Through another windshield

Through Windshields

 

“All of this,” he said as he swirled the air between us with his hand, a cigarette bracketed between two fingers, “is a matter of perspective.” He brought the cigarette to his mouth after that and pulled on it as he looked back at me. The ember glowed. He blew out the smoke and continued watching me, proud of what he had said but waiting for my validation nonetheless.

“Sure,” I replied.

“You over there, looking this way, and me over here,” he went on, pausing there for effect, “watching you.”

I wasn’t listening, though. Well, not really. I was too busy thinking to myself that he looked like me and talked like I talked.

There he was, smiling, looking back at me, still smoking.

“I’m you, but I’m not,” he said. “A passing reflection in window glass, that’s all.”

“Yeah.”

I watched as he looked himself over, running gloved hands over the ballistic vest and over all the pouches attached to it. Tan, brown, olive green. He opened his mouth and stretched his jaw, cocking it to the side and then closing it again. That dirty chin strap, once black and clean, now frosted with white ribbons of dried sweat. The helmet on his head, just a few centimeters off center. Enough for me to notice from where I stood.

He patted his shirt sleeves with a smile and his fingers over the embroidered brown stripes. “They don’t even wear these anymore.”

I smiled back. “DCU’s.”

“Fuckin’ DCU’s.” He caught me looking at his boots. “The shit they’ve stepped in, huh?”

“Yeah.”

I barely even remember him, but he’s always there. I mean, I remember him, but usually in still-frame photographs. There aren’t many pictures of him over there, though. He wasn’t big on pictures then. I remember him telling his troops that, “This ain’t a damn vacation” whenever they took out their cameras and snapped off a few.

I can still hear him say that.

Then I remember that I’m hearing myself.

No, there aren’t two people in my head – no multiple personalities or anything like that. It’s a part of me I had to kill, or at least try to neglect to death. Not sure I did a good job anymore, though, because he’s back now.

I’ve tried to write this a hundred times over the past few months and have failed time and again, barely getting a sentence typed before muttering, “Aw, fuggit!” and moving on to something else. But like I, or rather a part of me, said, this is about perspective.

I’ve only been able to see the world through my own eyes; only able to filter stimuli through my own prejudices. But the world I’ve seen has been filtered before it even got that far. The best way I’ve thought to articulate this is to say that, for me, the world has been filtered through two windshields.

One for home.

One for over there.

CONUS and OCONUS. In some sick way, they both feel like home.

Home and… other home.

I drive down the road now and take note of the roadside trash. I used to ignore it, long before any deployments. “Meh, more litter,” I would say. “People suck.”

But that other part of me learned that litter can kill you. “No, people REALLY FUCKIN’ SUCK,” he’d say. Over there, litter isn’t just litter; it’s a place to hide things. You have to examine it as best you can from behind the glass of a moving vehicle. They hid bombs in the roadside trash. You remember your training, though. You know what to look for.

But your training didn’t really prepare you for a world where there was so much trash it obscured the curb. And, speaking of curbs, you had to check those, too. They would make false sections of concrete to hide their IEDs.

Or they buried them.

Or hid them in dead animals.

Or broken down cars.

Or moving cars.

Or on people.

I remember the first few months after I came home, while that other part was still in the majority, and he made driving a pain in the ass. He kept pointing shit out everywhere we went. Overpasses, cars that rode low on their suspensions… everything on the shoulders.

Then he would say, “It’s only a matter of time before it happens here.”

I don’t have the same mindset when driving anymore. That was a long time ago now. But I haven’t forgotten it, either.

When he went over there for the first time he sat in towers on base and rotted away for four months. He called it a “waste” of what he thought was a finely tuned killing machine. He got to go drive around outside the wire for the last six weeks of that trip, but it wasn’t enough. Just an appetizer. The kiddie ride. He wanted the roller coas– no.

He wanted the fucking base jump without a parachute.

Or so he thought.

A year later he went to Baghdad, and that’s when he killed me. I’m too sentimental, too much of a hopeless romantic and too idealistic to be combat effective. See, I was there for all the other stuff. Base jumping sounded fun to me. I liked the idea of going over there and “making a difference” or whatever. But that wasn’t the reality. It was kill or be killed; kill or get your team killed. No room for dreamers. I needed to die for a while. So, he shut me out.

We wouldn’t have survived without that.

And he would keep saying that it wasn’t a big deal. He’d say, “I didn’t send us here, but I heard they were sending somebody so I volunteered.” This was a true statement. It was black and white for him. For me, I kept trying to read between the lines and find something gray, as if the gray matter was somehow prophetic. As if the gray stuff would Magic 8-Ball me into a calmer state of mind.

“Fuck all that,” he’d say. “You gotta be a stone.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“Fine. Let me pretend for a while then,” he’d say.

These weren’t real conversations that some guy had with two voices in his head while sitting in traffic with his pants around the ankles or whatever. This was me, afraid, trying to rationalize the ambiguity of “tomorrow” in a world which contradicted nearly everything I thought I knew about human beings.

I had to kill the part of me that couldn’t handle the realities over there. And when I came home, I had to kill the frigid, calculating, darker personality that had become such a comfortable skin for such a short but immensely impactful time.

I can only speak for myself and testify to the explosions I’ve seen, the rockets I’ve heard whirring past overhead, the dead bodies, the pieces of bodies, the coagulated puddles of dark goo that spill out of the body when it’s ripped apart, the smell of burning metals, fabrics, blood, flesh and hair all melding into one fragrance… I hardly saw anything compared to what many others saw. My experiences pale in comparison.

This is about perspective.

My perspective – the perspective of that person who looked and talked like me and saw some of the horrors of the world through another windshield – is why I feel sick to my stomach when I watch the news. It’s why I’m pissed at hearing some things and why I couldn’t give two shits about others.

It’s why I feel sick to my stomach when I read or watch news stories about Iraq’s deterioration. Are we just going to sit back and watch a genocide unfold as if it has nothing to do with us?

It’s why I don’t give a flying fuck about your “microaggressions.” Grow up.

It’s why I have no respect for any politician who talks about war but isn’t willing to get his or her own fucking hands dirty, or do the politically unpopular thing, no matter if it’s the right thing to do or not. You can’t stop psychopaths from butchering women and children by playing the blame game, you sorry sacks.

It’s why I struggled to sleep after coming back. I couldn’t close my eyes without playing highlight reels from nightmares.

It’s why I still can’t write this so that it communicates what I want it to say.

It’s why I don’t care what you think.

It’s why I want to go back.

But it’s also why I can’t…

I guess.

It’s why I don’t know which part of me is saying those last three lines.

It’s why I see everything through one windshield today,

and why I know that if no one does it now, then someone will have to later.

 

 

 

Is Keeping a Blog Alive Really That Hard?

For me? Yup.

Don’t know what it is, but the idea of getting on here every day and blabbering on about things as if I knew enough about anything to blabber endlessly is incredibly boring. Also, blogging often feels like I’m writing into an abyss. Just a big hole of nothingness. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a depressing thought. It’s the reality. It would probably be depressing if I thought people wanted to read about my daily activities, and then realized that no one reads about my daily activities. But I don’t do that here, anyway. This is a place to hold a presence, offer information for those few curious souls, and ultimately it works as a backup storage for some of my short stories and poems that I’m not trying to sell to publishers.

But damn if I didn’t let it go for… what, two months (??) without posting something new. The why of this is simple: I didn’t post because I didn’t post. None of this is that hard. Blogging is not hard to do, but you have to want to do it.

Anyway, the stuff I’m working on now is all novel length prose or short stories that I’m inclined to shop around. So, there’s that. A short story of mine was featured on a new website called Liberty Island Magazine. It’s a supernatural – slash -western called Coyote Skull. Check it out if you don’t mind, and check out the rest of LI, if you feel so inclined. Yes, it’s a politically partisan site. I like to keep my personal blog neutral, as most of my work (including Coyote Skull) attempts to tap in to themes that transcend contemporary political narratives.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time writing fiction about contemporary politics. There’s enough of a soap opera with the real thing as it is already. I tend to hate no one and make fun of everything. This is easily misunderstood in written communication online, especially when it’s so easy to type away and send, delivering your rushed comments to an audience in real time.

You ever watch some comment threads just flat-out degenerate and then spiral out of control. Holy shit. Look – I’m big into sports, mostly football, baseball and soccer… but I frequent sports sites and read the articles. Then I read the comments. People will actually argue with each other about games that haven’t happened yet. Online. For everyone to see how good they are with grammar. Get it?

Blabbity-blah, I’m going to congratulate myself for keeping my blog alive for July (albeit on the very last day), and to celebrate I think I’ll go play with my buddy here. He’s the O-D-B, Old Dirty Bruce. Keepin’ the pimp paw strawng, sun!

 

ODB ODB

 

That’s a University of Georgia Bulldogs shirt he’s wearing, by the way. Go Dawgs!

lords of vapor

Lord of Vapor

She rides the air beside me as we drive in straight lines.

A knee up high and the seat reclined,

she looks away along the outstretched hand that moves against the tide.

We end at each horizon and then begin again the same,

riding endless waves of earth and forgetting both our names.

 

“You should buy me a drink,” she says at the bar.

I was staring off again and thinking of the car.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I replied.

We never really say any of these things.

 

Wicker chairs and bamboo shades; wares that creak and knock in the steady blow.

We sit under shadow surrounded by the grey candescence of a deserted beach.

I at the bar, and she, well, she’s there, too,

but just out of reach.

 

She pulls the hair back on one side and leans in closer to squint at me,

the seat creaking below her exposed, crossed legs.

I imagine skin touching skin,

and eight-bit illustrations of holes hosting pegs.

 

“What?” she says without moving her lips.

I smile and watch her fingertips.

I like the way her fingernails play snare upon the lacquer surface as she waits.

I like the way she holds her cigarette between fingers and lips,

and the way it makes me think of life between her hips.

 

“It keeps the wasps away,” she says of the smoke.

Not that I cared to begin with anyway.

I’m less concerned with the cause of her disease than I am the treatment of the symptoms.

 

We don’t need to know the names.

 

She turns to look over her shoulder,

turns to look out across the acreage of darkened, liquid suede.

Rain, misting and steady and cold, coming down all around.

 

I turn and look where she’s looking,

and there at the edge of the rising tide lies the half-dissolved face of a fish,

with a pair of birds on either side.

 

Neither the birds nor the fish head move,

as if frozen in time and tide and there perpetual in the grey candescence.

Even the tide seems stuck in its lines.

 

I turn to tell her what I really want to say then,

only to see that I’m alone at the bar and dry -

no keeper, no bottles, nothing but wind and creaking, knocking mockery.

 

 

 

fish head

Poor Fish Head

 

 

The lonely, decomposing fish head on the beach. No one ever loved you. They used you, then threw you away.

Or perhaps you escaped, achieving in death, and without a tail, what you could not achieve whole and alive.

And now you rot. There, on the beach. With the kids coming close to look and the parents shouting “Don’t touch!”

2:44 A.M.

Old, gray dreams.

Concrete feet,

sinking dark between oceans.

Colors but shades;

similar but different.

Grays.

 

Darker down,

absorbing sound

in cold indigo pressure

where neither sight, nor smell, nor taste, nor sound can reach.

 

Darker down,

hands fighting stiff, liquid blankets, tightly wrapped and anchored deeper in the black.

There visions emerge,

bright but only halfway whole,

like broken memories;

interrupted signals;

scratches in the disk, jumping, lurching, never closer.

Never really there.

 

Blackest depths,

feet and hands still bound and mouth still muffled.

Punches thrown and never landed,

curses of the deepest deep,

where nothing lives but that which died

and in subconscious sleeps.

Muted Sounds

We float.

Or perhaps we sink.

I suppose it all feels the same.

In dreams we are immune from these sensations,

at once cemented to our hidden fears yet free to be ourselves.

And my eyes open to yours,

looking back and forth from the pillow to where the fingers thatch themselves in permanence.

cover1

Weight of an Empire Excerpt (and a little behind-the-scenes info)

As you may know already, I published a book last fall called Weight of an Empire. I consider it my first serious work. It was the first novel I completed, and it was quite the experience. Well, I wanted to give a little insight into the process of writing the book. Also, another excerpt is below.

 

First, listen to this while you read the excerpt:

 

 

Excerpt:

I woke early that Monday morning when the light came on in my room.

“What the hell?” I mumbled, rising and holding my hand above my eyes to block the light.

“There you are,” he said. I opened my eyes and saw Riley Tiergarten standing beside my bed. I rubbed my eyes. “Nope, it ain’t a dream,” Riley said. He chuckled. It sounded like a dry cough that came from his upper chest.

“What are you doin’ in my house?” I asked.

“Nevermind that. You know you got a fine ass woman in the other room? Why the fuck are you sleepin’ in here?” He sat on the futon and tilted his head to the side as he looked at me. He had a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun across his lap. Bits of snow melted into the shoulders of his heavy old Army field jacket. It smelled like stale cigarette smoke. Riley’s nose was red and he wiped it with the back of his gloved hand and sniffled loudly while he stared at me.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Well… I came to pick you up,” Riley said.

“For what?”

“To go for a ride.” He wore a calm, contented expression on his hairy face.

“Where?”

“Down the road a little.”

“I ain’t goin’,” I said.

Riley stood and took a breath. He pointed the shotgun at me and said, “Lucky for us you ain’t got a choice.”

“So that’s it, then.”

“That’s what?” He had a wry smile stretching across his face.

“I figured you’d come around eventually.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He sniffed and nodded. “But you ain’t gonna sucker punch me this time,” he said. “Come on. Get up.”

I surveyed the room and rubbed my eyes. The closet was behind me, and in the closet was a small safe where I kept a little 9mm handgun. I used to sleep with it under my bed, but I always told myself I was being paranoid. So it went in the safe in the closet. I looked at the closet and then at Riley’s shotgun again. “How’d you know where I lived?”

“Ted showed me one day.”

“And where’s he at?”

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. He wagged the shotgun at me and said, “Come on.”

The longer I was awake the more I began to panic. This is really happening, I thought. I tried to stall him until I could figure a way into that closet. “How’d you get in?” I asked.

“The back door was unlocked.”

“Bullshit.”

“Not bullshittin’,” Riley said.

“I always lock it at night.”

He smiled. “Or not.”

“Son of a bitch,” I mumbled, sighing and rubbing my face.

“So come on,” Riley said, wagging the shotgun again. “Get up.”

“All right.” I nodded. “I’ll come quietly as long as I know she’s all right.”

He scoffed. “She’s still sleepin’. So is the baby. Now come on.”

I stood and scratched my head, still trying to figure a way out of it. I found a mental rut on the idea of stalling him so then I said, “Ain’t it supposed to snow?”

“It’s snowin’ already,” Riley said. “That’s why we’re gonna do this now.”

“Well, what is it?”

“You just need to come on.” He showed me the ends of the barrels again.

“Take it easy,” I said, showing him my palms. “It’s all right. I just need to get dressed real quick.” I kept my hands up and pointed at the closet with one of them.

“You’re fine like that.”

“I’m only wearin’ sweatpants.”

“You’re fine like that.” The muscles in his face relaxed and the smirk disappeared as his eyes seemed to darken. He held the gun steady and took a few slow steps to the side, angling around me until he stood between me and the closet.

“All right,” I said. “I’m fine like this then.” Helplessness twisted itself in my stomach and climbed outward with nothing better to do than spread for the sake of spreading. He stood in the center of the room and waited for me to leave first, repeatedly jerking the barrels of the shotgun toward the door.

He followed me out of the house, and I peeked down the hallway toward Allison’s room along the way. The door was open and I could see her sleeping in the bed. At least he didn’t do that, I thought. We went out the front door and into the dark and cold. The falling snow was thick and steady. It was already ankle deep. I hugged myself as I walked, bending forward against the falling snow and clenching my teeth with each frozen, barefooted step.

Teddy’s truck was parked on the shoulder of the road near the house. The engine idled quietly. The lights were off. It was barely visible through the thick haze of falling snow and hanging darkness. When we reached the truck the parking lights came on and Riley ordered me into the back seat. I paused at the back door, shivering and cradling my elbows in my hands as I pushed my shoulders to my neck. I looked at Riley. He stood at the front of the truck with the shotgun. The gun, and his sleeves and gloves were drenched in the warm glow from the parking lights on one side and empty and black on the other. The falling flakes flashed past the half-lit shotgun. The thought of running came and went, bursting up from the abyss in my stomach and then dissipating faster than the falling snow. Then, from the shadows above the ambient yellowish light a throaty voice snarled.

“Get the fuck in the truck.”

 

This scene in the book is the beginning of the end – the buildup to the climax. The song is “The Rat” by a local band called Dead Confederate.

And here’s the album featuring “The Rat”: The entire track list is excellent.

 

The significance of the music and that scene is that this whole story began with a mental image of some serious shit going seriously bad in the middle of a snow storm. From a brief mental image the story unfolded into who’s who and why’s this and all that. It consumed me for a short time while I was working another job, capturing my mind in idle night-shift hours. That was in 2009. The story evolved a bit during a three month mental obsession. I never really wrote any of it down back then, instead simply cataloging imagery and quotes in my mind for apparently no other reason than to take up brain space. One morning on the way home I drove up a rise in the land at dawn, just as a black car coming the other way entered my field of view. Something about the aesthetics of that moment clicked, and I logged that away for memory, too.

Then I went on with life, quitting one job to work another, quitting the other job to go back to school and finish my English degree. In the spring of 2013, when I was almost finished with school, this story came back. I didn’t really bring it back. It just sort of… returned. And it was different; more complex. Unusual. It meandered through my mind with its hands in its pockets, slowly telling me the story in parables and brief explosions of imagery.

So I started writing it in February of 2013. Started from the beginning – the bonfire scene. New characters arrived. Pard showed up and began narrating what was originally going to be a third-person psychological thriller – slash – tragedy about Teddy. Riley showed up then, really pushing hard against Pard’s natural ambivalence and cowardice. The whole damned thing changed. The style changed. The voice changed. Before I knew it I was over 40,000 words in. When it was all finished that May, I stepped back and read through the whole first draft one time. All that remained the same from the original 2009 idea was the mood, and then that scene in the snow at the end. But even the climax changed a little bit – the motivations were tweaked and the sequencing changed with the added characters. The way I told it changed as well, because we see it all happen as Pard saw it.

Well, anyway, while I was writing this thing I used that Dead Confederate album to get in the mood. I listened to “The Rat” every day that I wrote, sometimes several times each day. The music captured the mood perfectly. And now you know some shit you didn’t before – shit that probably doesn’t do you a lick of good in life… but maybe you’ll check out the book or help spread the word a little bit. You know, ‘cause you got insider knowledge and shit now.

Thanks for reading.