out: Like the Dawn, Wishing Well, Bitter Water, [Soldier, Poet, King], Dear Wormwood...

What am I even saying guys. Just do yourself a favor and buy their albums. All of them. I have seriously waited half my life for this band to start existing.





Turn to the person next to you and give them a big hug.
-The Minstrel Boy




03 September 2016

Fern's Lament

I visited the barn again today.
Nothing has changed much.
Same old smells of manure and hay
Same old empty wooden doorway
With a new web strung in the corner.
I found the old trough, where my
Terrific, radiant, humble friend
Used to eat my leftover
Breakfast. But new snouts plow
Through the middlings now.
Nobody wants to chat with me
I forgot the gander's name.
"Will you please play with me?
Does anyone want to play?"
They stare back at me.
I keep on telling myself
That they understand
That they will ask
"How's the family?"
The cow goes moo.
The horse goes neigh.
The pig goes oink.
No answer.
Where was I
When the morning stars
Sang together?
When I grew up
I remembered the animals
But they
Did
Not
Remember
Me.


***


I wrote this originally as a "concrete poem", but I was reluctant in posting the original because I didn't want anyone to break their necks trying to read the thing. You can try, if you want, but I'm not responsible for anything that happens to you.






28 August 2016

Happenstanza


I don't know when it happened
But it happened
Long ago
I can't recall the moment
But I swear I used to know

I don't know how it happened
But it won't happen
Again
I know that you were there
But I didn't know it then

I don't know if it happened
But if it happened
It was quick
And you disappeared with it
Just like a magic trick

I don't know why it happened
But I wish it happened
More
But I'd probably forget it
Just like I did before

And if it ever happens
To happen across you
Please tell me just what happened

[whisper]

Because it happened to me too.




12 August 2016

[Untitled]


I will love love love
Until I descend into dreaming
The heart is a voluntary muscle
And as long as I say the word
It will keep on beating
Love love love
Don't stop, or the body will grow cold
Love love love
And we never will grow old



24 June 2016

Please Forgive Me

The title of this song is not an apology for not posting in so long, because I'm not actually sorry for that. Much.

Also, although I put a lot of heart into this song, I should warn you that there is a little explicit language in it. I suppose it justifies the title ;)





V.1

I’m sorry, my brother
I treated you so wrong
I turned around and beat you down
When the bigger fish was gone

Oh, I tried, inside
But I never could be good
You would have forgiven me
If you had understood

(Pre-chorus 1)
That I’m a toxic neurotic
Perverted and psychotic
Defensive, offensive
And immensely despotic

And I don’t wanna say it
But I know it’s true
Won’t stop running
Though none pursue
And I keep on learning more
Of what I wish I never knew

(Chorus)
So please forgive me for what I’ve done
I am weak in more ways than one
And the more that I try the more I realize
I can’t stop now that I have begun


V.2

I’m sorry, my father
I tried to run away
Hid in bushes from the cops
And lied to you for days

And I was so scared
To tell you the whole truth
But when I opened up my mouth
I knew you always knew

(Pre-chorus 2)
That I’m a toxic neurotic
Perverted and psychotic
Defensive, offensive
And immensely despotic

Thought it was easy
Till I tried to change
I blow out the fire
But it feeds the flames
You can travel all around the world
But your soul remains the same

(Chorus)
So please forgive me for what I’ve done
I am weak in more ways than one
And the more that I try the more I realize
I can’t stop now that I have begun (x2)


V.3

I’m sorry, my Jesus
For all the pain I reap
On my brothers and sisters
And the One who made me

Now You have washed my hands
And I will wash Your feet

(Pre-chorus 3)
And I don’t wanna say it
But I know it’s true
Won’t stop running
Till I run to You
I may be full of shit but I’ll admit
I knew that too

(Chorus 2)
So please forgive me for what I’ve done
I am weak in more ways than one
And more that I try the more I realize
That You ended what I had begun




-The Minstrel Boy


06 June 2016

Jesus Laughed

Later that day, Jesus was dining with His disciples in the house of Peter.

Jesus, who was weary from the day’s teachings, was eating quietly at the end of the table and saying nothing.

The disciples were talking amongst themselves, arguing over which one of them had the biggest hands.

Matthew was saying, “Because I was a tax collector before our Lord commanded me to follow Him, I was required to hold many coins in my palms, therefore my hands are the biggest.”

Peter, the son of Jonah, said: “It is not so. For before our Lord took me away, I was a fisherman, and the brethren know that only I had hands big enough to hoist up the nets.”

Luke was also saying, “You both are wrong! For behold, I am a doctor, and would not be able to care and nurture my patients if it not were for the great size of my hands.”

While the disciples were arguing, Peter’s dog came among them at the end of the table where Jesus was.

Jesus, seeing that no one was paying attention, took the last loaf of bread from the table and fed it to him.

Jesus then addressed the disciples, saying, “Peter, pass the bread.”

Peter and the others looked all around them, but there was no bread to be found.

Peter, in great distress, said to Jesus, “Forgive me, Lord, but the bread is gone!”

Jesus said to them, “Which one among you ate the last loaf?” But none of them knew who it was.

Jesus laughed.

And the disciples were all amazed, saying to each other, “How can this be, that He who performs such signs and wonders should laugh among us like a mortal?”