Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Journey for One

by Noah Matthews
Copyright 2009

I thought this was a journey for as many as were willing
I thought I had to collect people, sing, cajole, amuse
whatever it took to convince them to come along

No matter how many people I collected
No matter how many email addresses, cell phone numbers, or entries in the contact list
it didn't abate, it didn't cease

The doubt
The voice like metal being pulled thin against its will
The sorrow of watching dreams die one by one
The march of time across my face, digging into the marrow of my bones

Suddenly you realize that no one is responsible for your happiness
Only you are
No soul wrapped in flesh, no memory, and no hope cradled in your palms like an ember shielded against the wind

There will always be someone richer, smarter, more talented
gleaming with all that calls out to our flesh
and seemingly untouched by failure, doubt, or despair

And so you find yourself in a room of 100 faces
and yet you feel all alone
and you ask
why in a world with so many places can't I count just one my own

Black and white drop from my sight and only grey remains....

And there it is
Me alone
And if I am to find happiness, if I am to shake off the years of oppression
I must do it

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ching Ching

by Noah Matthews
Copyright 2009

Ching Ching
A link in the chain
A breakfast bar and out the door

Clang Clang
The race is on
Keyboard and mouse in the war

Beep Beep
dg thru up, cr nds brks
ttyl and stop 4 wine on way

Thump Thump
Anxiety runs
Filling every day

Tick Tick
Gripping hands
Murmuring disapproval

Flash Flash
Inbox filled
Meetings, calls, and acquisitions
Petty complaints and jealous suspicions
Greed, pride and repetitions
Words spewed as ammunition
Doubt and genuine ambitions

Ring Ring
Its only me
Don't for get that wine

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Dime, Three Nickels, and Four Pennies

by Noah Matthews
Copyright 2009

She slid across the worn carpet in tattered shoes
tired, a forced smile resting uncomfortably on her sallow face
just making it behind the cash register as he pushed the bottle of water in her direction.
Reflected in the high sheen of the marble, granite, or was it grarble or manite.
Of course not.
That is stupid.
If he watched one more imperialist displaying blinding white veneers set in silcone-plumped lips tottering around a gleaming marble temple to self disguised as a kitchen renovation on TV he might puke.
And there he was.
People passing, rushing, walking, wandering.
Planes landing, planes taking flight.
She took the faded bills from his hand.
Nearly three dollars for a bottle of water.
What a world.
"You know that is flavored water?"
Of course it is. And why not. This very day thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands walked two, four, seven miles or more just to get a bucket of parasite-laden water
A Refreshing Hint of Lemon and Lime.
Bottle after bottle lined up in rows.
Cold and waiting.
"Your change is twenty nine cents."
My change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

By This You Know

by Noah Matthews
Copyright 2009

By this you know... by this you see
of Summer's light
... green lawns and fireflies
grasshoppers that hitch a ride on the bill of your hat
...frogs singing in the distance at the water's edge
a pond you said you would explore some day...
but, when does that day come?

By this you know... by this you see
of faded blooms
... the yellow rumped warbler - what a name
carefully selecting seeds from a listing echenacea
... mist gathering at the corners of the woods
and spreading out like a blanket over the lane
the day tired, the evening reluctant

My body tired. My mind tired. My soul...wondering...
and somehow...wandering.
Brushing past the listing echenacea, the bird taking flight
the mist swirling around my ankles in the lane.
The edge of the pond moist. The frogs cease their song
and my heart hungry for more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Journey

by Noah Matthews
Copyright 2009

She sat in the car looking straight ahead, listening to the rain pounding with angry watery fists on the hood and above her. A flash of lightning outlined the black barren trees in searing white light once, twice, and then a third time in successive and rapid bursts. The twisted limbs reached for her, closer with each burst of light. A fourth burst would have found them wrapped around her neck, her torso, her legs.... smothering her. She pulled the bottle from a wispy white plastic bag and worked awkwardly with the cap until it was opened. She held the silver cap in front of her as if it were a treasured family jewel, studying the tiny silver nubs that had held it securely to the bottle. She pressed the sharp points into her thumb, feeling nothing at first, pressing harder and harder still, until small points of blood rose in angry retaliation. It was then that she wondered how long she had been sitting there, the car idling, the dash lights glowing softly, the railroad crossing before her, on this lonely stretch of road. She lifted the bottle to her mouth and felt the burning clear liquid pass over her lips and descend her throat until it lay as molten transgression in her stomach. She coughed then wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand, tasting the earth. She turned her hand over to examine the dirt under her spilt nails as the horror of what she had just done fell upon her and she screamed to no one. Lightning flashed again and she saw herself hunched over a mound of earth clawing at the ground. It flashed a second time and she felt anew the cold rain pelting her body as she dug furiously to free her husband from his grave. To break the visage she gulped more of the liquid, gasping as it settled into her gut, and grasped the steering wheel firmly with both hands. There was only one option.

What had life done to her? It wasn't supposed to be like this. They met in college, married after they graduated, saving themselves for their honeymoon. Attended church, tithed and even sponsored not one but two children in central America who had lost their parents and lived in poverty. Choir, fundraisers, and homegroup. Shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts and nursing home visits. Surely God was keeping score. What had they done wrong? How could this have happened? She gulped at the vodka, no longer caring that it stung. Where was that train? Tonight she would end it!

The rain died to a few sputtering fits of delinquent drops. She powered down the windows, turned the key to kill the motor, and waited in the absolute dark. Nothing. She now heard nothing and she felt nothing. What had stopped her digging at the cemetery? She couldn't remember now. Had she reached his casket? No. Or... She pressed her head back into the headrest feeling the ache of the muscle in her neck and struggled to remember. What was happening to her? She couldn't think anymore. Of course she hadn't. They put the caskets in...what do they call them...vaults. Cement vaults. That was it. She had stopped because she had dug down to the vault. She remembered clawing at the cement, the teeth jarring feel of her nails tearing on the vault, then the pain. She hit the dome light and examined her hands more closely. Some of her nails were missing, her fingers coated in a mixture of blood and earth. Her eyes widened in horror just as she heard the roar.

There it was. What she was waiting for. In the distance, the roar of the train. It was too far away to see but she could feel it resonating in her, firing every nerve in her body. This was her destiny. She slapped at the dome light to extinguish it and clutched the steering wheel again with both hands, here arms extended, her muscles knotted. Waiting. Waiting. No lights. They must not see her. This crossing had no automatic crossing guards. She would be on the tracks and in front of the train before they could react and then she would be....would be with him. No, she didn't believe that. She didn't think suicide would reunite them. Suicide isn't in God's plan.

"Seven months!" she screamed into the air. "Seven months you let him suffer. You said you would show up but you didn't. You didn't! We waited for you!" Her hair, heavy with sweat, stuck to her face. She released on hand from the steering wheel to swat at it angrily and then reaffirmed her purchase.

The rumble was no longer distant and grew in strength. She saw the first of the light in the distance, growing closer and more intense as the sound increased. Jerking, she started the car, the lights off, even the console lights, and sat waiting.

Louder. Closer. With the roar came a wind. It grew stronger and stronger, urgent. She could hear it racing through the trees, bending limbs and branches to its will until it too was a deafening roar. She stared down the track, wide-eyed, the wind now lifting her hair from her sweaty face and increasing in strength until it rocked the car. The light was brighter and brighter, now painful to look directly at it. Louder and louder. The floorboard beneath her feet began to vibrate and then her car seat. It was almost time. She placed her hands in front of her face to shield her eyes and squinted through her fingers. The wind picked up debris from the track or the road and it pelted her palms. Now she thought. Now! She threw the car into drive and gunned the engine, hurling car and passenger directly into the path of the light. Suddenly afraid of death she screamed and cupped both hands over her ears, her elbows meeting in front of her face to shield her. The bones in her chest vibrated and her heart pounded until surely it would explode and she thought it ironic that she might die of a heart attack while trying to be killed by a train. Awash in the roar and the light that surrounded and now filled her, she somehow heard a small, soft voice.

"And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by."

And then, in an instant it was gone. A crescendo of silence. The voice, the roar, the light. Gone. The engine had died. Absolute nothingness. Not even the sound of her breathing, until she gasped for air like a person rescued from drowning. She sat there gulping in the night air, the pounding of her heart slowing as an inexplicable peace wriggled at the edges of her consciousness, slipped past the bastions of doubt, and then slowly settled into her soul. She knew the message the voice had spoken from somewhere. Exodus. Moses asked to see God but God warned that if Moses saw Him face to face he would be consumed. And so God hid Moses safely in a large crack in the rock on the mountainside and shielded Moses with His own hand, and then passed by.

What did any of this mean? She swatted at the dome light and squinted to see herself in the fogged mirror. She rubbed at the glass with the heel of her hand and then recoiled at the image that stared back at her - sweaty tendrils of hair framing hollow eyes in a face smeared with mud; cheeks sunken from days without food. She heard a faint echo of the voice, not the voice itself, play over in her mind, soul. Starting the car, she drove off into the night, knowing she had been hidden in the cleft of the rock.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cry Uncle

He was considered a drunk.  And so I disdained him.  He was a user and a loser.  Get a job!  

Thank God for youth.  It gives us many things.  Chiefly the belief that we can do anything.  The future is before us.  We are filled with hope and promise.  However, time shows us how ignorant we are and it erodes the foundation of our arrogance.  We come to realize that life is a gift and it is a hard fight.  

Lambs, don't judge.  If time has taught me only one thing, it is this. Love and do not judge. Leave that to God. It is your job to love. Yes, it is a job.  Something to work at.   Never stop working at it.

And so I cry uncle. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And An Apple?

by Noah Matthews

Copyright 2009


“Get up Sylvia!  Get up right now.”  Sylvia lie limp on the vinyl floor on one side with her rounded back to her friend Rebecca.

            “Becky, I told you not to put that rug there.”  Sylvia gave the scrunched rug a weak kick with her right foot.

            “How can you complain about that now?  Come on dear.  Get up.”  Rebecca stood leaning on her walker with one hand and pushing back the same shock of gray hair that always seemed to be hanging in her face.  Sylvia struggled against the cold floor with her left arm and right hand to no avail.  “Aren’t you going to get up?”  Rebecca gave her a gentle nudge with her walker.

            “Becky, how long have we been friends?”

            “Well, its been nigh on to eighty years now.  Almost as long as we’ve been alive, but what has that….”

            “And in those eighty years, how many times have you pushed me down or tripped me?”

            “Why Sylvia!”  I never shoved you but playing as a child .”  Rebecca swatted at the rebellious hair that had slid from behind her ear and back into her face.

            “As I recall, we were pretty rowdy as children.  Not as some would say girls should be.  At least not back then.  I sure did my share of shoving and perhaps, maybe even more than my share.”

            “So?”  Rebecca scrunched her eyebrows together the way she did in anticipation of hearing something about which she was certain not to agree.

            “So, here I lie practically shoved by you to the cold floor and I can’t get up.”

            “Gentle Jesus!  Do you figure you’ve broken anything?”

            “No, Becky.  I guess…”  She trailed off, refusing to finish the thought, but instead made a hasty substitution.  “I guess I’m getting a little older is all.”  Sylvia pulled her arms up to her and folded her hands under her cheek. 

            “Ah,” scoffed Rebecca.  “Older?  Old.  And I’ve been telling you that for thirty years now and all it took was a spill to the floor?  You are old.  We’re both old.  Eighty four, Sylvia.  My, my.  Eighty four and  both still living.”

            “Eighty four, eighty four,” Sylvia mocked.  “Eight four ain’t nothing.”

            “Isn’t anything,” Rebecca corrected her.

            “Rebecca Crabtree, don’t you be correcting me now.  Was the worst thing your daddy ever did sending you off to be a school teacher.  Too hot for your britches you were when you came back to town.”

            “You always were jealous.  Just a jealous housewife who thought her life hollow while I saw the world.”  Rebecca had a way of landing on words she wanted to emphasize.  In this case ‘world’ sounded more like ‘huh-whirled.’

            “Saw the world?  There you go again.  You saw Millersburg.  A town so small you could pitch a rock from one side to the other.  That’s the world you saw. “

            “Nonetheless, I did something with my life.”  Her eyebrows relaxed in satisfaction.

Sylvia stiffened.  “And I didn’t?”  I raised seven children and stood by my husband for forty years, God rest his soul.  Now you stop taking that attitude with me, you old cow!”

            “Cow?  Well, I like that, you, you crow….”   At this they both smiled.  It was a familiar banter.  A comforting give and take of words that had been their shared security blanket for all their lives as friends.  

Sylvia let a moan, barely audible, escape her lips.  Actually she pushed it over her lips and when it did not register a response she produce a second, even louder moan.

            “Sylvia!  What is it?  I’m sorry dear.  Something is broken?”

            “No.  I was just thinking.”

            “Well, good grief stop that.  You never were much for thinking.”

            “Thinking about how times were different when we were younger.  You know, the trees seemed greener and taller somehow.  The sun warmer, the world….. well, the world….  I don’t know.  Perhaps feeling this way comes with age.  Remember old Mrs. Perchstrom who lived in that big gray house down near the river?”   There was no answer.  “Rebecca!”

            “Yes, I remember, “ she answered as she made her way to a chair in the adjoining living room.

            “Where are you?”  Sylvia twisted in a futile attempt to cast a disapproving glare at her retreating audience.

            “Well, if you are going to tell one of your stories and there isn’t anything broken, I’m going to sit myself down.  You know I can’t stand for long.  It hurts my knees.”

            “Oh!  That is all in your head.  Anyway, old Mrs. Perchstrom had a tall wooden fence that ran clean around her property to keep the kids out.  Remember that?”

            “We always thought it was to keep the kids in so she could eat them.”

            “It was to keep us out of her apple trees but it never worked. 

            “Neither did that good-for-nothing half starved dog of hers she kept alive on apple cores and kid’s bones,” Rebecca interrupted. 

Sylvia rolled her eyes and continued.  “You and I used to walk past there every day to and from school.  Remember?  Oh the skinned knees the both of us got from scaling that fence and climbing those apple trees.”

            “It wasn’t actually our fault we took those apples.  They always seemed to call to us.”

            “Sylvia, Becky.  Come get us out of these big trees.  Look how red and shiny we are.”    Sylvia laughed and closed her eyes, her mind awash with memories of those times.  “We felt like we could do anything then.  Anything.  My how time changes things, Becky.  Inside I am just as I was then – still that young girl, but outside, I’ve become old Mrs. Perchstrom.  How did it happen?

            “I don’t know, dear, but it does.  It just does.”

A comfortable silence fell between them. 

            “You know, you were the best teacher that county had ever seen.  You did a fine job.”

            “Your Tuck was a lucky man.  My how he loved you.  And seven fine children.”

            “ All gone, Becky.  What momma outlives her own children?  But, that is just what I’ve gone and done.”

Silence drifted into the kitchen and living room and once again settled over them.  The mantle clock breathed its tick, tock, tick, tock.  The burner under the water heater in the hall closet puffed and flames danced their way around the circular burner.  The house settled gently into its comfortable and familiar song of occasional creaks and groans. 

            “Sweet Lord alive!”

Rebecca straightened from her chair slump.  “What is it?  Are you in pain?”

            “I can see clean under the refrigerator from here and its awful!  The dirt!”

            “Oh Sylvia.  I’m going to call Richard and have him come over and help you up.  He’s such a nice neighbor.”

            “Help me up,” Sylvia repeated softly.  “I guess I am old.” 

            “Then we can all have a nice cup of hot tea.”

            “And an apple?”

            “Yes dear, a cup of tea and an apple.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five Minutes

Five Minutes....
The sun has nearly completed its journey across the sky.  The limbs of the tress which wait in anticipation to be clothed once again in the splendor of green are now bathed in the golden glow that only evening sunlight brings.  Cold gives way to warmth; melancholy to the first tender sprouts of hope; introspection to a renewed interest in the world reborn.  
Three Minutes....
I tilled up a plot of land today to ready it for three types of potatoes. What a miracle those dirty, fleshy, odd shaped things are.  You take a single potato, cut it up such that each piece has two eyes, bury them in the earth, and you are rewarded with a dozen or more potatoes for each piece.  For me it is an almost religious experience.  Crazy?  Think about it.  It is nothing short of miraculous.  A precious gift.
One Minute....
And so I am down to one minute.  In this minute I want to express my gratitude for all that I have.  For health.  For family.  And even for the miraculous potato.  

And now my five minutes are gone..........

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


by Noah Matthews
copyright 2009


I used to look at you through squinted eyes of seething rage
I used to look at you through stinging tears of endless pain
I trailed behind and placed my feet in each one of your steps
I watched your face for approval but found only regret

You gave yourself so freely away to everyone else

I wanted you gone
Out of my life
I wanted you to love me


We have to give up on love to find it
We have to leave it all behind
Forgiveness leads to a better ending
We just have to let go…. Sometimes

I watched you when you said you found the Galilean man
In the waters you went down, I watched you come out again
And so I trailed behind, took each step keeping up with you
Before the river mud dried from your shoes you killed the truth

You gave yourself so freely away to everyone else

I wanted you gone
Out of my life
I wanted you to love me



Here I stand from the waters arisen
Will I be the man that I saw in you
Or will I rise up and learn forgiving
And just let go…. Just let go….

Chorus (x 2)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Here it is - The Replacement

The Replacement


Noah Matthews

Copyright 2008

The smell was unbelievable. I had been warned by a deputy sheriff about the smell, and the flies – hundreds of them. The largest flies I had ever seen – desperate, frantic black dots, hundreds dead, hundreds dying. But no warning could prepare me for this assault, this stench of wet leather and rot, so powerful that it temporarily immobilized me. I struggled to breathe through my mouth, to rationalize the affront. The room around me began to cry out with memories from the past – of a trick or treat night when I peed in my plastic dime store costume because I was too afraid to ask to use the restroom, of being stripped naked to reveal melted flesh from an overturned percolator filled with boiling coffee that had landed in my lap, of a resurrection plant that browned, greened, and browned again in an endless cycle all contained in a glass bowl with a tan and cream seashell and a discarded belt buckle, of the grate in the center of the floor that imprinted little squares on the bottoms of my feet and covered a coal-fired furnace below that glowed with the fires of hell and the acrid smell of sulfur, of a rainy afternoon spent with my grandmother urging her to draw chickens on the back of a used envelope – the only thing she could draw, while she complained that when I leaned on her lap, my elbows were too sharp, of the sun pouring into the room through the open screenless door as I bathed outside in the lawn in a galvanized steel tub with cold water run from a hose and pumped from a spring otherwise used to water the cattle.

“In this heat, the body had liquefied so it made quite a mess. You’re gonna want to get that linoleum out of there. Do you want me to help?” The coroner stood unfazed, picking at his teeth with a book of matches before awkwardly shoving them into his shirt pocket. The biggest fly I had ever seen landed and danced above his upper lip. He made no effort to swat it but instead tolerated it until it buzzed mindlessly away.

“That’s OK. I’ll manage.” My vibrato was false and he knew it. He turned without another word and moved to the kitchen, me closely behind him. The stench rose to my open mouth and lay like exposed bowel on my tongue. My stomach lurched in protest and I moved to the back door, opened it, and stood gulping air. Behind me the floor, layer upon layer of cracked, curled, and worn linoleum, was awash in liquid death. My God in heaven is this what becomes of our flesh after only five short days? Five hot, country August days behind closed doors and plastic-covered windows is enough to reduce us to a pool of flesh and liquids. All our laughter, joys, triumphs, battles, sins, victories, failures – our days reduced to this.

I stood gathering my thoughts as echoes of my childhood bounced quietly from the soiled walls. Had there been happiness here? Could there ever be? Eli, Eli, lemana shabakthani.

The heat of the day passed and I sought refuge on the sagging front porch from the macabre tasks now but a mental aberration catalogued for sleepless nights and lonely days. In the distance a trail of dust followed an older blue car traveling in the center of the gravel road that twisted its way to the old farm house. The tires crunched the stones and made the sound that only tires on gravel can make and an occasional ping as a rock was picked up by the treads and flung against the undercarriage. Lurching into the driveway and disappearing momentarily in a cloud of dust, the driver pushed open the rusted car door as it squealed in protest, adjusted her hairpiece, and then emerged from the dirt cloud to greet me on the front step.

"Sweetheart, I came as soon as I heard. Just as soon." She clamped her smoker's lips together tight in a ring of deep lines and seized me violently, pulling me into her sizeable bosoms. I stood awash in the smell of mothballs, arthritic cream, and cheap perfume and wondered at the plethora of terrible odors the world had to offer.

If Silkie was her true given name, no one knew. She had married a young thick-necked American soldier stationed in Germany two decades after World War II . Eleven years her senior, he had "jumped the twig" as she was fond of saying, and was buried at the first level spot on the hill behind the home they built together. She passed her days eating rum-filled chocolates, pampering her five dogs that lorded over her diminutive domicile throwing hair over every surface, and cleaning house for neighboring famers when they had babies, sickness, or the wives grew tired of doing double duty working in the field all day and then coming in to cook and clean for the others in the household who twisted out of their earth-tired clothes and called the day's work done. One part cleaning, and two parts gossip, these visits made Silkie an internet alternative - information on demand and at your kitchen table.

Days became weeks and weeks months that blew across the abandoned fields and orchards, through the weary outbuildings and barns, shifting thoughts and intentions, bending benevolence, changing the course of compassion. And so entered greed where once tenderness sprouted and grew. Summers spent together wading the edges of the pond, jumping from hay bale to hay bale under a blanket of stars, sitting with our backs to the cool of the water tank as we rode along and planted tobacco, all these now meant nothing. The years spent working alongside each other, laughing and playing together were swept away for most, but not all. Cousins became enemies, aunts and uncles foes who used words like fiery arrows. Shadows became truths and they fooled even themselves. My sorrow grew and swelled until I thought it might consume me completely.

Neighboring farmers began to take advantage of the abandoned property, shifting fence lines and appropriating equipment that lie idle, all while smiling coffee-stained smiles and muttering "God bless you" and tilting their sun-bleached hats to my wife. The goodness of man is but a thin veneer put on for appearance sake but easily splintered and shucked off like the outer shell of the locust when its time has come to arise and quench its insatiable need to feed. Stripping away life, they feed.

Silkie turned her face from the phone to take a draw on the cigarette she had rolled herself and I could imagine it thrust between her sausage-like fingers, and then her habitual movement to the bridge of her glasses as she nudged the tortoiseshell colored frames upward with her thumb, her dogs at her feet. "Sweetheart, I'm gonna tell you this and it may not be easy to hear but I've got to say it," her German accent heavier in her familiar reproach. "You could have done better by your grandmother. You should have come down to see her more often." My grandmother had been dead for years and Silkie felt it her duty as one of my grandmothers dearest on-again, off-again friends to periodically remind me of what she saw as my shortcomings, even those from a decade ago.

"I know, Silkie. But, I did the best I could. I have a family of my own, a job, I couldn't be there every weekend. Its a four hour drive. But you were a good friend to her Silkie. I know you really helped her a lot. I really appreciate that." Silkie knew my grandmother controlled people and events, all from the comfort of her cheap recliner. With only a phone, a radio nearby blaring both prayer and donation requests, and a clear view of the neighborhood through her picture window, she wielded unimaginable power from her home just within the city limits. "Yes, Mrs. Martin." "No, Mrs. Martin." "Of course, Mrs. Martin." Summoned by a phone call, she sent her proxies scurrying while she picked at her meals delivered to 'shut-ins' and seniors with financial need - both of which were roles she chose to play.

"I was. Sure enough, I was. Maybe if you had seen her more, you wouldn’t have had the mess you had." Silkie was referring to my grandmother's decision to leave two million dollars to charity, nearly her entire estate, instead of to her family. Her children and grandchildren each received a five hundred dollar punch in the gut. The exception was the farm. Two hundred rolling acres that had three decades before ceased to be a working farm and became a refuge for my uncle who drank himself to death in the decaying farm house. This had been willed to me with the provision that he be permitted to remain there the duration of his life. He died alone that August, amid open cans of rotting food, piles of papers, and dozens of loaded guns. And now, still burning from the sting of my grandmothers vituperation from the tomb, their eyes turned to me and to all the backhanded and covert actions I surely must have enacted in my supposed scheme to rob them of even this, their childhood home. It was, of course, ridiculous but sanity and insanity are closely related, as were we who tore at each other with teeth sharpened on disappointment. I had plenty of regrets. Namely that I had not taken the risk of connecting with my uncle before he dissolved into the kitchen floor. During my childhood he had been harsh to his own children, but deferential to me, as one might be to the next in line for the throne. Antipathy was poorly masked by disingenuous kindness and even as a child I felt the true meaning behind each word, each action. It placed a distance between us as I retreated. This retreat only fed distrust which bred further contempt.

"Silkie, I'm thinking of giving the farm away."

"Why would you do a damn fool thing like that?" The announcement must have thrown her into a paroxysm that stirred the dogs into a brief barking frenzy before they settled back at her feet. "You need to hold on to that farm for your children. Craziest thing I've ever heard."

"I'm sick of the whole business. I'd give it all up if we could just be a family."

"Just like on T.V.?" She rattled a smoker's phlegm-laden laugh and then with immediate depth of longing, "That would be nice." She was thousands of miles from her family - most now dead. She had left them all for love.

"Yeah, Silkie. Just like on T.V."

The letter stood out from the sea of junk mail as I slid the lot from the kitchen counter and sorted through it, my back to my wife who was standing over something that bubbled and steamed on the stovetop. The handwriting was not familiar and there was no return address to suggest its origin. I sat at the kitchen table, asked my wife about her day and about the kids, then opened it. The scratchy signature was that of my deceased uncle's oldest son. Encumbered by a disorder that rarely struck anyone his age, any effort with his right hand was rewarded with a tremor. He had recently learned to write with his left hand, clearly a struggle for him.


I hope that you and your family are doing well. We are all ok here. Michael and Rachael are both doing well in school. Michael is still crazy about soccer and Rachael thinks she might want to try it herself in the Spring. She wants to do everything her brother does.

When we were going through my dad's things we found a letter in his Bible he started but never got around to sending you. I thought you should have it.


Brian wrote as if we had spoken only last week. In fact, I had not seen him since we were teens, and had never met his two children. I watched the back of my wife as she stirred whatever was in the pot before her. Her hips swayed in what would otherwise have been an evocative motion were my mind not held captive by this small note. Still in the envelope, folded over three times, was a yellowing piece of paper. I unfolded it cautiously, afraid of what it might contain. It began, "Son," My uncle had begun calling me son after my father passed away. He required that his children reply to him with "yes sir" and "no sir" so it never felt like a term of endearment but rather like a positional title to make sure I knew my place; just one step above being called "boy."


I've never been much for letter writing or talking on the phone for that matter but, there is something I want you to know before I'm gone. When your dad passed I lost my best friend. It seems foolish to say it but I expected to find that friend again in you; my brother reborn. But, as you grew up you were nothing like your daddy and I confess I came to despise you for that. Your dad never knew a stranger, laughed all the time, he could fix anything, any piece of farm equipment. You were quiet, kept to yourself. Me and doctors don't get along but my kids finally convinced me to go in to that clinic at the upper part of town and they say my ticker needs work. Gave up drinking years ago, despite what Silkie tells half the county, but I won't be giving up my pipe and I won't be having surgery. All this fuss has set me to thinking about things. We only get one chance, Son, and I had mine with your daddy. Was wrong for me to look for him in you. I know now that I let my grief

And there it ended unfinished and so did my understanding of who I thought I knew my uncle to be.

I stood on the iron grate, a child again, warm air rising over my bare feet and up my pajama pants. It was familiar, comforting. Had I stood long enough for a crisscross pattern to appear on my heels? I realized I was unable to move my legs. Something seized my ankles and I looked down to see my uncle, his arms somehow thrust through the iron grate, his hands desperately gripping my ankles to secure purchase as he dangled over an endless abyss below. Sulfurous smoke swirled beneath him and rose from a distant ominous orange glow. Without uttering a word he communicated absolute desperation; fear of letting go, fear of what lie below.

"I'm sorry," I cried out. "You wanted me to be him. You all wanted me to be him. I'm sorry. Show me how. I'm sorry."

A roar tore from the depths and rushed over me like fetid breath, growing louder and louder, drowning out my confession. Louder and louder still. Covering both ears with my hands, I continued to wail. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" The weight of my uncle was incredibly great, the iron work pressing painfully into the bottoms of my feet. Louder, louder, it resonated within me, vibrating my sternum. Then, in an instant it was gone and I lie awake in my bed, my wife fast asleep at my side.

"I'm sorry," I repeated to no one.

Today the house sits empty, senescent and forlorn. The boundaries of the farm continue to shift in step with the vacillating veracity of its neighbors. The barns overlook the pastures once dotted with cattle and fields once busy with work and they hope for restoration, and so do I. So do I.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Back Window

Back in the day before seatbelt laws, I used to lie in the space just behind the back seat, tucked up beneath the curve of the back window of my mom's car. There between the cool of the glass and the velvety upholstery, I would watch the stars peek at me between dark branches overhead as we drove the meandering tree-lined gravel roads that made their way through the farmland that surrounded us. The ping of an occasional rock being thrown by the tires into the undercarriage of the car completed the almost hypnotic music of the engine and the general rumble that gravel makes under the wheels. On rainy days I watched the streaks of water race down the glass, tendrils of liquid silver. Snow was like a meteor shower. And on some nights, I was chased by the moon. There, in my little sideways V-shaped universe, I was at peace.

One day we were on our way to the nearest small town and I was in my usual spot when someone pulled out in front of my mother forcing her to brake suddenly. I was jettisoned from my dreamy world to the floor of that cavernous old car, first bouncing off the back of the front seats, before landing on the worn carpet of the floor. Blinking and gathering my wits, I heard my mother gasp from the front seat. "Sweetheart, are you alright?"

Alright? I had just been propelled like a human projectile, slammed into the seats with enough force to knock the wind from me, and dumped onto the floor.

I am reminded how life can be like that moment. We are jettisoned from what is known, comfortable, safe and we find ourselves beaten up and wondering what just happened.
Isaiah 51:7 "Hear Me, you who know what is right, you people who have My law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults."
Too often what has knocked the wind from us are the words of others; unexpected negative comments, social snubs (your name didn't make it to the guest list), or lack of approval- when your accomplishments are met with little or no enthusiasm by the ones you love. It is interesting that we are told not to be "terrified by their insults." Terrified. Wow. That seems extreme, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are indeed terrified at times of what people may think or what they might say. Perhaps we should be concerned about getting to know their needs and finding ways to love them; even if that love is not returned.

So, my answer to my mother's question after I had flown through the air like a sack of potatoes? Was I alright? You bet! "Can we do that again?" I chirped from the floor.

I hope you find peace this week and enjoy the view.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

High Water Boy

Back in the day, rowdy boys (as we were known by anyone over 70) wore Toughskins jeans.  I vividly remember a rust colored pair of pants with reinforced knees and sturdy stitching in the ... ahem ... area where the pant legs attached, that could have withstood a nuclear blast (though I am happy to report never having had to subject them to that test).  We were sent out the door summer, winter, spring, and fall in Toughskins.  Video games didn't become a household phenomenon until I was nearly ten years old  (yes, indeed life was possible as a child without them),  and we did the unthinkable and played out-of-doors. Far from being vaporized by the rays of the sun as some readers with gamer's thumb might think, we actually enjoyed roaming the fields and woods that surrounded our home.  I remember we used to slide down one particularly steep wooded hill on our bellies or behinds, as the mood may strike us, like human surfboards adrift in a sea of fallen leaves, prickly weeds, rocks, decaying logs, saplings, trees, and dirt.  We generally came home at the end of the day looking like something that had been dropped from a plane over the city dump.  And remarkably, our Toughskins bore it all like some sort of alien armor; withstanding the tortures their rowdy bearers subjected them to day after day.

My family was poor, plain and simple so you made what you had last as long as possible. Generally the clothes I wore weren't new, but they were new to me courtesy of a cousin or a yard sale, and I never minded.  And since Toughskins could easily last five or six generations before finally being retired (or so it seemed), I wore them until I could no longer fasten them around my waist even though the legs broke a good inch or more above my shoes - high waters, as we called them.

I've often wondered what my mother must have thought as she watched us playing in the yard, or as she looked back to see us trailing along behind her like ducks in a row as we filed into Mt. Olive Baptist Church tucked next to an ancient cemetery where the winding gravel road reaches its highest point on the hilltop.  Did she feel some sense of regret as she saw us in our ill-fitting hand-me-downs?

My pastor and friend recently reminded us of 1 Samuel 16:7 when Samuel was looking for the next king.  It was the custom for prophets to anoint, and thus appoint, the next king, and Samuel was looking for qualities he expected the king to have.  He should be tall, strong, handsome, and wearing Toughskins (or the equivalent of the day) that fit. Certainly not high-waters.  However, God taught Samuel an important lesson by rejecting all of David's brothers. 

1 Samuel 16:7  But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

In other words, it doesn't matter to God if you are wearing hand-me-down high-waters.  And mom, it didn't matter to us either.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Do Over

Poppy, as we called him, was a man of many words.  Most of them would curl the toes of your work boots and none of them were intended for the ears of anyone under fifteen.  When we were growing up, and indeed still to this day, my mother was not one to tolerate bad language.  The mere whisper of the first letter of one of the more popular four letter words would get you at best a withering look; one eyebrow shot heavenward over a countenance bereft to understand what she had just heard, and may just as readily garner a rap to your offending lips from the back of her hand.  Just the solitary letters S, H, D were all the same as if you had marched straight to the Vatican and cursed directly into the Pope's ear in her book.  I still remember the near collision we had when I dared to utter, "Who gives an S?" as she sped down Route 7 in her white Thunderbird with pneumatic light covers and red leather-like interior.  Mind you, I uttered only the letter S.  Not the full word.  So, you can imagine that as kids we sat spellbound listening to our grandfather, whom she respected (and feared) too much to dare chastise, and we could not help but enjoy the irony of her father stringing together curse words as one would fine pearls, and to our tickled ears, these auditory gems were far more valuable.    However, in time you learn that a free tongue enslaves.

"Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  Psalm 141:3

What an amazing life gem.  More and more I come back to this, typically AFTER I have said something that I wish I could take back.  Unfortunately, there are no "do overs" in life.  You know about "do overs?"  My son and his neighborhood friends used to play four square in the driveway and if one of the individuals playing hit the ball out of bounds or if a ball whizzed right past them, they may shout "do over!" and if the group had agreed to do-overs in advance, all would nod and play would continue as if the mistake had never occurred.  I marveled the first time I watched this.  What a sweet and genuine act of mercy demonstrated by these children.  Of course, as they grew older, "do overs" became unheard of.  What a pity.

And here we are.  The sun has nestled down deep beyond the horizon for a well-deserved rest and my mind plays a fragmented film of my day - time this morning with the family, each of us rushing around; my interactions with the sea monkeys at work (also known as coworkers); the lady behind the counter at the coffee shop who looked so sad; the guy bundled up against the freezing cold standing outside at the gas station to re-set the pumps that I ignored; and I look heavenward and whisper, "do over."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For a Wednesday, One and Twenty Eight

I pour myself into a chair, grab a cup of hot tea, enjoying the warmth of it in my hands, and try to bring a close to another day that ran away from me like the fastest kid in a neighborhood game of tag.  You know the one.  The kid who is never "it" and is always looking back at you with that half smile, laughing.  Man how I wanted to be that fast kid.  Just out of reach.  Dodging, running, and laughing.  You could never quite tag him.  Never quite make him "it."  You jump through the hedge in a last ditch effort to get him, scraping your arms on the rough wooden branches and trampling flowers under foot certain he has slowed just enough that you can slap him on the back of the head, or shoulder, or arm.  Tag.  All it would take is just a simple brush of the fingers.  Just the tip of one finger.....

What kind of shoes is that kid wearing anyway?  Why is he so darn fast?  And why do his parents let him grow his hair that long?  You don't see them nagging him constantly to get it cut.  Just like Samson, his power must come from his hair.  That has to be it.  Not the sneakers. So, really it is your parents' fault.  Figures.  They never let you do anything.  

And so here you are, thirty years later after another day racing through life, all your goals running just out of reach.  Racing and running.  Turning back to look at you.   And you are never quite running fast enough.  If only you could reach out, just far enough.  If only.