I don’t dance I can’t dance I don’t know how to dance and never will But sometimes Things just happen
I wasn’t there to dance At this little dinner club Where through the old sagging glass I watch the river flow lazy As it always has and will forever
I’m not from here Not that it matters And maybe that’s why this place is special No one knows me No one cares
I eat alone, as always Steak, medium well, baked potato I don’t drink except for when I’m here Ice cold beer From the tap
And here All is well, peaceful My other life, mistakes I’ve made, mistakes to come Is miles upriver, coming for me But not here yet
Most everyone is coupled up A group of four or party of six If I’m the object of pity or curiosity I don’t care Because the steak is good And the solitude comforting
In a far corner A black man named Bob plays jazz on the piano While a skinny white boy named Solomon blows a saxophone Lipton’s on guitar And Jupie lays down the beat
I know their names But to them I’m just a guy by the window eating a steak Maybe not even that And that’s how it should be
Somewhere in New York Or Singapore The same scene is played out with different actors But no better than Right here, right now
Yes, another beer So I don’t have to leave Because across the room with the party of six Sits a woman Alone
She’s in the company of others A man works to keep her attention And though she is with him and smiles on cue She’s not really with him And she knows I know
And Bob plays slowly And Jupie taps the high hat And the couples can’t resist as they move to the center of the room And embrace politely And sway as Solomon plays
And Savannah dances too Though that’s not her name But it should be because it’s a beautiful name They dance as two Who will never be one
She knows I’m watching And I smile And she smiles and we both sense the same thing And we both know That possibilities are impossible
And the song ends And most sit As the tempo changes and dancing is less forgiving They, like me Don’t dance
My glass is empty My time is done And I look to her table and she’s not there And as I lay my napkin beside my plate I look once more
I see her as I walk across the room Walking toward me And we meet in the center of the room, the music daring us And I accept the dare And reach for her hand
Her right hand in my left My hand on her waist And we move slowly to the beat, and she is smiling And I don’t know what I’m doing But it feels right
I pull her hand in front of us And her momentum Sends her into a soft twirl, her hair flying toward me And as she comes back, I pull her close And I kiss her
She blushes And behind me I hear gasps From the table of six and I can imagine their looks Though I’ll never know Because hers is all that matters
The music plays But I release her soft hands And I won’t even turn to look as I walk away And I know I’ll never go back As Solomon plays
copyright 2019, joseph e bird
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
I rounded the corner, my legs sluggish, my body tired, and I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. It was hot and muggy and I hadn’t slept well the night before and work at the office and work at home had taken a toll on me and so, yes, I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. And then I rounded the corner.
I saw her walking across the street ahead of me, dressed in workout tights and a t-shirt, probably coming from the health club. She walked in front of another building and I lost sight of her.
You may begin judging. Why did I notice her?
She appeared to be athletic and as a runner, I tend to notice others involved in athletic endeavors.
I practice situational awareness and notice everybody in my immediate vicinity.
I am a man and she was a woman and I am an example of toxic masculinity.
So again I turned the corner, and there she was, about twenty yards ahead of me, and she started to run. No, she wasn’t running from me; she hadn’t even seen me.
She’s twenty yards ahead and I see she’s not thin and lithe, doesn’t have that classic runner’s body. Judge me again. What is a runner’s body, Joe?
A couple of year ago I was out on a run and heard footsteps behind me and before I knew it, I was being passed by a squat, muscular guy who looked more like a weightlifter than a runner. But he was more of a runner than I was. So, sure, I admit that judging this woman by her build was not too smart. Still, I had no doubt that I was going to pass her very quickly, even with my tired, sluggish legs.
I should point out that this was happening along a busy street, a common running route in my town. So even if she knew I was behind her (and she didn’t) she wouldn’t have felt threatened. I was just another runner.
Off I go, picking up the pace a little. But I wasn’t closing the distance between us. Twenty yards became thirty. Thirty-five. Forty. She was leaving me in the dust.
So I eased up and resigned myself to the fact that she was probably thirty years younger than me and I was tired and so what if she’s faster.
No, I didn’t do that. I picked up my pace even more.
Still, she widened the gap. Maybe I should just lay back. Admit defeat.
Of course not. I pressed harder. Longer, quicker strides.
I was keeping pace now, but not closing the gap. My breathing was fast and hard, my heart pounding.
A slight uphill rise, followed by a downhill, where I used gravity to my advantage. I was getting closer, ever so slightly. When the road flattened, I kept my downhill pace. I was gaining on her.
But I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. A larger hill loomed ahead. Maybe she would slow. Even though I was dead tired and I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, I was determined.
Why? What’s the purpose of this personal quest?
It’s that toxic masculinity again. I have to prove that I’m a man.
My ego is out of control and even at my age, I refuse to admit I’ve lost a few steps.
Even though I have no desire to say more than hello as I pass her, I can’t help but think that she’ll be impressed by this ageless wonder running like a man half his age.
Maybe I’m just a dork.
I was definitely closing the gap, but it’s a slow and painful process. If she picks up the pace even a little, I’m done. But I’ll keep pressing as long as I can.
And then she pivots and turns around, running toward me. I raise my hand in the understated runner’s wave. She doesn’t acknowledge me. She passes, and just like that, the race is over.
She wins. I lose.
I hit the hill I was dreading and I’m thankful I can slow down. And when I slow, I feel so tired that I wonder how I ran as fast as I did for as long as I did. Another half mile at an old man’s pace and my run is finished.
I sat down on the curb, sweat burning my eyes, a puddle forming on the concrete. And I started to ask the questions. The answers? All of the above.
Most are not leaders of nations. Most are not creators of wealth. Most are not icons of sports or entertainment. Their names will not be written in the annals of history.
But without them, we would be nothing.
Their fathers worked with pride as pipe-fitters and welders and electricians. Their fathers mined coal and dug ditches and toiled with dignity. They did what was necessary to provide food and shelter and clothes. They did what was necessary to provide hope for a better tomorrow.
Tomorrow came, and it was better, and the sons and daughters of the fathers went to school and became teachers and writers and lawyers and engineers. They became fathers and mothers themselves and likewise provided for their families.
They did all of this without the need for attention, without the need for adulation, without the need for self-aggrandizement.
Fathers persevere and sacrifice. They do what needs to be done. They are good and honorable.
No, not all fathers. Some abandon. Some abuse. Some give up.
It’s not about gender roles. Sometimes the mother is the father. Sometimes she is both.
It’s not about being the breadwinner. It’s about being strong for the family. It’s about providing direction to those who wander and encouragement to those who strive.
Now they rest, their work less strenuous, their lives less demanding, and they sit quietly, content to let others lead.
They have lived simply. They have lived nobly. They have given their all. They are fathers.
everything is unremarkable the sky is overcast the air is heavy and damp a lawnmower hums three yards over somewhere a child squeals but the birds are quiet there will be no spectacular sunset there is nothing but contentment and all is grace
IN THE LATE 1860s, a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began. In 1868, General John Logan formalized the tradition by declaring May 30 as Decoration Day. Decoration Day gradually become known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, Memorial Day began to commemorate soldiers who had died in any war. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and in 1971, Memorial Day was established as the last Monday in May.
Although the emphasis of Memorial Day is still to honor those who died in service to their country, graves of all loved ones are now traditionally decorated on Memorial Day.
It’s an old man’s game. You seldom see anyone under 50 in the cemetery cleaning the headstones, replacing old, faded flowers with fresh ones. Our loved ones aren’t there anyway. We know that. But we’ll honor them as long as we can, until strangers come along and take photographs and wonder who they were.
Every year about this time we go to the cemeteries and clean the graves of those who have gone before. It makes you realize how fast time flies. Has it really been that long? And then there are all those forgotten graves. What was their story? Maybe this.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. up the steep gravel road, through the woods to the clearing where the old grey headstones were covered in moss and leaned toward the earth as if they were too tired to stand up straight, for so long they had stood in testament to the forgotten lives of those whose names were were worn from the stone by the unrelenting and unforgiving passage of time.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. because there were snakes and yellow jackets and maybe bears. and at night across the hollows voices and laughter and music and now and then a gunshot would echo from neighbors unknown, and though the graveyard was close it was no place for a young girl alone.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. but along with the grey, rough tablets of ancient men and their wives and their children, were smooth slabs of curved and polished marble with praying hands and crosses and Bible verses written in script, and names her grandmother knew of this cousin and that uncle, and her grandmother’s husband, the grandfather she had never known.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. under the deep shade cast by towering oaks and maples where grass wouldn’t grow and moss and lichens clung easily to the old stones and left her grandfather’s headstone untouched by nature, save for the pollen in the spring that she would wipe with her finger from the smooth marble, that also promised that her grandmother would someday rest with him.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. but her grandmother worried too much. she had never seen a snake and stayed clear of the bees and the idea of bears just seemed silly, and it was peaceful always peaceful. and she would talk to God and ask why other kids teased her, though she knew it was because her clothes were old and she was poor.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. and she sat beside the grandfather she knew only from photographs, and read Psalms from his old Bible and drew wisdom from the words that would stay with her all of her days, and give her comfort through her pain, and strength through her weakness, and courage through her fears.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. and when she saw him she knew her grandmother had been right, and she had been foolish, and as he came toward her he took a drink from a bottle and wiped his mouth on his sleeve and laughed, and she knew that he had come from the valley of the shadow of death.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. but she would fear no evil and she always carried a staff, the old iron pipe from her grandfather’s workshop, heavy and cool, and she stood and gripped it in both hands and drew back and stepped toward him and swung, and he screamed as it struck against his ribs, and his bottle dropped, and she ran off the hill.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. she didn’t tell her grandmother and she didn’t sleep for days, and when the kids teased her because she had to tape the soles of her shoes, and because she lived in a shack with her grandmother because her mother had killed herself with a needle, she cried into her pillow softly, so her grandmother wouldn’t hear.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. and it was weeks before she went back to find her staff, her grandfather’s iron pipe, which had given her comfort, and to find the peace that had left her. but it wasn’t the same. she couldn’t read she couldn’t pray she couldn’t close her eyes because he might be out there still.
she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself. and though she was afraid, she still went there by herself, because it was there she had learned of peace and strength and courage. and she would grow and live far away from the hollows, and the kids who teased her, and she would become a woman strong in her will and strong in her faith and though she was never alone she went there by herself.
copyright 2017, joseph e bird photo copyright 2017, joseph e bird
I saw Bob Foster in the coffee shop Saturday. I asked about his daughter, Julie, who graduated from our small town high school in St. Albans, WV and made it to the big time working in New York City as an architectural preservationist. But she doesn’t just sit at a desk and review historic documents. She rappels down New York skyscrapers with a camera and a hammer and inspects for deteriorating masonry. Yep, that’s a thing. She was one of the preservationists featured on the Today show recently. She’s in the group scene at the end.
Bob told us that to allay the fears of her mother, she told her that she doesn’t rappel down buildings more than 60 stories. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t exactly true. As if 90 stories is any more dangerous than 60. Click the link below to see the Today show clip.