Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


May 2016

The Porch

She sits on the porch alone

as we drive by.

Stop on your way back.

Past the house,

we turn up the hill that’s almost too steep.

The trees reach out and touch the car.

as if to comfort, as if they know.

In the clearing, faded flowers lean

in front of slabs of stone,

forever marking the place

where we visit those

we can no longer visit.

Gospel music from across the hollow

filters through the trees.

Dusk is creeping closer.

Has it been that long already?

We leave because we must.


She sits on a swing

built by her husband’s father,

so many year ago.

We sit in rockers

and talk.

The porch is painted white,

the floor boards brick red.

Once-sharp edges are now round

from years of touch

by those who rest on

the hill above.

The swing creaks back and forth,

a soothing lullaby.


Nearby a bird calls in strong song.

Farther away, another answers.

Still another sings the song of

the solitary bird.

A frog croaks.

Just one, for now.

Others will follow later.

A cool breeze brings relief

from the hot, muggy day.

The serenity of the world

from the porch

is comforting.


All things of youth

are memories now.

He is gone.

Though there are friends,

though there is family,

she is alone.

She embraces the solitude.

I love this porch, she says.

In the mornings

on the swing

by myself.

I am blessed.

The Lord

brought him

to me.

And he brought me

to this house,

this porch.

And now,

though alone,

I am blessed.

copyright joseph e bird, 2016

Plato’s Academy

St. Albans native David Hannan dropped by the Shelton College Review the other day to raise the academic level of our group. It’s a rising tide lifts all boats kind of thing. David is studying Creative Writing and Statistics at Marshall University and this summer will spend three weeks at the University of Oxford where he’ll delve into the works of Shakespeare. Also on his agenda while in England is a visit to the Eagle and Child pub (also known as the Bird and Baby, or simply, the Bird) where the Inklings literary discussion group would sometimes meet. The Inklings included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, among others. Quite a summer ahead for the young Mr. Hannan. We’re grateful for his presence in our humble gathering of scribblers and ink-slingers.

His writing career is off to a good start. He’s already had a poem published in the Marshall literary magazine Et Cetera. He’s kindly agreed to allow me to post it here. Enjoy.

Plato’s Academy

Replace a toga
With holey blue Dickies overalls
With sole-less Walmart moccasins
With jalapeño cheese Munchies
And the Greek amphitheater
With my grandfather’s garage

Amidst the aroma of spray paint
Stale Columbian coffee
And greasy Suzi’s biscuits
I absorbed the arguments of old men

From petty politics to polemics
Pontiacs to Buicks
Cosmology and Corvettes;
From Indian deities
To Oldsmobile leather seats,
Their words spilled amongst the oil on the floor

My grandfather, a man who could bend words
As well as fenders
Welded me into an academic

When his friends would trickle out
Like the last drops of coffee
Our dialectic would begin
Question and answer
Until one was silent

The man who never hugged my father,
Who recoiled from a touch
Reached out
And embraced me with his mind
To try and make me Aristotle.

copyright 2015, David Hannan

Hope springs.

seedling 2 for web

As he awakened to the passing of time, his mind skipped over fall, passed by winter, and envisioned signs of a coming spring. Not outside the window of the conference room, where the shadows of the morning and the afternoon grew longer, and the mountains in the distance transformed into an impressionistic painting, but within himself, where the seeds of optimism and hope that had been planted by so many people over the years, were finally growing.

excerpt from A Prayer for Rain, by joseph e bird, copyright 2016

i am a mist

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

from the Book of James


Red is real.  I don’t know his name, though I did at one time.

When I first saw him, he was probably 15. Maybe older. It was hard to tell because he was big for his age. He was a least six feet tall then, but I knew he was young because his face was youthful. He rode a bike. One of those BMX-type bikes that kids that age ride. Yeah, and a blazing shock of red hair. He had the kind of unconventional good looks that could have landed him movie or television roles. In another life.

I live in a very small town, population around 10,000. Maybe less. I work downtown, such as it is. Downtown encompasses a few blocks. My office faces an alley that’s on the route from the soup kitchen at St. Mark’s to points elsewhere, like the GoMart a block away. Across the alley is a house that’s been converted into a duplex. Renters come and go. There have been good people living in the house, some just starting out, trying to save money and build a better life. There have been others not so well intentioned. Over the years, the police have been called to the house many times.

It was when the house was occupied by others that I first saw Red. He would cruise in on his bike, have some contact with people in the house, then ride away. I sort of knew what was going on, but I had hoped that this kid was just sowing oats, that maybe he would mature and take a different path. There was life in his eyes and something told me there was pontential for great things.

Then I didn’t seem him for a while. Months. Maybe a year or two.

Then his picture in the paper. Busted for something, I don’t remember what. I know it was drug related, but it was more than just possession. It was obvious to me that he hadn’t taken a different path and that he was doing what he had to do to feed his addictions.

I started seeing him on the street again. No bike, just walking. He seemed ok. I wondered if he had gotten help. Maybe he was turning his life around.

Then last night I made a trip to the store. It was raining hard. I sat in my car listening to Ben Sollee on Mountain Stage before going inside. When I came out, Red was walking along the drive in front of the store. He was oblivious to the rain. Then he stopped. He started circling his left wrist with his right hand. Back and forth. I thought maybe he was trying to get something off his arm. Then I saw there was nothing there. He was muttering to himself. He had that look. Frustration. Anger. Fear. In his world, not ours.

Then he started walking again. The look was gone, and he was just a guy walking in the rain.

We see people like this all the time. Seemingly too far gone to help so we just drive by.  Like I did. I look back and wonder if I should have offered him a ride, but I know that wouldn’t have been very smart. He was obviously unstable and given his past, even talking to him might have been a mistake.

But I can’t help wondering what life is like for him. That’s the point of the story. He’s tragically broken.

But he’s still a person.

Every now and then we all need shelter from the storm.



keep walkin

i’m not dead    i don’t think i’m ded    my head is killing me    if i were dead there be fire    but i’m wet    water everywhere

thirsty hungry

damn sun hurts my eyes    i must have slept all night    got to get up

what the hell is this thing    heavy    can’t push it    dumpster    its a dumpster

its not the sun in my eyes    streetlight    railroad tracks    must be behind the stores

gotta get some    gotta score

legs are stiff    got to go to jimmers    just one hit    then i get my hed together    do a score of my own    steeal some cash    neeed cassh

dumpster smells sweet    like food    yeh haf a donut    burger bag    maybe some fries    dammit

jimmers is a long way

its rainin a little    ok    just walk, red    you be ok    just walk

people ever where    pay no mind red    i must be somethin    they look at me and scared of me    i aint hurtin nobody    i aint taking you money    not now    better be out here than in the jail    i score out heer

somethin on my hand    its covered in wire    cant get it off    im wrappin the wrong way    get off!    other way    no other way    get off!

someone blowin a horn    guy in a truck    he looks mad    waving at me    the horn blows    up yurs i tell him    get outta you truck and i beat you good    yeh    i didnt think so

keep walkin red    just keep walkin

rain comin down real good    so wet    cold    keep walkin red

road is black and wet and shiny    cigarette butts    i hate that people be so inconsiderate

where am i    the bridge    shelters down the road a piece    maybe get som ssoup

Hey, Red. You ain’t lookin so good.

weeble    weefle    weasel    weasel, got any smack

I don’t do that stuff, Red. I give you a drink, though.

whats this    it aint taste like nuthin

Vodka. Take it easy. I said a drink, not the whole bottle.

thanks weasel    they got food down there

They won’t let you in looking like that.

im going to jimmers

No you ain’t. Jimmer done got hisself killed.

jimmers dead

Yeah, man. Got into it with one his dope heads. No offense.

i need a score

You ain’t gettin it from Jimmer. You get outta this rain, Red. Go on down under the bridge. They’ll have a fire going tonight.

i need a score

Damn, Red. You gonna be dead yourself if you don’t slow down.


Take my bottle. It’ll get you through the night. I’ll get more.

thanks weasel

Get down there, now.

weasels all right    straight up dude    i hate the bridge    all them weirdos    but i gotta get dry    all this rain    all this rain    all this rain

copyright joseph e bird, 2016

Ben Sollee

I heard this guy on a Mountain Stage broadcast tonight. I was fortunate to grow up listening to my sister play the cello and I’ve always been partial to cello music.  This guy does it a little differently.  Enjoy the show.

Blue light.

Ironic footnote to yesterday’s post about the Galaxy 2000. The building, the old Kroger, was demolished years ago. The site is now home to medical office buildings, including my dermatologist. So where I used to dance under the flashing lights, two weeks ago I sat under a blue light to eradicate pre-cancerous skin cells on head. I should have boogied on down.

Boogie Nights

I want to tell you about the conversation I had once with Davy Jones.

Which Davy Jones, you might ask. Why, the lead singer for The Monkees, I would reply. You remember The Monkees, the group that was assembled back in the 60s by music executives as an answer to the original Fab Four, The Beatles. The Monkees were the Prefab Four. And despite their kitschy persona, they’re credited with some pretty good tunes. Last Train to Clarksville. I’m a Believer. Pleasant Valley Sunday. Their fame peaked in the late 60s, early 70s. I met Davy Jones many years later.

One of the advantages of being old is that I can claim a first-row seat to significant historical events. I saw JFK’s motorcade in Houston the day before he was assassinated in Dallas. I watched on live television as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. And I was smack-dab in the middle of the original disco craze.

I was a student in Morgantown when a still skinny, still cool John Travolta danced his way through Saturday Night Fever. Then we would go to the local disco, Fat Daddy’s, and try to dance the Hustle to music by Yvonne Elliman and the Bee Gees.

Disco was like a spectacular shooting star and by the late 70s the fad was already on its way out. Then in 1980, a still skinny, still cool John Travolta danced his way through Urban Cowboy. So we all went to the faux-cowboy clubs and tried to dance the two-step to music by Mickey Gilley and, well, it was pretty much Mickey Gilley.

Which brings me to The Galaxy 2000.

In the late 70s, a Kroger store in Spring Hill (WV) had closed and sat vacant until someone decided to cash in on the disco craze and converted the building into a giant disco, The Galaxy 2000. It was actually well done, by disco standards. It had a big dance floor, lots of colored, flashing lights, and the requisite mirrored disco ball.  And then came the aforementioned fading of the flashing disco craze. No problem. The club was converted to West Virginia’s version of Mickey’s (as in Mickey Gilley’s club where Urban Cowboy was set).  But country line dancing died out faster than disco and The Galaxy scrambled to stay relevant.

Their answer?  Live music.

In 1980, The Police released Zenyatta Mondatta and began their climb to world-wide fame. And we’re talking Beatles level of fame. Some time before that, they played at The Galaxy 2000. Really. No, I didn’t see the show. I’d never heard of The Police.

But I had heard of The Monkees. By then, they had broken up and Davy Jones was touring as a solo act and one of his stops was The Galaxy. At that point he was more of a b-list act, maybe even c-list, if there is such a thing. Still, The Galaxy was packed. It was an intimate setting and the show was surprisingly good. Davy could really sing. Between sets, he actually mingled with the audience a little. Then he went into one of the side rooms to relax and shoot some pool. A bunch of fans followed and stood around and watched. I was one of them.

He walked around the table, looking for his best shot. Then he stopped in front of me and studied the balls on the table. He lined up the shot. It was a tricky kiss off the bumper to the corner pocket. The place went quiet. He pulled a couple of practice strokes and then softly struck the cue ball. It traveled slowly over the felt and hit the bumper and ball at the same time, nudging  it toward the pocket. And then it dropped.

“Nice shot,” I said.

He turned and looked at me with that famous Davy Jones smile and said, “Thanks.”

True story. All of it.

Yeah, that’s it. Not a deep conversation. Pretty much the typical brush with fame story people like to tell.  Really, it means nothing.

I once met Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics.  I had a similarly brief conversation. It meant nothing.

Real conversations and real connections take time.  They take people who are willing to put themselves out there and exchange thoughts and ideas. That’s what I love about talking to you guys who read what I write. We have real conversations. We make great connections.

Thank you for that.  It means more than you know.


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