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Innocent Bastards (an excerpt)

(titled years before the film Inglorious Basterds)

Father O’Neill awoke under a layer of sweat.  The room was cold.  His feet were colder.  The crucifix on the wall glistened as though it had been dipped in freezing black oil.  The stillness of his room penetrated the layers of cloth meant to barricade his hands from his shame.  His tomb.  He quickly brought the towel from his bedside table up to his mouth, leaving his Bible to sit loudly alone.  The passages within, those treating fornication, had surrendered their darker shades of ink over the years.  The thick smell of a woman’s immutable desire knew what haunted him.  His gaze when cast upon his naked shame, an innocent mirror in the right place at the wrong time, both knew what haunted him.  He raised himself by the elbows, sat upright on the bed, crossed himself, and finished mopping his face.  He looked back apologetically to the watermark formed in the bare wood of his bedside table, his ragged hand lingered over his mouth as he blessed himself.  Haunting, how his penitence never fully absolved him before taking his place at the pulpit.  The eucharist was only an hour away.  Seventy hail-mary’s couldn’t pull the furrow from his brow in that time.
He rose from the modest bed, rejoined cloth and table, and though it was not nearly a biting enough wind to be faced this morning, he wore his winter undergarments for indeed it was not the biting wind he wished to silence.  These little efforts were all he had to quiet the army surrounding him.  Bathrooms mocked him.  Mildly bumpy car rides scandalized him.  Acrylic cherubs, saints of old, and the colorful mosaics of stained-glass light that made sleeping children blush or jaundiced the elderly, they all knew.
He admitted himself a deep, cleansing breath, before alighting like a ghost down the back stairs that led to the preparation room.  Rounding the worn corners of the stairwell he caught the smell of incense embalming his tardiness.  His still-damp hands squeaked as they guided him down through the patches of morning light which were stabbing into the house like blinding shunts of omniscience.  Only the few truly faithful would notice he was late, if he could appear before the final movement of the organist’s beckoning.  In the preparation room he was surprised to find his stoles already in place.  He didn’t recall putting them on.  As he shrugged off the confusion he kissed his fingers, and touching them to his chasuble he stepped purposefully towards the growing sound of the cathedral organ.  My God, my Father, guide me with your loving light in my time of darkness.  Let me not betray your precious children whom you have named and loved in your infinite wisdom.  I seek your spirit alone in humility and grace.  Blessed Mary, hear my prayer.  Holy Spirit, hear my prayer.  Father of light- The organ blasted as he hurried through the door –hear my prayer.  Though he kept his head straight and hid his eyes by walking in a stoop, assessing the size of his fold was ingrained.  He estimated fifty in attendance.  Could be worse.  Today’s sermon was aimed at the well-to-do, which made up roughly a third of the core congregation.  Saint Agnes needed money, badly.  Her plumbing would need to be redone before the dense tuft of winter pressed through the many wounds in her depressed beam roof.  Her roof would need to be redone.  He paused and let his priestly face through.
“Who among us is satisfied?”  His strong, warm voice echoed off the back wall and he thought he noticed his pulse slow, the tension in his forehead relax.  He fell into his role with ease.  “Is it you, the simple working folk, untroubled by vanity?”  He noticed some shoulders shift.  “Is it you, the owner of material wealth?”  Still more.  “Or could it be me, the decorated servant of the Almighty?”  He let his fingers splay out across his robes.  His eyes scanned faces with practiced efficiency.  They were listening.
Though his head was spinning from having to manage so much, he focused hard winning this small battle.  “I,” there was a cough from a woman in front, “I would like to believe all of us here- the faithful, peaceful, united followers of Christ’s love- to believe all present are satisfied.  Yet, this cannot be.  Here, in the house of God, we learn how to let go, but I know that some of us leave the church, returning to our every-day realities, and continue to hold on to false comforts.  To seek satisfaction of the flesh and ego.  Dramatic pause. If this church was destroyed, who would raise it back up for His glory?”  Shoulders up, down with a sigh. “Who would strain their back to hoist the sign of the cross for the edification of this town?  Are we so secure in our faith that we have begun to allow certain leniencies?  I know I am not the only one who noticed the brand new luxury car in the parking lot.”  There was muffled, but widespread laughter at this. “I’m sure without knowing the owner, I could pick them out right now.  How?”  He wrapped his thumb and forefinger with a wrenching motion around his wrist.  “They likely own a fancy watch, too.”  He smiled wide at the attentive heads, all pointing their noses at him.  “Of course, there is nothing innately wrong with fine things.  Consider the great Cathedrals, erected to evoke the transcendent glory of God.”  He moved to the side of the pulpit, feigned difficulty in walking for effect, and stopped, just short of the front railing.  A glimmer of blue caught the father’s eye, and he looked out into the graveyard, spotted a young man.  Stammering for just a second, he recalled his anecdote and felt composure return, joined by a bead of sweat he expertly detoured with a gesture towards heaven.
“Years ago,” he peered straight into the audience, “before coming here to St. Agnes, I mentored a young priest.”  He looked around at his congregation, front to side, side to back.  “This priest was, we’ll say, stuck: on wondering what his parish thought of him, the man.”  He turned back towards the altar, catching another glimpse of blue through the window.
Outside, the young man, whom the Father did not recognize, was slowly heading in a direction that filled him with panic.  There was a particular grave in that row, a grave he hoped nobody would stop at.  A grave he tended in secret.
“You see,” he cleared his throat, and grasped the rail with his right hand, leaning, “He was eager to please, or be seen as good.  Same thing really, and he tended to go easy on his flock for fear of turning anyone away.”
The worst had happened.  The young man was now caressing the lettering of the headstone.  HER headstone.
“His parish,” his now wobbling voice continued, “was one made up of seldom tried and rarely true, thin-skinned believers who had to be nearly tricked out of their money.  He had lost sight of the service of God and had given in to the temptation to entertain.”  Now the Father’s eyes narrowed.  Time to bring it home.
“However, I’m afraid that the lack of real guidance, in the end, proved a much greater curse than that of unpopularity; the parish divided and eventually closed its doors, and so I hope to prevent this mistake for all of us here at St. Agnes.”
The unwelcome man in the cemetery sat a bunch of white flowers upright against the grey marble.  And, it couldn’t be ignored: made no cross, did not bow his head.
“My vision… and I hope you share it, is that St. Agnes would be a comfort, a refuge to those who are needy, in any way.  That her walls would stand strong, and her faithful, here now, even stronger.  We cannot pretend to chase after these virtues if we are not willing to serve.”
The Father released his grasp on the railing, turned towards the altar, cutting his service short by more than half an hour, and prayed, spontaneously-
“Most Holy Father in heaven, hear our prayer…  blessed Mary, hear our prayer…  Holy Spirit, descend upon us and bestow now your mercy and healing.”  All faces pointed to the ground in penance.  “Lord we come to you today, in humility, and ask, how can we be satisfied who have not material comfort?  How can we be satisfied who come to this place of worship and, despite our wealth, feel no repose?  Lord, in your wisdom and grace, guide us now, and evermore toward your service, and may we all, rich or poor, with family or chaste, well labored or under skilled, find that pure and wonderful satisfaction of bringing your glory here to earth by our good works and service.  Amen.”
The elders of the congregation sat in confused hesitation.  The younger of the flock, eager to adjourn, lined up quickly as the organist made haste to her bench and launched a full battalion of organ pipes at the congregation, causing some to lean away as though a windstorm had blown in.
As he turned and received the sacraments from the altar boys, he glanced out again through the window, but the graveyard was empty of young men in blue coats.  He sighed without letting his shoulders sink or stomach retract.  Another in a series of mastered illusions.  Pleading to God for an emergency of any kind to empty the church, he turned back again, towards the crowded railing, and, vexed to near intolerability, pinched a wafer between the very ends of his thumb and forefinger.  He looked down upon the first in line and saw her mouth already open in anxious obedience.  It made his stomach not only turn, but lurch.  Her mouth agape, he could count her fillings.  Saw she was a smoker.  Tried not to gawk or gag at the tongue hanging white-striped out of her mouth.
He gave a slight tremble.  The woman kneeling in front of him lifted her eyes out of self consciousness, wondering what was wrong.  Father O’Neill nervously, almost as slight-of-hand, placed the wafer on her tongue.
He wanted to vomit right into their mouths.  He wanted to urinate himself within inches of their noses as he held out the next wafer after another.  He wanted to shave the altar boys’ heads and slip Beatles songs into the hymnals.  He wanted.
As his guts tumbled inward on themselves, the clouds outside broke, and a sunlit Christ beamed down upon Father O’Neill in a wondrous rushing wave of stained-glass glory.  His eyes transfixed on the words under Christ’s feet:  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not…
The good father regained himself and delivered the next blessing.
As he hurried, robes clenched in his hands up the stairs past the kitchen and the unnaturally scuff-free walls of the hallways, he puzzled over the graveyard visitor.  Why her grave?  Was there someone he did not know about?  Could it really be him?  He considered that it might have been a distant relative.  It would explain why they came a day early, on a Sunday.
“Father O’Neill.”  He almost knocked her straight over.  She half curtsied, the brim of her habit barely swiped his chin in the narrow stairwell.
“Sister Josephine.”  He nodded.  She was pale and looked tired, but peaceful nonetheless.  He saw that they both shared in their perspiring and he feigned illness in his voice when he replied to her tilted head.
“Oh, bless me,” he coughed, “I’m feeling a bit under the weather and,” sniffled, “I wonder if you couldn’t bring tea to my room?  I shall be turning in early, don’t set a place for me.”
She more than half curtsied and returned to the kitchen bowing deep enough to hide her rolling eyes, facing him until the door swung shut between them.  Finishing the last flight of stairs, the father paused, and smiled.  St. Joseph, in his sanctified and disinterested wisdom, gently smiled back upon him.  He kissed his own fingers and placed them upon the wooden saint, hanging there guarding the border between his sleep and death’s reach.  “Bless you” said Father O’Neill, and made for his room.


Cohabitation and personal change

I was talking with a co-worker this afternoon, and she mentioned how after so much time with her S.O. she was beginning to feel that “everything you do irritates me” feeling.  I know this feeling.  Fortunately, and thanks in no small part to my wife, I also know what it’s like when that feeling is conquered and begins to fade.  While my coworker and I talked, I suggested two sort-of rudimentary ways to approach the issue.  Now that I am home and have stepped away from the conversation I thought I would toss it out into the blogoshpere and see what comes back(even though I rarely get non-suspect comments from real readers on this blog, and that’s probably my own fault for being half insane).  The two approaches I suggested were fairly polar, and I realize that can be problematic, but a lot of relationship issues do tend to lack a wealth of approaches.  I will comment on that more later, for now I’ll recap:

In my opinion, she could A) Listen to her gut (meditate, force-conclusion, ego-mirror, etc) and decide whether or not the relationship she is in is one where the pressure to become a better person is not only there, but mutual.  Or, B) Pick something she does which irritates her S.O., catch a moment when she chooses NOT to engage that irritating behavior, and remark out loud about it.

In the first scenario, I am basically suggesting she decide whether or not the relationship is even worth the personal dissection.  If it is, then my second approach ought to be a good starting marker for how to recognize change in your partner.  This is really difficult without a plan of action because when you spend day in and day out with one person, you don’t see the ways they are changing.  You may notice if you go to a party where a large number of people are your S.O.’s friends, many people that your S.O. hasn’t seen in six months or a year may remark on how much your S.O. has matured, while you sit by scratching your head daring the old friend to go ahead and try dating your impossible S.O. for his or her self and see how they like.  This thought should be a red flag, because it indicates that you believe you are best suited to meet your damaged partner’s needs.  Maybe you are… but the no-no is finding yourself in a place of moral or behavioral superiority in a relationship that should be built on mutual respect and appreciation.

My wife and I use the method I mention above.  Even though we had some epic fights and misunderstandings at the get-go, we always have and always will talk about the things we are or are not satisfied with in the relationship in non-blaming(as possible) language, and then try to vocally express when we have acted alternatively to the problem behavior so that the other person knows, at the very least, that you are still thinking about it and still care.  For example, my wife really hated it when I used to “help” in the kitchen, because what usually occurred, and I admit it now, was my domination of the whole project.  She loves to cook as much as I do, and I was condescending her by jumping in too enthusiastically with my own ideas rather than getting a bearing on where she was headed first.  This has changed, but it took time and the effort to point out small milestones for the change to be recognized.  Now I ask her if she wants help, and if she does, I ask her specifically what she’d like me to do.  Sometimes she will have me just chop some shit up, other times she will actually want my own input.

Over simplified?  Sure.  But nonetheless applicably sound.

Or, for a different scenario, let’s say that one person in a committed relationship has a drinking “problem”, and I put that in quotes because not everyone said to have one does.  That can be somewhat subjective.  So let’s, for the sake of ease, say that one person drinks more than other.  The one who drinks less would like the other to do the same or at least work towards a middle ground (ok, fine, this is based on personal experience), so the one whose drinking is problematic in the context of the relationship should make it known EACH time they are intentionally curbing a desire for a given quantity or frequency of alcohol; mind you, not in a whining or punitive way.  And since I already admitted that I am just talking about my own life, I should also say that this approach has worked for my wife and I.  She has a much healthier relationship with day-to-day drinking than I do, and through communicating each effort to reduce my own drinking down to a level that was more acceptable, she began to see that, indeed, even though I still require some wine or what-have-you to get ready for bed, the amount has decreased more than significantly.  Of course, her insistence and my acceptance of the issue were key too, but there’s just no reason I can think of to avoid such changes unless the change in question is a “deal breaker”.

So as I savor my glass of wine over some blog writing tonight, I would encourage others in a similar spot to at least attempt this method, for even if it fails, you will have gained important knowledge either way: Possibly the knowledge that your connection wasn’t that strong after all, possibly the knowledge that it can only get stronger.

Take care.



“let’s git”  He said, flashing his missing chess pieces.

“You’re balding faster lately.”  Was her reply.
Missing teeth aside, he was a wreck.  One tornado short of a storm, so to speak.  He glared at her, ready to display his animalism, but likewise unsure of the aggression.  She studied his face as it turned from purple to rose red.  His cheeks swelled.
The elephants roared their terrible shrieks and all in attendance leaned away from the center ring in doubt.  Doubt of the entertainers to control the very experience they had bought.  Sixpence for the show, but anticipating the show…. how many pence?  She held back with her parents in tow.  They displayed fashions that photographers’ lens’s would be loath to refract.  Years of circus life only educated the poor idiot.  Common sense became his jihad.  Pet peeves corroded into declarations of war.  He called for her, but she was nowhere to be found.
“The treasury is empty, your majesty.”  Spake tailbreath.
“I will eat what is not expended.”  Said I.

you are the head

The under side of my left foot itches, and my name is George Walker.  I’m not quite sure who I am yet, but then, neither are you.  I’m not exactly what you’d call alive though I am certainly human.  My face is flesh and bone, imperfect yet not unattractive.  My blood circulates and I must eat; I must sleep and make waste like any other.  I suppose the only major difference between you and I is that, while you exist right now, I only existed a second ago.  By the time you can hear me speak I am gone, yet I can only tell you what you would mean to say, if you could.
There is a reason you and I are together as we are now.  You are aware that something is dreadfully wrong, so was I.  You are sensitive to injustice but also struggling simply to maintain the role into which you were born.  You do what you can, within reason.  You are not blind to the needy but you haven’t logged many volunteer hours, if any.  Like I did, you look to the bureaucratic social systems and the corruptions that grow them over like vines up a brick wall.  You look to the head and cry out that the feet are bleeding and poorly clothed.  You do this because you believe, like I did, that the head can fix things if it can be convinced.
But hear me now, and think well on this one truth I will tell you and then attempt to explain:
You ARE the head.
You, reader.  You are the head that needs convincing.  Until you replace your own notions of the Mysterious Other that acts around, within, behind and through all things with the real notion that it is you, just the very person reading right this very moment, you will be doomed to cynicism or religion.  Cynicism because objectifying yourself causes one to feel that all is lost; religion because subjectifying yourself causes one to feel that all is found.  Isolated, each operates at a loss.  You’ve seen this before in the hypocrisies of both church and state.  There are good and bad people on every team.  In every identifiable group there are  the great, the petty, and as numbers comprising the group grow so does the ratio of extremes to those of a more spectral value.  Which leads me to a premature delivery of my main point: the mistake we are making is continuing to define people in binary intervals when our character and creativity are fluid processes wholly dependent on all that can be perceived.

virus or yeast

Edmond stared out the window, watching the unhunted foul feed.  A hint of rain clouded his view just enough.  Inspiration eluded him like a nomadic rash.  He scratched, the itch moved.  Sitting at a hotel desk, Edmond spoke aloud, the stone walls helpless to answer.  Why am I here?  Furthermore, if I wonder why I am here, am I necessarily HERE.   …   ?
“Edmond, will you be going on like this all night?”  Her voice beckoned from the freshly made bed.  Wrapped in silk suggestiveness and comely contrasts of low and high, her black-laced thighs promised freedom from worry.  He nearly fell to the peril.
“All night, woman?  All night?”  His was the voice of accidental antagonism.  “I will go on like this until the VERY night.”  He neither huffed, nor puffed.
He lurched his mass across the wooden floor, the solid uncreaking wooden floor, until his velocity cooled with subsonic severity in front of the record player.
“We will listen to this bliss or be resigned to God’s bowels.”  Edmond instructed.
“It will be bliss if it is not spoken first and felt afterward.”  She quipped.
Edmond glanced quickly at her sinister mocking lip.  How it curled in such a disgusting taunt.  Like panties on the playground.
“It will be bliss if uttered or not.”  He criticized.
At this she shrunk.  What had been her perfect nubile posture turned to that of a common shrimp.  Eros coughed, sighed, and curtailed from the hotel bed.
Edmond brought in one great breath, and with no repercussion in mind offered: “My dear.  Of this world may you be or not.  Of my mind, you are a disease, though I know not if you are virus or yeast.”

piss your brain right out

Cacti shriveled that time of year.  You couldn’t tell if it was glass or sand you were walking on.  Sandals and boots smoldered and gasped under the steps of the village men, marching stern-faced in lines.

“Where are they going?” Pedro asked his grandfather.
“They are going to the edge of the world.”  Abuelo answered.
Not less than three years ago his father would have fielded these same questions, but he died of thirst.  It wasn’t long after alcohol arrived in the village that men became worthless and children sprang from nameless virgin wells.  So many diapers unchanged.  So many shots fired vaguely at hostile hallucinations.
The scorching, pollen-yellow sun dried his grandfather’s mouth to where he could no longer pronounce words correctly.  His swollen, dry tongue stumbled over itself.  He told his grandson to take note of the mistakes he made.
At the age of eleven, he remembered, they traveled from the desert to the coast, on a bus that took the perseverance of a saint to ride.  Stray dogs fumed and drooled on every part of you no stranger would dare touch.  Dust flew into the windows faster than it escaped; infants wailed.  He sat on his grandfather’s knee and stared at his creviced face, admiring the earthy brown tone of his leathery skin.  As they passed the town square he observed from the dusty window a squadron of soldiers dehydrating in the sun on the patio of the beer garden.  Looking at them you wouldn’t have thought they were heros.  From the bus, in this glaring hot sun, they looked like melting wax effigies, each demarcating the loss of the prior.
And through it all the child couldn’t help but hurt.  Can’t heros come home?  Have we asked too much of these poor uneducated sons of liberty?  He looked to the stern, caramel face of his grandfather and hardly had to ask-
“My grandson… chemically speaking, you drink too much, and think too hard… you’ll piss your brain right out.”

freewrite 23 January 2010

Present Tense

Opens in a Garden
Owner of garden does not know who the narrator is
Ten. Twenty. Thirty. Forty.  The bills in my hand stacked; each a respite from the desolation of my labor.  I had toiled, slaved, rejoiced: each in accordance with my mood.  Whether or not she knew the bloom of her robust tomatoes was my art, the tomatoes would be eaten.  The presumed joy of their consumption satisfied me.
Ten. Twenty. Thirty. Forty.  It’s hard to make a living feeding people with real food.  I should know.  I tried for years to find an apprenticeship online.  I searched by every funky keyword you could imagine.  My mother criticized my efforts saying, “What about x; what about z; y could put a hole in your r.”
I fiddled for my jacknife –freshly sharpened as it was– and cut the tips of her cauliflower clean off.  Not a sound.  I breathed in my own relief and smelled the fresh vegetable’s promise of healing.

NOW! I shouted to myself.  I darted out past the celery patches and through the rows of raspberries, always watching her, until I hit an oak stout with my nose.

As I awoke from the daze, I remembered the sun setting just beyond a strange silhouette.  There was an omnipotent lord of all, but I feasted to my own indulgence, based on my own will.  A benevolent landlord she, and I the faithful steward of sweat and grime; forever abandoned to my toil.  I rose to my feet, blew my nose, and torched the blissful wings that held fast the shut door: MY FLAME!

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