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Joseph E Bird

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Johnny B. Goode

We’re a little late,
but still there before
most everyone else.

They’re setting up,
these two guitar players,
these two singers.

One of their microphones
isn’t working,
so I run home and get one of mine.

.

Can you play Wipeout?
Standard question
back in the 60s.

And we played it.
At least a ragged version.
We were just kids.

Hey there Little Red Riding Hood
You sure are looking good
You’re everything that a big bad wolf could want.

.

I plug the mic in.
More people are here now.
They play some classic folk-rock

These two friends
are good by themselves,
even better together.

One of the boys joins in,
then a drummer
with a cajon.

.

There is a house
in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun

Same chords,
same progression
as Little Red Riding Hood.

We only knew a few songs.
Never got any good,
never played a coffee house.

.

The place is packed now.
I can’t even see the guys
for all the people.

Their sound is getting lost
in the conversations
and laughter.

They’re having a blast.
Their tip jar has a few bucks
and they’re still going strong.

.

Busted flat in Baton Rouge.
Waiting for a train,
and feeling near as faded as my jeans.

I can almost get it.
But not quite.
Not quite.

Salina, I’m as nowhere as I can be.
I play along as Scott and Seth
sing through the tinny speaker on my phone.

.

But these guys tonight are
playing real music,
in real time, and they’re really good.

The rhythms are right,
the chords are strong,
and the songs are great.

But it’s time to leave,
and as the glass door closes behind us,
we hear Johnny B. Goode tonight.

 

heather – final edit

I’ve finished editing my novel, Heather Girl.  I eliminated all of the adverbs, all of the cliches, all of the unrealistic dialogue, all of the exposition, all of the backstory narrative, the non-engaging beginning, all of the parts where the author intrudes on the story, all of the parts that don’t develop the character or move the story forward, all of the simply boring parts, and the inconclusive ending.  In its place is a new, happy ending.  Here is the novel in its entirety.


Heather Girl

Heather is sick and is mad at her father.   Her father has Alzheimer’s.  So nothing really gets resolved.

And then she found five dollars.

The End.


Thank you all for playing along.  Unfortunately, there are no parting gifts.

joe

a bird lights on the ground

we sit
the two of us
at a table outside
on this warm evening

there’s not much to be said
because we’ve spent our words
and must wait for others
to come forth
and they will
because they always do

so we listen
to the birds flitting
in the trees
and the cars driving by
and to the people around us
talking

and we hear words spoken
but not sentences
and not stories
their words are simply
sounds that soften
the edges of our silence

the nothingness
is peace itself
and it holds us still
and a bird lights on the ground
next to our feet
and cocks its head

at the next table
a young girl offers the bird a crumb
and the young man who is with her smiles
and though they talk
we hear nothing
but their easy voices

and we sit
the two of us
at a table outside
on this warm evening


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

missing

empty bench 2

He used to come by every couple of weeks.

My office has a back door to the alley, and every so often I’d hear the thump, thump, thump, and I knew it was Keith because no one else ever knocked on the door.  He lives in a high-rise in Dunbar, a couple of towns over.  He takes the bus to St. Albans, sometimes to Charleston.  You used to see him everywhere.  He’d show up at church on Sunday mornings, but never went inside to hear the sermon.  He’d stay out in the narthex with the ushers.  I sensed he never felt comfortable among the Sunday best.

When he’d show up during the week, I’d go to the back door when I heard his knock and we’d catch up for a couple of minutes.  He’d tell me about his daughter, who like him, battled addiction.  We’d talk about his counselor, Lisa, who seemed to be very good to him.  Helped him get through the everyday tasks of life, like keeping groceries in his apartment and making sure he had a good coat for the winter.

“What are you up to today?” I’d ask.

“I guess I’ll go back to Serenity Club,” was a common answer.  The Serenity Club, I gathered, was a safe place for those battling addiction to go and hang out.  Back near his high-rise.

I’d give him a couple of dollars for a cup of coffee and off he’d go.

Halfway down the alley he’d turn and yell, “Thank you, Joe.”  He was appreciative.

But he’s been missing.

I didn’t seem him through last winter.  Probably just staying in, I told myself.  Then spring became summer and I realized that I hadn’t heard his knock on the door for some time.  I began asking around.  Nobody had seen him.  He has relatives who go to our church but no one knew anything about him.

A few weeks ago I drove to Dunbar.  I knew where the Serenity Club was so I drove around the neighborhood looking for him.  Nothing.

This past Tuesday my wife and I were in Dunbar visiting an old neighbor in the nursing home.  We drove by the Serenity Club.  A man and a woman sat on a bench in the alley.  I parked the car and approached them.

“Is the Serenity Club around here?”  I asked, even though I was pretty sure of its location.

“You’re looking at it,” he answered as he thumbed to the building behind him.

“I’m looking for a friend who used to come here.  Keith.”  I told him his last name.

“Never heard of him.  What’s he look like?”

“In his 70s, I think.  Not too tall.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell.  How long ago was he here?”

I didn’t really know.  I told him I thought he had been coming for years.  Keith is not the kind of guy you easily forget.

We drove to the high-rise.  A half dozen people sat outside under the entry canopy.  I asked the same question.  I got puzzled looks in response.  Nobody knew Keith.  As if he had never existed.

I got back in the car and circled the lot.  As I turned the corner, I noticed a man walking down the sidewalk beside the high-rise.

“There he is!”

I stopped.  My wife got out.

“Keith!  Where have you been?” she says.

He stops.  He looks confused.  “Who are you?”

I’m thinking this isn’t a good sign.

“It’s Joe and Gloria.”

“Oh.  Hey.  What are you doing here?”  Turns out it was just the sun in his eyes keeping him from recognizing us.

I tell him the story.  That we’ve been looking for him.  Been missing him.  Told him I stopped by the Serenity Club but nobody knew Keith.

“Nobody knows me as Keith.  They know me as Harry.”

“Harry?”

“Keith is my middle name.  I go by Harry.”

All these years, I’ve called him Keith.  Everyone I know who knows him calls him Keith.  He’s never corrected us.  Even his relatives call him Keith.  And then I realize that those who really know him, those who live with him, those with whom he spends his days, call him Harry.

So we spend a few minutes catching up.  He fell sometime in the last year and busted his knee cap.  He seems to be completely recovered but he doesn’t travel around like he used to.  Just stays around the high-rise and the Serenity Club.

His daughter died.  I didn’t ask how, just assumed she finally lost her battle.  Keith is still winning his.  Twenty-three years coming up in a week or so.  His anniversary date is also his birthday.

He’s had a hard life.  The roller coaster, as he says.  It’s worn on him.  You can see it in his eyes.  But if you look closer, you can see the warmth, too.  There’s a kindness about him.

He introduces us to some of his friends at the high-rise.  Friends from church, he calls us.  We all have a laugh about the Keith-Harry confusion.  It’s clear they like Harry.  He seems happy and content.

We give him a few dollars to celebrate his upcoming anniversary/birthday.  We promise to come back and see him.  As we leave, Keith gives us a wave.  But he’s Harry now, back among those who know him best.

the genius of Andrew Spradling

Harper Stowe.

Exhibit A in the case for the genius of Andrew Spradling.  The name of the female protagonist in his novel-in-progress.  She’s a detective.  Even now, you’re painting the picture of Harper Stowe.  That’s what a good name can do.  Genius.

Hilton Head.

Exhibit B.  The setting.  The vacation destination of choice for the moneyed crowd.  The beautiful people.  The extravagant homes.  The attitude of privilege.  Rich in possibilities.  Genius.

The Killer.

Yeah, it’s that kind of story.  Why else would you need Harper Stowe?  But Andy takes us inside the killer’s head with first-person vignettes that are chilling.  Exhibit C.  Genius.

The Obituary.

Obituaries used to be written by a professional at the newspaper.  Now they’re written by a family member.  Some are good, most are soon forgotten.  There is one such forgettable obituary in Andy’s story.  As I was reading it as part of the Shelton College Review, I was wondering why it was included in the novel.  It was written by the killer.  About his wife.  And in the obituary, dripping with the usual sentiment and over-stated tribute to the lost loved-one, are subtle glimpses into the the killer’s psyche.  I wonder if Harper Stowe will notice.  Yeah.  Cause she’s Harper Stowe.  Genius.

This is going to be a good one.  Probably be finished in time for next summer’s beach trip.  Just don’t take a copy to Hilton Head.

 

life above the common

Mohler1911
Mohler House, St. Albans, WV, 1911

Life above the common.

I really like that phrase.  I stole it from Larry Ellis.  It’s the theme of his novel-in-progress about Rachel, a young woman, who, upon the death of her husband, faces a choice.  She can either take her life insurance proceeds and live the good life sipping margaritas on the beach, or do something far more risky in the hope of building a life with meaning and purpose, one whose legacy will endure long after she is gone.   For Rachel, there is no choice.

She’ll buy the house – the house that once was a symbol of everything that was right and good about her town – and sink her savings into its restoration.  Not for her own vain pleasure, and not for the sake of an unrealistic nostalgic vision, but for the people of Walhonde, who may see in its restoration as a home, who may see in its revitalization as a community cornerstone, a shining example of what can be achieved when the choice is made to live life above the common.

It’s not the easy choice.  It’s the idea reflected in the West Point Cadet Prayer.

“Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”


Larry’s novel is inspired by the real-life Mohler House, located in our small town of St. Albans, West Virginia.  In the novel, the name of the town is changed to Walhonde.  Though a tale of fiction, Larry weaves historical facts about the house into the narrative which occurs in the present, but is supported by the legacy of the men and women who shaped the town – and the world – in the early 1900s.   You can read excerpts here.

church

Just a closer walk with Thee.
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Darnell downstairs, singing. The clang of the skillet on the stove. Breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

She closed her eyes, tried to find more sleep, but the sun was lighting the room and Darnell wouldn’t stop singing, though he just kept repeating the same refrain, and the banging pots were like an alarm set to repeat every two minutes. So she got up and put on her clothes from the day before and made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

I come to the garden alone.

At least he had changed songs.

Her father sat at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him. She went straight to the counter and poured herself a cup.

Darnell still hadn’t noticed her.

While the dew is still on the roses.

She went back to the table and pulled out a chair and sat with her father.

“You boys are up early.”

Darnell turned around.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will be rejoice and be glad in it.”

“Sure.”

“Scrambled eggs?”

“Sure.”

He pulled three plates from the cabinet and dished out eggs on each one, then two strips of bacon, then toast.

“You’re going to make someone a happy wife someday, Darnell.”

He laughed and took his place at the table.

“Bow your head, Pops.”

And he did, as did Heather, but she didn’t close her eyes.

“Dear Lord, thank you for another day of life, another Lord’s day, and for this wonderful food you have provided. Be with our family, Lord, and bless us and draw us closer to you. Amen.”

She looked up. Her father’s head was still bowed. Maybe he was praying.

“Ok, Pops. You can eat now.”

He looked up, first at Darnell, then at Heather.

“Pip.”

“Good morning, Daddy.”

And they ate.

Her right arm felt funny. Under the table, her right leg twitched. She switched to her left hand.

“You prayed for your family. Back in Texas?”

Darnell was about to take a bite of his toast, but stopped and put it back on his plate.

“No, ma’am. I don’t have family in Texas. I mean I have relatives, but no family.” He held his hands out over the table. “This family. Us.” He picked up his toast and took a bite.

There’s different kinds of family.

So said the roughneck-turned-tackle shop owner.. The full-time philosopher and quiz show aficionado. Lucas.

Well, this one was different, for sure.

“What constitutes a family, Darnell?”

He took another bite of toast and studied on an answer.

“I don’t know if I can proper answer that. It’s not like I been studying on the situation and come to a conscious conclusion. It just feels like family. You’re like a sister. Maybe a little like a Mom. And Pops is Pops.” He shrugged. “Family.”

Part of her wanted to argue. This was no family, despite the fact that there was a biological link sitting right across the table, staring at his eggs, chewing on a strip of bacon, completely unaware of the conversation going on right in front of him. Her father? No. At best an empty shell. Worse, a selfish, uncaring man who took away her mother. Her father was just a dusty memory. And Darnell a brother? Just because he takes care of her father and helps around the house and runs errands for her and cooks breakfast, doesn’t mean he’s family. She could get the same service from a temp agency. And besides, it was all temporary. They’d both be going back to Texas before too long. House guests was more like it. And guests was being generous.

Still, the eggs were good, and the morning was peaceful. And if she were being truthful, it beat having a bowl of cold cereal by herself.

Darnell was humming Just a Closer Walk with Thee.

“Wish I could remember the words. All I know is the chorus.”

“Can’t help you there.”

She knew the hymn. At least it was familiar. Maybe from the times she went to church with her mother as a child. Maybe from the radio or television or a scene in a movie. The tune was easy and soothing and the kind of melody that would find a home in the mind and drift to the heart and grow into the soul and become a part of the collective memory that would come forth unexpectedly and bring with it a wash of sentimentality.

The smell of bacon would linger as the eggs disappeared and the coffee cooled. The last bite of toast with strawberry jam. The quiet clinking of silverware on the plates ceased and all was quiet. Soon the day would begin in earnest. Even if this were Darnell’s contrived family, it was nice.

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

“Thanks, Darnell.”

“You’re welcome. Me and Pops are going to church this morning. You should come with us.”

And there was the other aspect of her unknown father she hadn’t taken the time or made the effort to reconcile. He had never been a church-going man. He was, at first, her good father, always there for her, always including her and making her feel special. He just didn’t go to church. That was her mother’s thing. And their family had been just fine without church. Although looking back she wasn’t sure how true that was. Then he murdered her mother, went to prison, and found religion. It was a cliché that hardly warranted consideration. And it wasn’t like she could have a conversation about it even if she wanted to. His mind was gone, and with it, all memories, logic, reason, and explanations of anything that would make sense of his life, or his life with her mother, or his role as a father. If it was all incomprehensible to him, how could she ever understand?


copyright 2018, joseph e bird; from the novel Heather Girl

zeb

This, my friends from around the world, is what Appalachian music is all about.  Not that I don’t love other music.  Just check out my Music page.  (Note to self:  Post some Foo Fighters, man.)  But everything about this video speaks to my world.  Zeb in his ball cap and his very non-millennial, non-hipster, Appalachian beard. The sled leaning against the wall.  The wood-burning stove.  Even the name.  Zeb.

And how can he be so good?  So easy?

The best part is Zeb Snyder and the Snyder Family Band is coming to my little town of St. Albans in June for the first ever YakFest.  Can’t wait.

the race is not to the swift

shoes 1 for web

This morning one of my New York friends, Cat Bradley, was describing her first experience with mile repeats.  Yeah, you know what those are.  Run a mile at an elevated pace, recover with a slow jog (or walk) for a few minutes, then run another mile at an elevated pace.  Repeat.  For as long as you can do it.  Ahh, such fun.

Now Cat is young.  I am old.  I used to do those.  I still do speedwork and intervals when I’m able. But here’s the thing: my body won’t let me do what I used to do.  It’s one annoying minor injury after another.  Definitely age related.  My latest is a calf strain that’s kept me from putting in the miles.

Last Saturday morning I was at the church working in the garden with our spring work crew and a block away, runners gathered at the starting line. The gun goes off and the hoard runs past.  I so much wanted to be with them.  I love those times when you push yourself and see where you are, see what you’re made of.

And I will again.  This age thing has some benefits.  One, you learn patience.  I’ll be back.  I’ll do those long Sunday runs again.  I’ll do the intervals on my lunch hour.  I’ll run a few of those Saturday morning races.

I also know that I won’t be as fast as I was five years ago.  I won’t run as far as I did twenty years ago.  And the good thing is, I don’t want to.  I love running, but I also love writing, and playing my guitar, and being with my family, and having a relaxing breakfast on Saturdays.

Still, when you’re young like Cat, you have to do it.  It’s part of finding out who you are.

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