At Cemetery Ridge

[Originally published November 6th, 2016. S.R.]

I’m not alone at Cemetery Ridge this morning. There’s a thirty-year-old man here with what appears to be his ten-year-old daughter.

She lays a bouquet of bright yellow roses on a grave. As gray as the morning is, they stand out all the more. The only other color is the girl’s deep red coat.

He puts his hand on her shoulder, as she begins to cry, uncontrollably. He puts his arm all the way around her, as she sinks to her knees, and he follows.

I can’t stare at them anymore, it feels indecent. Instead I wander on from where I was visiting (my father-in-law’s grave) to some of the other friends we’ve lost these last years. One grave, a particular woman who I knew as a singer, is over where the trees grow thorny and wild. The gray and desolate morning only makes the trees look wilder.

This cemetery has a name, of course, but for as long as I can remember, people have called it “Cemetery Ridge”. This hill slopes down on the other side of the trees, and I can see the gray town in the distance. I visit this grave, and then two others, finally heading back to my car.

In the parking lot, I see the man and his daughter approaching their car. To my surprise, there is a woman wearing sunglasses waiting for them within it. I had assumed from what I saw that the man had lost his wife and the girl her mother; but, apparently not, as the woman has obviously been crying in the car. She’s holding a sort of shapeless stuffed animal.

Oh my God, she lost a child. The little girl lost a sibling: a sister, maybe, or a brother.

Now, my eyes are filling with tears. At that exact moment, just as the man finishes helping his daughter into the car and the arms of her mother, he turns and sees me, tears streaming down my face; and I could tell, in that brief moment, that he was concerned about me, and whatever grief might have brought me to this place.

His grief was my grief. My grief was his grief.

They leave within moments, driving slowly away. I stand by my car as a gray wind blows across the ridge, moving the leafless trees.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Inside Our House

(I’ve developed a sneaking envy for photo bloggers this last month, so, as a bonus, I thought I’d take a run at it. – S.B.)

My proctologist / spiritual advisor told my wife and me that our feng was nowhere near shui enough, so we’ve redecorated. I thought I’d share some of the results with you.

Here is the master bedroom:

1st Master Bedroom

It is amazing how much more energy we each have with this setup. However, the TV now only gets “The Brooklyn Bridge Channel”, which is kind of monotonous. In addition, finding a large enough dish towel to use as a carpet turned out to be a job only CraigsList could handle.

After that, we turned to remodeling the living room:

Living Room

For those of you who don’t recognize it, that is indeed the famous “Torn Band-Aid” painting of Picasso’s lesser known “Johnson & Johnson” period. Seeing as how we have our one and three year-old grandsons over daily, glass furniture built on frail bases seemed wise.

Next, we turned to remodeling one of the smaller of the guest cottages:

Guest Cottage

Just for fun, we went with a Castle Červená Lhota theme. “Czech yourself before you wreck yourself,” we always say. Since this turned out so well, we remodeled the larger guest cottage not long after:

Larger Cottage

Here, we made a more daring decorating choice, feeling Ulaanbaatar says “welcome” like nothing else could. If you look off to the left you can see parts of the lifelike city replica in the background. Next, it was back to the house, proper, for a remodeled exercise room:

Exercise Room

I’ve had a few people tell me this is not very practical, as you have to walk all the way around both pools to get to the weight room; we put in the chairs so people can rest along the way. “Exercise should be about so much more than strength and movement,” I always say. In fact, I say stuff much more often than I exercise.

We couldn’t forget to liven up the kitchen:

Kitchen

To tell the truth, my wife is not entirely happy with how this room turned out. She wanted help on the design from some guy named “Art Decko” (sp?) — whoever he is. I like the fact the room can double as a skating rink, though. Too few kitchens can do that.

She also wasn’t crazy about the privacy with our newly redone bathroom:

Bathroom

You can see we’re continuing the beige floor motif. As to privacy: there’s no reason why relieving yourself should involve claustrophobia, is how I see it. I told my wife, if she was uncomfortable here, it was only 7,860 steps to the bathroom off of the exercise room – I counted. Well, actually, I had the butler count.

Finally, we added on a small room just for the grandkids to play in:

Play Room

Some people think all of this is a bit much. “Balderdash,” I say. Children should have whatever it takes to help them grow and lead a healthy life, as long as I don’t have to miss watching ball games or anything to help them do it.

Well, there they are, our meager remodeling efforts. We hope you liked seeing them as much as we enjoyed doing them.

And remember, if you see and read it on the Internet, it has to be true.

 


 

And thank all that is holy, that ends Nano Poblano for this year! Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Ghost Out On The Railroad Tracks

Six more hours to go, just to get in state; six more after that, to make it home. I pulled over because my eyes were tired from driving.

I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around. Trains still ran on these tracks, I could tell. There was no one else in sight in the parking lot of the old train depot; no one on duty, no one on the street. The tracks were four deep in two directions.

No one on the street. Not that strange, I thought. College Football season.

I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and passed through a covered area that lead to a locked ticket office. There were several safety posters and two portraits; one of a a very old man who looked like a politician, and another of a standing middle-aged man with his standing wife and seated son and daughter. The kids both appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. I thought the man might have been the same man as the other portrait, just younger. There were no signs or placards to indicate who they were, however. Apparently, around here, everybody knew.

I walked over to the railing beside the tracks. I could hear a faint sound, like an old radio. Straining to hear it better, I realized it was what sounded like a radio program from the mid 1940’s. Big band music live from somewhere, in horrible fidelity. Muffled applause and a scratchy live announcer with an old-time radio voice between songs.

I looked around for the source. There were no houses or other buildings open to the railway tracks. I looked down the tracks instead and saw a girl.

She was walking away from me, down one of the tracks, wearing an oddly old-fashioned dress, and shoes, and hairstyle. She was walking in between the tracks, and music seemed to be coming from her as well, although it was entirely different music than the radio.

Instinctively, I started walking after her, wanting to gain a little ground before speaking so as not to yell. She was singing as she walked, in a sort of plaintiff, Celtic voice:

My love, I’ve waited for him long,
Along this stretch of track —
But it’s been many, many years;
I fear he won’t be back.

My golden youth has turned to age,
The friends I had are gone;
My love, I wish he’d come back soon;
I’ve waited for so long –

I had pulled up close enough to see her face. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen her. On a whim, I called out to her, “Miss –”

She was gone. Vanished.

I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear it. I looked up and down the track: no girl, although the old time distant radio was still playing, somewhere. I walked over to where I thought she last had been. There was a piece of gingham caught up on the track; I grabbed it right before the wind would have blown it away.

As I walked back to the car, I passed through the covered area. Glancing at the larger of the two pictures, I realized that the girl I had just seen – or thought I’d seen – was the daughter in the portrait. I looked up at the picture and studied it. The others were smiling, but she looked sort of distant and sad, wearing a gingham dress. Her smiling father’s hand was on her shoulder, right beneath where the his hand lay, I could tell the sleeve of her dress was torn.

I looked at the piece of gingham in my hand. It would have fit perfectly.

“That’s my family,” a faintly Irish girl’s voice said.

I jumped. She was standing ten feet away from me. I gathered myself, and said, “Why aren’t you with them?”

“They died. Years ago.”

“Did you?” I heard myself ask.

“Yes, but I’m not leaving. He told me he’d be back, you see. I thought maybe you were him, but, I can see up close that you’re not.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where did he go?”

“Ha,” she said, with a laugh. “To war.”

“To war? Then he – he was soldier?”

“A pilot,” she said proudly. “2nd Air Division.”

“So you’re waiting for him to come back from the war?”

“He hasn’t died. I would know if he had. I am waiting for him to come back here. He said he would.”

She turned and jumped back down to the tracks. In spite of myself, I walked after her.

“Miss –” I said, “What did you die from? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Polio,” she said. “Toward the end I was in a wheelchair. I was in one in the portrait. I sent him one picture of me in my wheelchair, but he didn’t write back for a long time after that. In fact, I died, and he still hadn’t written back. Well — goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.

I stood there, the wind blowing softly through the train station, and the old-time radio music still somewhere in the distance, and I thought

“That bastard…”

 


 

Don’t ask me why I would try to write a ghost story: I hate ghost stories, for one thing, and I’m not sure I actually know what they are supposed to be, as evidenced by the above. Oh, sorry, ahem… “For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.”, etc., etc.

Lonelier

When I met the woman who was to become the great love of my life, she was lonelier than I had ever been, even in my worst days.

Even with three daughters she adored.

She is (and was) an exceptionally beautiful woman by any objective standard. But beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In can, rather, be a guarantee of unwanted attention.

When I first saw her, my honest thoughts were, “Wow. She’s beautiful. Way out of my league.” And that would have been that, except…

… She was attracted to me.

Even now, I have to pause to let that sink in. She was attracted to me.

I was a single father raising a son (and, during the summers, my stepson). I had dated three women since my divorce; a woman who was way too young, a woman from work who just couldn’t relate to someone who had a child, and a third whose only interest in me was money related. Dating her (my future wife) seemed an extreme improbability.

What did I have going for me? I’m not exactly handsome; I certainly wasn’t her male equivalent in looks. She had frequently dated, and had even been married once, to that type of person.

I had a job, so check there… I was raising a child, so, whatever type of check that merits, I guess I had that…

[digression]

I had emerged from my first marriage and my dating years with a series of weird ideas about women, one of which was: women are every bit (if not more) appearance-conscious than men are reputed to be. They act like men are these shallow, appearance-driven creatures, and they’re half right.

We are shallow.

There was a post earlier this month among my fellow peppers where a woman was recommending a single guy she knew to any girls out there who were single.

Let’s just say I don’t (and never did) look anything like this guy. I know (or thought I knew) that this is what women want.

Some of this attitude goes back to my early teens, and my observation of what might be called mass, groupie-like behavior on the part of my female classmates.

They all wanted the same guys: the hot guys, the cool guys (which oddly enough, in English, are not opposites).

In other words, the not-me guys.

At one point in my life, I reasoned that humans had evolved in such a way that men were supposed to die off in war and the few survivors have multiple wives; this explained things like the fact that a higher percent of women have ever been married than men, meaning, all the women marry the same few guys.

Who, once again, were not me.

[/digression]

So I found this beautiful woman, who I was attracted to, attracted to me.

What’s more, it wasn’t the way she looked that got me. I actually fell in love with her when we started talking on the phone every night.

Remember: we each had kids to get to bed. My son was only four years old at the time; his half-brother was thirteen. Her girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. We worked our jobs, got our kids to bed, then we would talk on the phone.

For hours.

She was smart. She was creative. She was strong. She had lived a fascinating life.

She had actually been a professional model in her younger days, but she had a degree in sociology, and had worked at least fifty different jobs, by my count, including having taught a variety of subjects at college.

She had dark things in her past, though.

An alcoholic father.

Date rape.

An alcoholic husband.

She was lonelier, I came to realize, than I had ever been; mostly because, to the world, she was a beautiful person, and beautiful people (as we all know) don’t have problems.

The high school pageant winner doesn’t have father who steals money to buy alcohol. If she doesn’t socialize, it’s because she’s stuck-up, not because she’s virtually a prisoner in her own home.

The professional model has her pick of all the best guys. If she got raped, it’s probably her fault. Besides, I doubt she can keep track of how many guys she’s been with.

Look at her, with her good looks and her handsome husband, and now, three beautiful daughters. Certainly, neither she nor her girls could be afraid at night when he comes home drunk.

I came to see something I’ve seen repeatedly since: when you think someone else’s life is easy, it’s because you don’t know that person well enough.

Still, she had overcome these things, and I had fallen in love like I’d never thought possible. She encouraged me. She looked out for me.

She loved me.

She didn’t just say it, she actually did it.


When we decided to get married, our kids seemed excited about the idea. Mixed step-families do have problems they don’t tell you about in books, though, like her twelve year old daughter having a crush on my thirteen year old stepson.

And him breaking her heart.

Our first year of marriage was tough, as we struggled to integrate ourselves into each other’s lives.  She had learned to be conflict-avoidant. I had learned the opposite.

But we worked through it.

To me, in a relationship, respect is more fundamental than attraction, or even affection. I was attracted to her, and I loved her, but I respected her, and that meant more when times got tough than anything else, largely because respect prevents you from, ultimately, indulging in the type of corrosive criticism that destroys relationships from within.

When you are attracted to her, you want to sleep with her;
When you love her, you want her to be happy;
But when you respect her, you want to listen to and learn from her.

When you have nothing left to learn from the person you love, your relationship is probably in trouble.


So here we are.

We’ve been married now quite a while; we’ve seen all three of our daughters get married, and one of those get divorced.

I’m upwards of fifty years old; she’s a few months older than I am. We have grandchildren.

She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. “Beautiful” and “young” are different words for a reason.

We have challenges ahead, I’m sure. I’m also sure I have no idea what they will be. But we’ve both been through the valley.

We also know what is to lie out on the grass, and bathe in the sunlight, and know we are loved.

For love is not just the best thing, it’s the only thing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Admissions

Like many of you, I struggle at times with how much of myself I should reveal here.

Should I tell people that every time I read the words “Nano Poblano” I think of them sung to the chorus of “Viva Las Vegas”?

Probably not.

Should I talk about how much I still love my wife after all these years, or how grateful I am for all the little things she does for me? No, because, number 1, it would seem uxorious, and number 2, nobody wants to hear about good things.

In fact, people seem to positively resent other people’s good things. How dare I, or anyone else, have good things to say about anything?

So that’s out.

Should I talk about how unpopular I was as a child? That, in elementary school, I once had a valentine returned to me, unopened?

That might be okay. People can relate to being unpopular. Oddly enough, even very popular people can relate to it.

You popular people know who you are. Popularity is a thing you would never admit to, of course.

Those type of admissions are very unseemly.

Given that much of my writing this month has been about dating and many of the relationships I’ve had along the way, I might want to write about why it took me so long to find that type of love, and about all the things I did to sabotage my own relationships. I could dress it up like it was some sort of sociological study…

… How about “no”. That style of writing is irritating: “Thirteen Things Men Do Because They’re Afraid of Love,” written by A. Nonymous:

“… I realized, for all my talk of equality, that I wanted to be in control in my relationships. So, I let one after another slip away, to feed my ego… People want more freedom in their lives, not less: love should promote that; but, for years, I couldn’t see it.”

Well. That has the merit of being true, I suppose. Judging from readership on the Internet, people hate truth: they prefer politics, just to mention one of the many more popular choices. Erotica would be another.

I have told a couple of stories here that involve sex, although the predominant theme in each was my general cluelessness. General cluelessness, and my knack for finding women who had a point to prove to their ex.

Speaking of being clueless, my wife is out of town for a few days, so I’m having hot dogs for breakfast. Should I admit to that?

I’m pretty sure I just did.

I also started working on a song. I stopped writing songs because inspiration only ever seem to hit while she was sleeping. I wasn’t going to wake her up trying to work out a song at the piano.

I write poetry instead, typing is less noisy. And less grating than my voice.

I hate my voice. I could write about that. People can certainly relate to that – you most likely hate yours too.

Even though they’re the only voices we have.

And we’d have a hard time admitting to anything without them.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Essays

Essays. I have to remember I’m writing essays now.

But I prefer poetry.

Poetry allows me to express feelings without being worried about getting facts right. Or grammar. Or where the hell to start and end paragraphs.

I have no idea where paragraphs should start or end.

Like the idiot I am, I agreed to write essays for National Blog Posting Month, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Fortunately for me, sweet and supportive people (i.e., other CheerPeppers) subtly help me out. They reprint a bit of an essay I wrote, changing the paragraph structure of what I wrote into what it should have been. When I do a Facebook post, I neglect to tag the people it is about; one of the moderators gently comes in and does it for me.

Essentially, I was raised by wolves and I am now attending tea, but the people here are really nice and don’t comment on my manners.


All through public school, whenever we were asked to do creative writing assignments, I was told, upon completion, that I just was not a writer. This was true in college as well, except for one professor, my Creative Writing teacher, who saw something in my writing no one else saw. Everyone else saw an inchoate mass of undeveloped ideas, poor sentence structure, and dizzying leaps from subject to subject.

They weren’t wrong, it’s just, with poetry, that can work in my favor. With essays, those things detract.

As I’ve mentioned to some people in comments here, I got my love of poetry from my mother. She, however, did not think much of my own efforts in the genre. My mother is not a critical or judgmental person – not at all – but she also was and is not prone to the common maternal habit of feigning enthusiasm, either.

Asking for an honest evaluation about something you’ve created from a loved one can create a significant tension in them between love and truth. They love us, so they want to say things that will make us feel good; however, honesty may impel them to say things that have the opposite effect.

I’ve solved that problem in my own life my never showing anyone who actually knows me in daily life any of my creative efforts*. They don’t need to lie; I don’t need to get my feelings hurt or wonder at their sincerity if they are positive.

It’s not exactly a “win-win”; it’s more like a “what the hell kind of choice is that” thing.

* Other than music.


Some people are analyzers; they take things apart to see if they make sense, examining them from as many angles as they can. I am a synthesizer: everything, to me, is related to everything else, and my mind is constantly trying to unify things into a coherent whole.

Which is crazy, of course. There is a “whole”, but any unity we find is liable to be one we put there.

I tell stories about my life, or the lives of those around me, trying to make sense out of it all. I feel like the story I’m meant to tell is in some way unified. My writing, however, is more like a mosaic than a single thing, with bits of this and that, discrete in themselves, that maybe, when examined from a distance, might form a single picture.

Love is what it is all about, of course. I was a young person in search of love, who wandered in and out of relationships, eventually becoming very ill, depressed, and broken; but, through a series of events having little to do with my own merit, gradually found a better life.

Even though I’m still ill, and most likely, broken.

So. I will continue to write more broken, love-seeking essays that border on poetry in my complete disregard for the rules of structure and paragraphing.

Then go back to live with the wolves.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Choice to Be

Photo credit : © Borjairas | Dreamstime.com – Coca Cola Cans, Coke Photo


She knew I was broken when she met me. Broken, but functioning.

The simplest choices had become agonizing. What to wear in the morning. What to say to someone. What to buy from a vending machine.

She knew all of this about me, but she liked me anyway. In fact, she said she loved me.

I hadn’t heard those words in a long time.

It was like a song you might have heard long ago; the tune seems familiar, now, but you just can’t remember where you heard it, or even, if you liked it. You think maybe you did. I thought maybe I did. Like being loved.

She became my first wife, and part of the choice I made to be with her involved, first, choosing to be, period.

The choice to be. We make it every day.

She, too was broken, by the way: broken into pieces so expertly put back together that only close inspection would show how thorough the shattering had been. But her breaking was, in many ways, more thorough than mine. She thought she was rescuing me by loving me, but she was only building up pressure within herself that eventually gave way, and we gave way with it.

She loved me, she told me at the end, so she thought she could live a straight life. But she was gay, and she was in love with someone else.

So, six years after we each said “I do”, we didn’t.

You won’t read a stream of negative words from me about my ex. She tried her hardest when we were together, and she’s tried hard since then. She already had a son when we met, and we had one together. Both of them are broken, too, in their different ways — particularly the one we had together. Broken but functioning. Moving forward. Choosing to be.

Ours was a tempestuous marriage; our personality types were very similar, both being what might charitably be described as “prone to wide mood swings”. Temperamental. Feisty. Confrontational.

Broken.

You stand in front of life’s vending machine, and you see all the pretty colors and flavors, and your money goes in, and you push a button.

You make a choice. I made a choice – we made a choice.

We chose to be together. We chose to have a child. We chose to be apart.

We chose to be.

Apart.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Among My Many Poor Decisions…

[Warning: adult(ish) content.]

I was twenty-eight years old, and one of six guys in the groom’s party at a friend’s wedding: we were to wear black tuxedos with pink cummerbunds. I was paired off with a bridesmaid who had long wavy brown hair, deep red lipstick, and who would be wearing the obligatory pink bridesmaid dress.

I had met her the night before at the rehearsal, and sat next to her at the rehearsal dinner, where we spent some time chatting, mostly about the bride and groom. Late in the dinner, she casually asked me if I was single… I said yes… I asked her the same question… she said she would be as of tomorrow, the wedding day, as her divorce was final then. Without really thinking about it, I asked her for the first open dance the next night. She said sure.

The church where the wedding was to be held was way out in the country, more or less in the middle of a wheat field. We had to stand outside for pictures, which were taken prior to the ceremony. I honestly felt like a scarecrow standing in a field like that.

I noticed, though, that she (my assigned bridesmaid) really took to getting her picture taken — and she looked good doing it.

I also had the impression the bridal party might have gotten an early start on the champagne.

I typically love weddings where I don’t have to be the one providing music: I actually get to watch. When the bride came in, she looked radiant, and the groom looked completely love struck. I remember glancing across the way at the bridesmaids; all of them were looking back and forth from the bride to the groom, some with tears in their eyes — except for my bridesmaid, who was looking squarely at me. She smiled when she saw me looking back, then turned to watch the bride, her eyes shining.

The reception was about ten miles away. When the bride and groom arrived, we began the usual festivities. First open dance, my bridesmaid and I danced, and the next dance, and the next two. We went back to the table holding hands. Several other of the bridal party were watching with interest. The rest of the groom’s party was at the bar, as I recall. There was food; there were toasts and speeches; and champagne was flowing freely. The bridesmaid and I danced again and drank again, back and forth, for several hours, and, well into the reception, when some slower dances came on, there wasn’t any doubt any more that she and I were ‘together’.

When we got back to the table, she told me she wanted to talk to me outside “for a minute”. I was fine with that. We took our champagne with us, and two glasses.

And went to my car.

And, umm… experienced each other’s bodies fully.

And were noticed.

And then went back in and tried to play it off.

I don’t exactly know who it was that saw us – given the way that car was made, it would have been virtually impossible, to really see us – but everyone there seemed to know what had happened. Particularly the bride, who was looking daggers at her rather unconcerned friend, the one with the long messed-up brown hair.

The groom caught up to me a few minutes later in the bathroom.

“Man — Elise is PISSED.”

“About what?”

“You and Redacted. Everyone knows what you two were doing out there.”

I looked at my watch. “Yeah, what you and Elise should be doing, by now. Do you know how long it has been for me? It’s been, like, years.”

“Dude, I don’t care what you were doing. I know Redacted’s ex, and he’s the world’s biggest prick. It’s nice to see you two having fun.”

“Then what’s Elise’s problem?”

“This is her night, nothing is supposed to detract from her.”

“Should I apologize?”

“Nah, just take Redacted and go. It would have been better if you two hadn’t come back in.”

I went back in and quietly suggested to my bridesmaid that we should go. “I’m not ready to go yet.”

“I think we’ve caused quite a commotion.”

“Good. I have to be sure enough people know that they tell my ex.”

“I am pretty sure everyone here knows, and the news is way the hell across town.”

“Alright, we can go, then, ” she said breezily, if unsteadily.

 


 

We were going to go back to my place, but I ended up taking her directly to her house because the champagne caught up to her in the car and she started to feel sick. She asked if I wanted to come in, but I honestly didn’t. I told her I’d call the next day to see how she was doing.

When I called her late the next afternoon, she sounded like she’d swallowed an entire bottle of remorse.

“Ugh. I’m so embarrassed about last night. Aren’t you?” she asked.

I wasn’t, but I thought it only polite to say, “We’d both had a lot to drink.”

“Too much,” she said, wearily. “Well, sorry about that. I appreciate you calling to check on me. I’ll be fine.”

And that was that.

 


 

Unbeknownst to me, my eventual first wife was at that wedding, and that wedding reception. We did not know each other at the time.

Three years later, we were planning our own wedding and realized that both she and I had been there.

“Oh, I remember that wedding!” she said, “One of the wedding party couples were, like, gettin’ busy in one of the limos during the reception. Do you remember that?”

“It wasn’t a limo, it was my car.”

“You let them use your car?”

Silence.

“Well, I didn’t want them using the bathroom,” I said.

“I guess that’s right,” she said, turning back to the invitation list.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Justified

I wish I could say I did the right thing, but I did not.

She was married, and even though she and her husband were having serious problems, I should have stayed away.

I was a friend, I was there, I would listen, and she — she was desperate to feel wanted.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never fantasized about her.

I was pretty young, but still, I knew better.

The first time it happened, a part of my brain pretended it wasn’t happening*. It felt like a reflex, like breathing — it’s just what your body does. She and I were there and we were doing things. Things people do.

She felt justified, because he had promised to love her, and then didn’t do it. He broke the vows; that made them void. I, on the other hand, struggled for a way to feel justified in what we were doing, because I was doing something I had long believed to be wrong to do.

In my life, faced with other relationship situations, I have sometimes done the right thing, and on other occasions, the wrong one. In this case, I rationalized that I was a single man and she was a soon-to-be divorced (almost separated) woman, and she was willing and it was consensual and various other phrases that effectively rhyme with YADDA.

Since careful readers may notice I used the phrase “the first time it happened”, there were, as you might guess, other times. By that point, my rationalizing capability had kicked into high gear: we were doing what we were doing because we were in love, I reasoned; yep, that was it.

Except somebody forgot to tell her.

I brought up my theory of how in love we were one day. She broke it off within seconds.

Two weeks later, I swallowed two bottles of sleeping pills. My capacity to rationalize had exploded in on itself.

 

* Incidentally, the “thing we were doing” was just making out. We never slept together.

 


 

For those keeping track of my tangled chronology, this was roughly a year before the events recounted in The Smallest Trace of Necessity, about 18 months prior to my trip to the food bank (That Empty Feeling), and almost three years prior to the date I went on in Sundresses. After my attempted suicide, I had other health issues that knocked me out of work for a long spell.

The girl involved was unconcerned. For years thereafter, she acted around me as though nothing had ever happened; and, from her perspective, she was right.

Since I became rather ill, I consoled myself as best I could by falling in love with nurses for the next couple of years. What woman can resist a sickly man with an IV?

All of them, it turned out; although, in fairness, at least one appeared to be tempted, in a “I’ve dropped all my standards” kind of way.

Looking back, as I have often done in these National Blog Posting Months posts, I see a pattern, but it isn’t anything unusual for a human being — I wanted to love and be loved. However, life is like a series of plays everyone is enacting: they say their lines, and you say yours, and you only gradually figure out that the plays have different endings. You keep looking, though, for someone whose story matches up with yours — preferably, until the end.

Most of my relationships (all of these things happened in my twenties) didn’t amount to much, but the feelings I had about them were everything to me. Because the married secretary down the hall from work was lonely and frustrated, she fooled around with me: I thought it was love, because my feeble heart and mind only had one category for me to file this stuff under. She had a category called “look – let’s just not talk about this, okay?” which I was – at that age – unfamiliar with.

 


 

A rational person deals with rejection by saying: “well, I’m in the same situation I was before, so, there’s not really any harm done.”

Just for the record, I know exactly zero rational persons, by that standard.

It wasn’t that I reasoned that my life was no longer worth living because she’d rejected me; in fact, I didn’t reason at all. What I felt, on the other hand, was deep, abiding shame that I had ever thought she would or could love me. I was angry: not at her, but at myself. Of course she didn’t love me, I thought.

As it happens, I was already being treated for depression before all of this started. I had (and have) a notable ability to mask my depression to the casual observer, but, that didn’t make it any less real. What happened with her was just one more step in a spiraling process.

Depression, for me, felt like anger turned inward, anger so deep and wide that it blocked any other feelings from getting either in or out.

I was, effectively, mad at myself for being me.

So as not to leave you wondering: I was prevented from killing myself by a friend (my long-time best friend) who happened by my apartment (he had a key) and who called an ambulance. We hadn’t seen each other in months and I didn’t know he was in town.

In the psychiatric wing, I took the meds prescribed me, went to individual and group therapy sessions, and transferred my erotic fascination from the married secretary at work to, variously, the admissions nurse at the clinic, the pretty social worker with the dark hair, and one of the female orderlies who I knew in younger days as working at a car wash.

My body kept trying to live even after my mind had given up on it.

 


 

I wish I could tell readers the day I stopped being depressed and the magic cure that got me over it, but I don’t think there was any such day. Within months of the events recounted above, I started having other health issues that made the depression much, much worse. But, over time, through both treatment and a process something like erosion, the worst parts of my condition gradually wore down (somewhat). We think of erosion as only effecting good things; but, time may wear down bad things, as well, and it seemed to do so for me.

I’m much happier now, but, I’ve come to believe that happiness is a combination of attitude and circumstance. I have, in recent years, enjoyed what might be called either blessedness or good fortune; within the context of my own beliefs about the world, I in no way believe that I created my own happiness. The closest description to how I feel can expressed in one sentence: I’ve been lucky.

The mental health diagnosis I was given at the time (severe bipolar) has never been changed; I am what I was. I know that circumstances in life can and will change, but I do not know in what way they will. As I often say:

The only thing I know
About what I don’t know
Is that I don’t know it.

When I think back now upon that girl (woman) who dallied with me when we were both in our twenties, I see things in a different light. She was every bit as lost as I was: but I saw her as having all the power then.

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that my ability to justify what I have done is quite a bit stronger than my ability to choose wisely. I’m not sure that I am alone in this.

Incidentally, the next time after the above events that I so much as kissed a woman was some years after all of this, and it was under rather outrageous circumstances. But — that story is for tomorrow’s post.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

That Time Will Come

The world is a strange place: strange and big. I know sometimes that it can be scary and that you are unsure.

It is okay to be unsure. It is okay to hesitate.

You’re stronger than you know. You may think you can’t do the things you see other people do, but you can.

You will.

People are going to tell you not to be afraid, but I’m not. It’s okay to be afraid.

Fear is there to tell us something might hurt us. It’s okay to listen to fear.

And always remember to love who you are.

People will try to confuse you. They’ll tell you to fear who you are and love what will hurt you.

Don’t listen to them.

Out here, on the edge of adventure, you have choices.

You have everything you need.

You have wings.

And one other thing —

A kite can be connected to the soul… did you know that?

Even though you touch it for just the briefest time, it stays connected to you. Forever.

Because you helped it fly.

Even though that time will come when you may not be here to watch it. Because you’ve gone on. To another field, maybe.

Somewhere, beyond the sunset.

So run, little one. Let your joy stream overhead like it was meant to do.

For you have wings.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry — sort of. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Power Trip

She started driving 150 miles north, to the big city. She wound her way through a seedy part of the city, around the dirty familiar streets, to the ugly green apartment building with the burn marks on its side.

Most of her time there, she had been high. She did remember her roommates cooking meth at the top the stairs, while one of the guys, who was perpetually drunk, looked on. She also remembered her abusive girlfriend slamming her down, throat first, onto the balcony railing.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, in the strongest voice she could muster.

Next was a restaurant an hour south, where she’d worked six months, bussing tables and running food. She was either drunk or high most of the time she worked there. Most of the people there didn’t like her, and several stole tips from her. They didn’t like working with a trans woman.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, as clearly as she could staring at the outside of the ritzy restaurant.

Next, it was back to the town she lived in and the house she grew up in. After her parents moved out, and after she left the meth house apartment, she lived here while she worked at the restaurant half an hour north. She had gotten so messed up on drugs there, she began to hear voices and see faces at the windows. Her father came and moved her out and into an apartment one night.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, mustering up as much courage as she had.

Finally, it was cross-town to the place she dreaded the most, where her abusive ex-girlfriend still lived. She actually shook in the car turning down the hated street. She stopped her car right in front of the house.

“You have no power over me anymore.”

{“yes i do”}

“YOU have no power over me ANYMORE.”

{“i always will, and you know it -“}

“YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME ANYMORE!!”

Silence.

 


 

She sat in her psychologist’s office, recounting her trip.

“I did exactly what you told me to do, all of it.”

“And how do you feel now?”

“Weird,” she said, sipping a Red Bull. “Cost a fortune in gas…”

“Go on.”

“I have had nightmares about all of those places, and it was good to face them, but…”

“But what?”

“It isn’t what was done to me that won’t leave me, it’s the things I did to myself.”

“Yes. But you aren’t that person anymore.”

“So I have no power over me anymore, either?”

Her therapist smiled. “The you that was has no power over the you that is anymore.”

“Who does, then? Where do I go with my life?”

“Forward. It’s the only way any of us can go.”

“So does this mean the nightmares will stop?”

“I can’t promise that. We’re just working on taking down whatever barriers keep you from moving forward.”

She left her therapist’s office and met her father down at the park to walk.

“How did it go at therapy today?”

“Oh, you know. Just the usual, breakthroughs and stuff.”

“Cool,” her father said, absent-mindedly.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Wandering Life

I love to walk, ride or drive with no particular destination in mind.

Some would say I write the same way. There’s truth in that.

Yesterday, I took a few hour drive through the countryside; I love to see the fields and forests dressed for autumn. I started down a familiar highway, then took a random turn. Within 45 minutes, I was traveling through a series of hills I’d never seen before.

I stopped to park at a scenic overlook – which I recognized as such because of the helpful sign there that said “SCENIC OVERLOOK” – and, after snapping a few pictures, pulled out my tablet to get caught up on other Poblano posts.

My reading is like my driving: I never know what I’ll see that will move me. Several of my fellow Peppers have become favorite bloggers of mine these last few weeks. In some ways, every set of eyes sees an entirely different world.

I also check the Facebook feeds, there are posts there I missed on the WP list. I enjoy the interplay there, though I rarely join in.

Another car pulls into the three parking spots that constitute the scenic overlook. From it, a young couple emerge who look like fitness models. The man looks at my rather endomorphic form with a disgusted glance that says

“Junk food. Poor guy is probably hopped up on Funyuns.”

Which sounds like a good idea to me, so I get back in my car and head down the highway in search of a convenience store.

 


 

I have this weird sort of fondness for convenience stores. For any of you who may live in other countries, what Americans call “convenience stores” are gas stations (usually) that also sell miscellaneous retail items, the most popular of which are cigarettes, lottery tickets, and beer. I never buy any of these things, except gas for my car. Convenience stores have become decidedly inconvenient since they started selling lottery tickets, as people can spend ten minutes picking out which games they want to throw their money away on. I typically buy things like soft drinks and snacks — including, on rare occasions, the aforementioned Funyuns.

In the area of the country I live in, many convenience stores have kitchens in them and serve various types of country cooking – and not necessarily this country, either. The store I find about ten miles away from the scenic overlook has Rajasthani cuisine, and it smells amazing. You might not think to drive to some unnamed town on the Florida-Alabama border to get Indian food, but there it is, and there I am, and it’s delicious.

“Dal-baati-churma” it’s called. I sit down in the little eating area, and watch the other customers.

I time one woman, who takes eight and one half minutes to complete all her lottery purchases. Another man has a long (but cordial) discussion with the woman behind the counter about the high price of cigarettes – which I’m relatively sure she can do nothing about – but he decides to buy them anyway, as I suspected he would. The woman behind the counter is very beautiful, by the way; not young, but beautiful in a careworn sort of way.

I am that guy who thinks all women are beautiful.

A man sits down in the booth next to me to eat, and immediately strikes up a conversation.

“Never seen you here before.”

“Yeah, I live up 331. Just out driving.”

“The food here’s addictive, although I still have no idea what’s in it.”

“How long have they been serving it?”

“This place served fried chicken and fish up to last year. The Johnston’s, who owned it for years, sold it to the new owners.”

“Are the new owners Indian?”

“No, no. They’re Mexican. But a friend of theirs runs the kitchen.”

I’ll have to put that on the blog. I believe I know at least one Mexican-Indian-American, although, if memory serves, she’s also part dinosaur.

 


 

Darkness fell well before I made it home. Turning onto the street our house is on, I realized that wandering, for me, is like writing, part of the balance I must strike between “making a living” and actually living. Tomorrow, I will be back at work, earning the money my family needs, and that’s okay. Not all who love the wandering life have the same luxury; as I didn’t, at one point in my life.

“Have you ever heard of ‘Dal-baati-churma’?” I ask my wife.

“Heavens, where did you drive today?” she asks.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Motive

He had means and he had opportunity, but he had no motive.

In this case, the action in question wasn’t the commission of a crime, it was the living of a life.

All over the world, people struggle for the means to live, or the opportunity to make a better life; but, unless they also have a reason to live, means and opportunity are meaningless.

Selfish desire had been his sole motivation for years, but like a mirror that reflected only itself, he had examined his own life and found it empty.

He needed to care about something outside himself, something like love; he wasn’t quite sure where he should go to buy something like that.

Oh, my brother — all the means in the world cannot buy motive. For “reason to live” is not a thing you buy – it’s a thing you make.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Sundresses

Sundresses

I stood next to her desk at work, nervously introducing myself and telling her that I had seen her around and would like to get to know her better. She told me her name, and agreed to meet me for lunch down at the Harbor Docks on Saturday.

I had asked one of my married female co-workers “how does a guy ask a woman he doesn’t even know for a date?” and she had given me this approach, word-for-word. “Start with lunch; it’s less threatening,” she said.

I followed her instructions. It worked.

That Saturday, I was sitting outside on the deck of the restaurant (overlooking the Gulf and not the “Harbor”, in spite of the name) when she arrived. She was wearing a white sundress, and looked stunning.

I have (and had) a horrible weakness for the sight of a girl in a sundress.

Joan was her name; she was new in town. Both she and her twin sister, Angela, had started working where I worked (in different offices) the same week. They were not identical, but people sometimes thought they were. I asked her about where she had come from (Tallahassee); what she liked to do (run and work out); and so on. I spoke some about the same topics for me.

It wasn’t long before conversation sort of ground to a halt. The date wasn’t working; it just didn’t feel right. I was accustomed, on dates, to being able to get the women I dated to laugh; however, nothing I said seemed to be particularly funny to her, which was a bad sign for me.

Girls did not typically date me for my looks.

Forty-five minutes in, she honestly seemed bored out of her mind. Still, lunch was good, and it was a beautiful day; and, I mused, as attractive as she was, she certainly shouldn’t have any problem garnering male attention. Hopefully for her, next time she would be having lunch with someone she was more compatible with.

I walked with her out to her car to say goodbye; after she left, I decided to take a walk down the beach. It was early fall, but the weather was still warm and breezy.

Being, at that time of my life, a lonely single guy, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried to pretend to be the kind of guy she liked in the hopes of finding out what was beneath that sundress. I dismissed the thought, however: I wasn’t that good of a liar and I wanted someone to like me for me; so, I told my pesky male sexuality to pipe the f*** down.

Besides, it’s hard to pretend you work out when you don’t.

I saw a few stray people out walking, including a woman or two wearing sundresses. I’ve never quite been sure what it is I like so much about that particular fashion on women. I guess it’s like taste in music: you hear something, and you know you like it, but you’d be hard pressed to say exactly why. I’ve just always loved the sort of casual naturalness of that look, for whatever reason.

I was feeling down; I had entertained high hopes for that date. Although in my mid-twenties, some of of my friends had stopped this business of merely dating and taken to getting married. I had some longer-lasting relationships when I was younger, but not in some time — and I was lonely.

It was a loneliness slated to last roughly five more years; but I couldn’t know that at the time.

I picture me now at that age, driving back to my apartment, talking on the phone to one of my buddies who wanted to know how my date went (“It was a dud, man”). I see myself making a pizza in that little apartment that evening, with a glass of wine and my tiny cat for company, listening to music as the sun set down the beach and the night lit up with partygoers at the bars and clubs all up and down the way. There I am, after some hours of television and and some minutes in the shower, settling down in that old bed with its broad striped comforter, the cat sleeping on the headboard, dreaming my dreams of girls in sundresses — and that one girl in particular, whose face I never could quite see clearly, who’d smile when she saw me, and laugh at my jokes, and who would actually want to lay down next to me every night.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Self Serve

The way my mind actually works? First of all, it arguably doesn’t; but to the degree it does, it tends to jump back, forth, and around…


Self-service is fine, but being self-serving is not, so: help yourself to the buffet, but while doing so, don’t brag about your wonderful diet and look disapprovingly at other people’s plates. And if you so much as mention Crossfit, we’re all throwing Cobb Salad at you.


“Man, I mean… I try to do the right thing, but sometimes… the right thing is… not exactly… where I can reach it, so, I just do what I do.”

– from an actual conversation I was part of recently


Working teaches you subtle distinctions. For instance, having oversight is good, but having oversights can get you fired.


“… Dude, you can’t just cheat on your wife.”

“She doesn’t care, as long as I’m not bothering her.”

“Are you serious?”

“About her not caring? Umm — yeah. She’s elevated not caring to an art form.”

– from the same conversation


Since many of you, I’m sure, read this blog for its outstanding insights into human morality, I’ll lay out some basic principles.

  • It is arguably possible for a person to strike another person in self-defense.
  • It is also arguably possible for a person to kill another person in self-defense.
  • It is, however, impossible (arguably or otherwise) for a person to rape another person in self-defense.

Since, for the first two types of actions listed above, self-defense is thought to be the only reason justifying the actions, one can presumably conclude that there is no justification of any kind, ever, for the last action named. WHICH EVERY DECENT PERSON ALREADY KNOWS.

(Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Well, actually I did.)


Since writing is very taxing, I feel like, here in the US, we should only have to do it April 15th. Or quarterly, if we’re self-employed.


“… Why not just get divorced, then?”

“If I ask for a divorce, she’ll take me to the cleaners! She’ll say I was cheating on her –“

“But YOU ARE cheating on her.”

“That hasn’t been legally established yet.”

“Dude, you’re completely insane.”

“Look, your wife actually likes you, so, I’m not sure you’re qualified to speak on the matter.”

– more from the same conversation


As a prelude to any potential future run for public office, the author of this blog would like to disclaim any knowledge of his own actions.


Imagination is more important than most people realize, because empathy is impossible without it.


I was asked by a reader to describe what I look like. I look as though I ate the younger version of myself.


When the journey becomes the goal, rather than the destination, traveling gets a lot easier.

The downside is, you are unlikely to arrive anywhere in particular.


“… Besides, don’t tell me you aren’t attracted to other women.”

“I never said that.”

“You act like this couldn’t happen to you.”

“I — no, I know better. I’m only lucky so far. Look, my bad. You just live your life, I have no business judging stuff I’m sure that I don’t understand.”

“Have you ever cheated on your wife?”

“No. Well, no, not… no.”

“What kind of answer is that?”

“The only one you’re getting.”

“Okay, fine Mister Self-serving, have it your way.”

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

{ tissues }

It was my fifth grade art class, and we were wrapped up in the mysteries of papier-mâché. I was hopelessly inept; my creation looked like half-chewed food. From a row back, a dark-haired girl stepped away from her perfect work to try to help me.

Her name was Velvet.

She had long-hair and freckles, and deep brown eyes, and as she took hold of one my hands to show me how to do what we were supposed to be doing, something changed inside me. It was a pre-adolescent something, but – something, nonetheless.

At that age, relationships are both very simple and very complicated. Simple, in that, you don’t actually have to talk to each other or interact much. Complicated, in that, you aren’t quite sure when someone qualifies as your girlfriend or boyfriend as opposed to your friend.

But I think she became my girlfriend.


She was in my class, yet we rarely spoke: maybe three times a week. She also sang in chorus, and we were preparing for the year-end concert. She sang in the special “select group” of the best singers, and I used to watch them practice in awe.

They sounded wonderful to my ten-year old ears.

We were preparing for the year-end concert because fifth grade was almost over. I had my first girlfriend, and I had maybe four weeks to enjoy it.

Then, out of the blue, one day, with maybe two weeks left, she told me her family was moving. We lived in an Air Force town, so almost everyone moved every three years. She was leaving right after the school year ended.

The last time I would see her would be the end of school program.


As part of our year end concert / program, I had a speaking part, dressed as an old-time politician stumping for presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison. I was to wear a fake beard and a stovepipe hat.

My mom helped me construct the stovepipe hat out of two pieces of black posterboard we cut, rolled, and stapled together. I did my bit in the program for Benjamin Harrison; I liked to think it was his first term and not his failed re-election bid.

Velvet sang “Kentucky Babe” with the select singers, and I still remember it to this day.

After the show, we stood there awkwardly, our four parents also standing right there. She was admiring my stovepipe hat; I wanted to give it to her as a going away present. My mom said no.

So, we said our clumsy goodbyes, and she left.

I was really angry at my mom in the car; I argued with her. She said I would want to keep that hat to remember this day by.


Four years later, I am in ninth grade, and one of my female friends brings me a letter in an unfamiliar girl’s handwriting.

It was from Velvet.

She sent a copy of her school photo. She looked beautiful; and, by this point, adolescence had indeed hit me.

She had just moved (again), they were now in Alabama, only about three hours away.

She might as well have been across country.

I went home, and sat down at the desk my father had built for my brother’s and my room. Behind me, high up on a shelf, lay that stovepipe hat. I tried to think of what I should say to her.

I wasn’t sure sending a photo of me would have the same effect on her that hers had on me. I looked like I’d had a twelve-round prize fight with puberty and lost.

I snuck into my sister’s room and borrowed (stole) her Polaroid camera. I took a picture of the hat, and then put the camera back where my sister had tried unsuccessfully to hide it.

I wrote a three paragraph note about school and friends we both knew who still lived in Florida. I also wrote “Remember this?” on back of the photo. I spent some time practicing my signature on a spare piece of paper before signing it.

I then “borrowed” an envelope and stamp from my mom, and rode my bicycle down to the post office to mail my response.


It was three months later before I heard from her. It came straight to the house.

This time, the photo she sent was her in her cheerleader uniform.

She mentioned that Debbie (our mutual friend) had said I had gotten really good on the piano since fifth grade. (In fact, I started lessons three days after the last time I had seen Velvet.) She asked if I still sang in chorus.

She also told me she had a boyfriend now, and his name was Ted. He was on the football team.


Many, many years later, I’m a grown man with a family (my first marriage) and my parents are leaving that old house to move to Arizona.

My mom brings out the stovepipe hat, which had been on that same shelf all these years.

“I remember us making this,” she says. “You were mad at me because I wouldn’t let you give it to a girl.”

“Velvet,” I said. “Velvet was her name.”

“You remember? Are you still mad?” my mom said, laughing.

“No,” I said. “I’m not sure that relationship was ever destined for great things.”

“I also found this under the hat,” she said, holding up an old piece of papier-mâché. “What is this?”

“That… is some old tissue paper. You know tissues: new ones grow, but the old ones are always there, under the surface.”

“What?” my mom said.

“Nothing,” I laughed, carrying more of my old junk out to the car.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Chamber Music

For many of us, reading is a magical thing.

That is why we are so hard on our own writing: we judge it by magical standards, which can be hard to live up to.


I am surrounded by books in this room; if you were to look at them, you would conclude (a) that I have not thrown away a single book I’ve owned since childhood; (b) that I studied philosophy; and (c) that my literary tastes are somewhat eclectic.

You would be correct on all counts.

Reading is an intimate experience: there is just you and the writer. Writing, however, is not: there is you and (sometimes) many multiple readers.

I don’t know about you, but, for me, relationships are relatively easy with one person at a time. Introduce more than that and it is like the “three body problem” in physics – i.e., too complex for us to solve.

So, reading can be less stressful than writing, particularly for the introverted among us. The dynamics are more straightforward.

Blogging attempts to solve this problem by changing the rules: we are, in the original parlance, keeping a “web log”, i.e., a private journal, where there are no other people we are writing for. The inherent contradiction – that our private log will be kept on the web, which is not notorious for its privacy – is one of the casual tricks we play our own psyches to make the dynamics manageable.

I do know, of course, that many people write looking for the widest possible audience: in fact, if you are a person like that, you naturally assume everyone else is.

However, along with the writers who would fill up stadiums or large concert halls with their prospective audiences, there are the writers of chamber music: meant for smaller groups of people in a more intimate setting.

The poets, in other words.

My father used to joke that many more people write poetry than read it. Well, that’s just fine, if so. It’s much less intimidating.

With the crowds come the critics. I hate critics. Almost as much as I hate crowds.


For National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) I joined a group who are supporting each others’ efforts to post on their blogs everyday. This means reading something like seventy blog posts a day as well as writing. As well as working a job for nine to twelve hours a day, six days a week; trying to maintain a marriage; and watching all my sports teams be vanquished on their various fields of battle.

Oh, yes, and eat and sleep.

Reading, it turns out, is every bit as challenging as writing, and I do both fairly quickly.

I tend to get emotionally attached to blogs –  I tend to get emotionally attached to everything – so I loyally and doggedly read certain blogs, even after their authors have long since altered these blogs from what attracted me to them in the first place.

I’ve now added more to that list as a result of this month. Which is a very good thing.


Reading and writing, both, are among consolation’s many forms: we read and write for any number of reasons, but at least one of them is to affirm that we are not alone: neither in what we think, nor how we feel.

Life is lonely, painful, disjointed, and loud: sometimes, we need a little chamber music to soothe our souls, allow us to take some breaths, and share the experience with a group too small to risk becoming a mob.


Finally, if you are unhappy with your own writing because the magic doesn’t seem to be there, take heart: there is music in you that no one has yet heard.

Magical music.

So just keep writing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Smallest Trace of Necessity

Sometimes, you would barely know she was there, but she was enough to keep me going.

At that age, I was a mess. I had been sick, I had been out of work. I had no money. I lived 200 yards from the beach and it meant almost nothing to me. I was on antidepressants, but they weren’t working. I felt like there was this kind of dull, gray tarp over everything: nothing looked right, nothing felt right.

Still, there she was, and she needed me.

I had borrowed money from my parents to get me through. All of my savings was gone; all my plans for a better life seemed a hundred lifetimes ago. I had just enough for she and me to squeak by. Because of her, though, I was hoping to get back to work. I didn’t care about living or dying, truthfully, but I cared about her.

It’s silly I know, but, when your feelings don’t work right, you can’t live right, because feelings give us reasons to do things. Knowledge only gives us ways to do things.

I had been encouraged to get out of my apartment and try to walk daily; this wasn’t something she would want to do. I would walk down the beach, indifferent to the sunset, often forgetting to even wear shoes. Earlier that day, I had walked across the street to a grocery store, so I started thinking about what we’d do for dinner.

She would always be right there waiting for me when I got back from these walks. I would look at her and think, I could never do what I tried to do again. I can’t leave her.

For love, in whatever form, introduces just the smallest trace of necessity in what can otherwise seem a pointless existence.


The Smallest Trace of Necessity (2)


For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.


 

The Neverlasting Call

Countless buildings are abandoned, and many of those are torn down, but few are abandoned in the process of being torn down. I happened upon one, a few winters ago, out walking in the snow.

It got me thinking about how change works in our lives. There may indeed be “a time to build and a time to take down”, but we do a lousy job at both. When we get married, for instance, we are told of all the work it takes to build a marriage; but, notoriously, we don’t do the work. Similarly, but less less famously, people don’t do the work it takes to disassemble a marriage either — or any other relationship that ends, for that matter.

Wanton destruction is easy. Deliberately disassembling something takes care and time, whether it is a friendship, a job, business entanglements, or anything else that takes time to build.

One of my best friends described to me closing a greeting card and gift shop she had operated for years. She walked around the empty place, looking at the now empty card racks and shelves*, remembering the excitement of opening the store. Days of picking out inventory, choosing lines to carry, family and friends crowding in the new store, hopeful sales and dreams of expansion — just faded memories now.

“Still, it was mostly good, right?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “We had great hopes for the business that didn’t come to pass, but they were worth having. All of it was worth it. You can only lose when you have something to lose, but, ‘something’ is all we ever get, in this life.”

I have come to see that we are called to build the neverlasting — with our actions, with our choices, even with our words. I think back to that day walking in the snow, and realize: we may come upon the ruins of someone else’s dream, and when we do, we need to remember, that hope is a precious commodity, and we should never do anything in this life to lessen the supply of it.


*A beautiful scene like this was shown in the Movie “You’ve Got Mail“.


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

That Empty Feeling

I wanted to work at a food bank because I’ve had to use them.

It’s strange for someone who spends as much as time as I do, online, writing poetry, but: I don’t like abstractions in real life. I don’t think it’s productive to talk about “people”, there is just this person, or that person, and they have names. I don’t like to talk about “hunger” as some kind of principle: I am more interested in the fact that Verna and her two sons, J.J. and Raj, who live over across the way, can’t afford to buy food because Jay, Sr. left them with nothing in the bank and a mountain of debt due to a heroin habit.

When I see her at lunchtime, and she realizes we have fresh vegetables today, I can tell that is a welcome relief, since J.J. is such a good athlete, and she wants to get him to a sports program where he can develop it. She hasn’t given up on any aspect of being a mother, and doesn’t seem likely to ever do so: there is no richer mom across town with access to doctors and dietitians and exercise equipment who thinks about it more. She’s always looking for that edge, that little bit of difference to lift her kids away from the life that consumed their father.

Raj, the younger boy, is a favorite of mine: I’ve never seen a child so fond of… well, everything. Everybody, every kind of food, every day, seemingly. He is a favorite of everyone’s there, both the workers and the guests, and he asks his mom, every time, when she will let him go back and work in the kitchen.

“When you learn to wash your hands properly,” she said, laughing, last time I heard him ask.

“When you do, show me,” I whisper to him, as I’m passing through wheeling several boxes back to the kitchen.

One of the ladies in the kitchen, Sierra, seems to know everyone’s story already when they walk in. She is, with the exception of my mother, the least judgmental person I’ve ever met in my life. I’m envious of that ability – to love virtually everyone, almost all the time. She points out two lost looking men to me who I’d never seen before.

“That’s Ken Malhotra, and his brother, Lindsey. They’re really nice guys.”

I look at her, expecting to hear more, but she’s working on adding something to the chili.

“How do you know them?”

“They have been coming to my church, starting about six weeks ago. I told them about this place. Go out there and tell them I’m back here working but that they are welcome, and just to come on up here and get some food. It’s good today, I guarantee it.”

I head out to do just that, shaking their hands, introducing myself and welcoming them before delivering Sierra’s message.

“Do you have fresh vegetables every day?” Lindsey asks, looking over at the line.

“No, I wish we did,” I said. “So help yourself.”

My duty today is mostly bringing things in from the truck, so I head back to do it. I’m only there another forty minutes, and then it’s back to my other job. The company gives me two hours for lunch on days I volunteer.

 


 

I was a relatively young man when I visited the food bank back where I grew up. A very unhealthy young man with no income.

The place was in an old cinder block building that used to be one of my favorite barbecue restaurants, back when I took eating for granted. I was scared to go in — but I was scared to go anywhere in those days. A scrawny, sickly twenty-something who “would jump at his own shadow”, as they say back home. Still, hunger has a way of motivating a person, so I went in.

There were no tables there; people were issued food packages to take with them. I got in line, trying to imagine what the place used to look like, full of bustle and customers and waitresses. When I got the front of the line, there were three people behind the counter, issuing only the food people wanted. I wanted whatever there was to take.

I thanked each one of the three workers individually, because it was all I had to give back.

The phrase “to give something back” has become so commonly used, it’s easy to forget what it actually means. Often, we are given things in life when we are in no position to return the favor. Eventually, we may be, but the people who gave to us are no longer available, which is where the concept of “paying things forward” comes from. We pass the giving on to others who are not, right then, in any position to give back.

I took my boxed up food and I headed back to my apartment, which was just over the bridge. I realized in the car that I had tried to dress nicely to go, because I didn’t want people there thinking… I wasn’t quite sure what. “That I had no pride” was probably the closest thing to describing what I didn’t want them to think.

I doubt anyone could tell I was trying to look good, but that little bit of pride was all I had; and all we have, no matter how limited, is the only base we can build off of.

So I had pride: what I didn’t have, was food. But I did now, at least for that day.

The people working there, the three workers behind the window (I wished I’d asked their names!) were very kind and gentle with us. Even at that age, I was never so much angry at people who were unkind as grateful to people for being kind. It was like that in the hospital, too; some workers are busy and detached and kind of indifferent, but there was no point being angry with them. I was just grateful for the ones who would engage me as a person.

I got three meals out of what I took home with me.

 


 

It’s November, 2016 again, and I’m driving back to work, thinking about what it was like in those days.

There are many things we do in life that we never imagined ourselves doing, and many things we become that we never imagined ourselves being. Growing up, I had never pictured myself physically and mentally ill, poverty-stricken, or starving.

No, I had imagined myself scoring the winning basket in the NBA finals, or becoming a world-famous (!) astronomer, like Percival Lowell or Clyde Tombaugh.

(What do you mean you’ve never heard of them? They were world-famous… at least, in the world I lived in.)

There are parts of our destinies we do not get to choose, though. We’re aware of it when those things are bad, but less aware when good fortune is our lot.

I’ve tried, throughout all the years since, to stay aware.

Sierra hung a sign in our food bank kitchen that says:

“GOD HELPS THOSE WHO CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES”

I am not God; I am not anyone, really. But I know that empty feeling, I have known hunger. I wanted to work in a food bank because I’d needed to use one; but gradually, I wanted to work in a food bank because other people need to use them: Ken, Lindsey, J.J., Raj, Verna — and many other names, some of whom I don’t know yet.

(If you have the time, you might consider volunteering to help feed people in your area. And if you have need, never be ashamed to visit them.)

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.