Dead Rabbits Don’t Run (Reprise) [fiction]

I smell it again. Past hemlock, below hilltop, the aroma comes from man’s wooden lodge, drifting on powerful smoke, burning my nose.

My eyes are closed. Behind them, man eats his bloodless rabbit meal: chewing, always chewing; licking fingers clean; sucking every tawny bone bare; he will leave no bloodless meat behind. Before he sleeps tonight, he will bury those bones behind his lodge where I sold my soul.

Even now, I would run there if I could and dig up his bones and feast on marrow for the rest of my short, pathetic life.

It was there that I lost my dignity by giving in to temptation. I chewed many cooked bones behind his lodge, feasting under hemlock, becoming less of a hunter.

When man left his lodge for two summers, his woman replaced him. She did not bury rabbit bones. Instead, she threw them and their bloodless meat into high grass. Although the meat was dry and chewy, it had a rich flavor that was addictive. I became a scavenger, a beggar; I stopped hunting altogether.

If my sons should find any trace of me here, they will never know the follies of a foolish old laggard who spent his last days chasing dead rabbits. my death will erase all evidence of my foolish ways.

Did I cry just now, or was it the hungry wail of my empty stomach?

Rain assaults my eyes like large tears trying to blind me of a past that haunts me. Is this my salvation? Will regret be my pardon?

Is there no limit to my delusion?

Rabbits are near. Listen. Smell them.

The elder rabbit towers above me. He looks down at me with a laughing eye. He mocks my anguish. He sneers at my torment with his taunting round face inching across the sky, pulling the blanket of night and death over me.

I wonder if my bones will make a good meal. Will someone like me, too feeble for the hunt, rob my grave and chew on my marrow to satisfy their hunger?

Maybe man will find my old bones instead. I am sure my teeth would make a fine necklace.

Maybe I will not die.

Maybe this is not sunlight warming me, pulling me to my feet.

Rabbits scamper around me, running through summer grass.

I give chase, the way I did in my youth.

Madness [poetry]

Too many people stomping around—
fractured herds mucking the rivers,
the land,
killing the grass.
They think they know when they don’t.

They rode lame in a hot race and wept when their HellCat lost.
Now they cry from twit-faces in their concrete castles filled with Eisenhower plastic,
drowning their DTs in anger
and lamenting that their cultivated habits didn’t make them rich.

Money for the populace is the reason Owners obsess over property and selfhood.
They muck the rivers,
highways,
kill the grass,
and count their dollars made of starvation, suicide, failure, death—
Illusion.

Dusty professors moan that I speak Ginsberg—
a tragedy as big as the smallest positive real number,
while the world riots to muck the rivers…
eating the life from their own butchered bodies
and lamenting that their cultivated habits still don’t make them rich.

In Memory of My Brother

My brother and best friend died on July 8, 2016. He was 57.

Russ died on a Friday night while I was at work and feeling that something wasn’t right. I knew he was sick—he’d been battling cancer for several years and was growing weaker by the day. His cancer had reached stage 4. I received the phone call the next day and wept. I was glad to know he no longer suffered, but I wept because I felt alone. We’d done so much together. Now he was gone.

Russ was born in a small town called Union City in Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1958. He was 21 months younger than his big brother Steve who, according to their mother, gave Russ all his toys the day Mom brought him home from the hospital. It didn’t take long for the two of them to become best friends. The rest is family legend.

Russ married when he was 17 and remained married to his wife for 40 years. During that time, he served in the United States Navy alongside his big brother for a while, raised an awesome daughter and awesome son, was an avid hunter, collected coins and knives, and loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, which began in 1971 after he and I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series and wondered “Now what?”

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1969. My mother and I shared birthdays in February. Here, Russ stands behind me with a cousin, getting into the picture.
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1976. I had begun a career in radio when Russ convinced me to join the Navy with him. Here we are in Chicago the day we graduated boot camp.
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1980. Russ was Best Man at my wedding. Here we are posing for one of those humorous shots where I show up late for my wedding. Ha! Funny is how we look like waiters in our hip tuxedos.
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2001. Russ and I gave each other birthday gifts right up to his death. He had just brought me a gift in 2001 when he read an article about me and my artwork in the local paper. He was my biggest fan.
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2005. Here Russ poses on the day he had a local pilot fly our 66-year-old mom on her first plane ride. This was a week before her death from complications after stomach surgery. Russ was always glad he did this for her. So was I.

This has been a small glimpse of my brother’s life. Of course, telling it all would fill volumes of books. Perhaps I will, someday, tell more about him, one chapter at a time.

Rest in peace, dear brother. November 29, 1958—July 8, 2016.

In Memory Of [poetry]

In our darkest family moment
When life has ceased
And all heads of the living are slumped forward,
Tears flowing,
Tongues completing tender prayers — our final goodbyes,
Our eyes — so accustomed to observing no more than mortal time—
Now gaze back before these lonesome hours together
To when her sweet spirit departed this life and flew with the angels to her mansion on far
High upon a hill of bounteous buttercups:
Golden treasures like the ones our Father walked through on the Mount of Olives.

She ascended unto a place of dazzling gardens of lilies and tulips,
Around gentle brook,
Across tender lake,
To her final home
Where everlasting light burns in her open windows,
Curtains forever drawn wide to let in the bouquet of Heaven
Filled with savory sights and sweet sounds where God is the artist and composer.

She looks out from her doorway and smiles there,
Happy to be home,
Yet watching and waiting over us during our sudden hush
As we embrace and remember
Caring mother,
Dear sister,
Sweet aunt,
Adoring grandmother,
Kind friend.

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Waiting [fiction]

A quirky short story penned by my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and me, November 1999. Lola and I co-authored a handful of stories on the Internet while we were members of an online writing group.

Freshly shaved Robert Allen rose up swinging barbells at those fiercely mad occupants of the Union Gym down at Union Square next to Sailors’ Cemetery where Boston Rose sells cheap tricks and BJs as thin as the fish bone stuck in the throat of Colonel Shaw’s pet sandpiper lying dead at the south edge of town where Westinghouse Electric once blessed the beginning of the baby boom.

There was no wind or open sunlight anywhere, but the girl in love felt damaged by exposure to the outdoors, so she stayed indoors in her two-room flat above Westinghouse and ate whole grains, chicken salad, leafy greens, banana yogurt. That night, she drank a shot of Johnny Courage in her cheapest lingerie until Robert came with her ring. She wrote invitations, hemmed the dress, cut the flowers, made the cake, hired the photographer for the ceremony and reception, and planned for a sunny day of happiness indoors where she could polish her skin like golden armor to be the greatest trophy ever.

But Robert died from consumption the day before the wedding.

The girl stood alone at his gravestone on Butter Hill, waiting for a miracle. At ten A.M. the sun poured out her shadow like honey over daisies sunning in an eastern sky. The only movement then was the tendrils of her butterscotch hair and the twitch of her gaze twisting through this sunny field.

At noon, a black and white rabbit scampered to an afternoon sleep awaiting him across the rise where clouds floated in the north and had turned white again. She said, “If you’re alone now, you’ll always be alone,” but the rabbit scurried down its hole without a beginning, without ending, like jazz to her awakened mind.

Her toes tapped slowly at first, then quickened to endless tunes in her mind. Her hair swung at the small of her back, and the gradual rhythm of her hips distracted the gods from their wars above us. Attracted by her beauty, they brought frost and starless nights to the land. She lit a fire in a circle of dry grass and danced alone inside a Mackinaw coat acquired from a traveling priest looking for boys to join his army. She waltzed for many months to keep alive the music and its old pizzazz.

All the while, Robert Allen remained dead at her feet.

She went home the evening Robert’s Aunt Betty came floating from the hospital, looking for John Wayne on a TV controlled by a little black clicker box similar to the ones used by Uncle Ray all those years in the red light district before he died in the heavy arms of Rose.

Aunt Betty sat searching that TV for a familiar face, but Lucy and Sid and Uncle Miltie were not forthcoming from the clicker in her gnarled hand, choking the life from the big white buttons that glowed childish in the dark.

The girl made coffee in the corner kitchen while Aunt Betty watched the local news and wondered aloud from which foreign countries the melancholy reports came. The mystery became hers forever when an eight o’clock breeze from the window passed over her La-Z-Boy and she did not breathe it in.

The girl turned on a lamp and pronounced Aunt Betty dead at eleven-nineteen P.M. Next she called the coroner and roused him from bed, and then called out to family and friends. A crowd assembled and someone said they were glad to see that Aunt Betty died with family and not at a hospital.

The family nurse looked away and wept.

When Aunt Betty’s body was wheeled away, the gathering stirred from their corners and shuffled home.

Uncle Ray, Robert Allen and Aunt Betty remained dead outside the pages of the family’s photo album on the girl’s lap. She, who had been in love once, turned on the TV from the La-Z-Boy and forgot about the tunes in her head. She also forgot about jazz.

She watched TV daily and nightly and found new friends who came and left. And as her last day of life approached, she searched for an old familiar face on the flickering screen.

It never came.

Nortepius [fiction]

(© 1989; previously published as Backward-Looking in an Age of Social Anomie.)

The banquet hall was large and windowless, which, as banquet buildings go in the land of Nortepius, was simple in design and customarily uncared-for. The dark and damp interior was carpeted throughout in grass-like fungus, and faint yellow light flickered as a single candle—nearly spent—threatened to extinguish itself. Lumped atop a mountain of wax that vaguely encased an ancient gold candelabrum over the hall, the candle squatted between three twisted ropes of hemp, sooty and black. A groan came from a dark figure scaling one of the thick waxy wattle appendages that had sprouted to the floor many years ago. He clenched a new candlestick between his teeth and exerted his unpracticed body to reach the dimming flame before it died, forever.

“Sulliac,” called out King Mimalaus from his dirty brown throwdown, “don’t bite that one in half. The blue ones taste ugly.”

Sulliac the Loyal grunted in agreement and continued climbing.

“You incipient vacillator,” chided a shadowy figure in the northwest corner of the room, “the entire world knows that the blue ones are an acquired taste of the sophisticated and dexterous. Why, with just a pinch of yellow yeast glob a blue becomes the finest meal man will ever consume.”

His nasally voice echoed throughout the hall. Then a long, low belch sounded from the king’s area. King Mimalaus’s sound of disapproval made the winded Sulliac the Loyal smile as he finally reached the dying candle.

“Put that in one of your pictures, Couchiniti,” grumbled the king, “if you can find the right color.”

A quick belch from the king marked an end to the conversation. After all, Couchiniti was renowned for his lengthy rhetorical rambling and the king boiled at such torture. This was a day of glory and respect for the king who wrung his hands with anticipation of today’s long arrival of new fleece throwdowns.

The dining hall grew larger as Sulliac the Loyal lit the new vigil from the old one and placed it atop the wax-heap. From his perch, he could see the tall and frail Couchiniti biting his right forearm, displeased to be halted from giving the hall a verbal round of his antiquated conjecture.

Seeing the sulking crafter suckling on his arm made Sulliac the Loyal hungry, so he stuck his fingers in his mouth and began licking at the rhizopus that had accumulated during his ascent.

Hearing the slurping made the king hungry too, so he began cleaning between his toes. The three snacking statesmen did not hear the low rumbling outside, nor were they able to see the blinding white light that blanketed the countryside. Hot winds blew at the walls of the dining hall as trees and small buildings were swept away. Another rumble followed as the ground began to shake.

“Another quake!” shouted the ever-observant king as the hall began shaking. “Let’s celebrate!”

The vibrating building knocked Sulliac the Loyal from his perch and he tumbled hard to the floor. Couchiniti’s easels fell over and palettes of paint and brushes spilled. A large, hollow clay bust of Couchiniti fell from its podium and shattered. Couchiniti grabbed up his paintings while the king danced at the base of his throne. Then the quake ended.

In unison, the three men sat down on their tattered throwdowns and laughed. They laughed for many minutes as tears welled and flowed from their eyes. The king’s sides hurt, but he kept laughing. “Praise the beautiful light and warmth,” he said between breaths. He secretly praised the destruction of Couchiniti’s ugly bust.

“Our new throwdowns from the old land of Ridgewood should be here by nightfall,” he cried. “I can’t wait.”

“Hear, hear, O Great King,” sang Sulliac the Loyal. “Hear, hear, O Great King.”

Dead Rabbits Don’t Run [fiction]

(© 1989; renewed 1993.)

Going to college from 1986 to 1990 and reading new literature, as well as reading the classics there, gave me new insights on my own writing and stirred my imagination.

I smell it again. Past hemlock and below this hill that man calls Myers Ridge, the aroma comes from his wooden lodge, drifting to me on powerful smoke and burning my nose with the fragrance of the blood of my sins. It was there that I lost my dignity by giving in to temptation and committing the crime that now damns me.

Man eats his bloodless rabbit meal tonight: chewing, always chewing; licking fingers clean; sucking bare every tawny bone; he will leave no bloodless meat behind. Before he sleeps he will throw those bones into high grass where I waited often, always hidden, always alone, consuming dry and chewy meat that had a rich, addictive flavor. I grew fat and stopped hunting my meals.

If I could move I would crawl deeper under hemlock to hide my crippled body and all evidence of the follies of an old laggard who spent his final days chasing cooked, discarded marrow of dead rabbits.

Their round and plump elder towers above my broken body, mocks my death throes, sneers at my torment with his taunting round white face, laughing at my ruin. The great white rabbit has traveled quickly across the sky tonight to pull the blanket of final darkness over me. He is right to ridicule my predicament. His quick and bountiful children made me a strong hunter and my strength made me a leader. My laziness, however, made me easy prey to the rifle. Now I am helpless, waiting to return to ground. I wonder if my bones will make a good meal.

Is this daylight upon me at last, or am I dreaming? I thought I saw dead rabbits running through the summer grass. It must surely be a dream. Dead rabbits don’t run … unless they run for the dead.