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Joseph E Bird

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Writing

the long walk

pier for web

There were a few people on the beach, walking slowly, their heads down, scanning the sand for surprises from the deep that always appeared after a storm. A yellow umbrella pitched in the sand near the surf caught her eye and though she couldn’t see, she knew there was an old man underneath, his skin dark and leathery from his years in the sun, his shirt – a short-sleeved button-up, despite the cool weather – bleached a pale blue. There was a tackle box by his side and an always empty creel, though surely he would catch something sometime. Surely. He would sit in his beach chair and smile anyway, as if he knew he were part of the scene, part of what the people from the city expected to see when they came with their pale flesh, soon to be pink flesh, to walk on the hard, grainy sands and evaluate their lives and make big plans that would carry them back to their tedious jobs and their monotonous neighborhoods with a feeling of hope that would last a couple of weeks, maybe three, before comfortable complacency engulfed them once again and relieved them of any responsibility of living a more meaningful life. And it always happened on days like this one, not in the bright of a too hot day where the heat and lotions and kids crying in the distance worked to produce nothing better than a brief nap, followed by a short walk to the water to cool the feet, maybe venture in up to the knees, but never farther. No, the deep contemplation happened on the overcast days where the obligatory roasting in the sun was excused and those with no inclination for inner reflection went to the mall, while those who still had hope went on the long walk to the pier.


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

and the darkness he called night

“I guess I misjudged how quickly the darkness falls.”

— Heather Roth, from the novel Heather Girl


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

i can’t work like this

Adena Springs

Yesterday I drove from Lexington to Louisville along the Bluegrass Parkway.  It was mile after mile of picturesque, bucolic, pastoral scenery, on what had to be the most beautiful day of the year. It is impossible to have gloomy thoughts while making this drive on a day like that.

Utterly impossible.

How can one ponder the human condition when the day is perfect?

How can a writer let his imagination wander to the struggles of mankind when the grass is so green?

Writers need the the grit of the dark alley.

Writers need the longing promise of the empty train platform.

Writers at least need some rain, or run-down barns, or the crusty old farm hand thinking about his past.

There’s another part of Kentucky – eastern Kentucky – that’s ripe for stories.  But not this stretch of highway.

No way.


Photo Credit: Walt Roycraft.  The photo is the property of GRW, my employer.  The architects of GRW design, among other things, equine facilities.  This is the site of one of our projects, the Adena Springs Horse Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Very much like the scenery I passed on my way to Louisville.

how to squander your right to vote

I tried to vote today.

Of course that’s not the story.  I vote in every election, if I’m able.  Last year (I think it was last year) I voted by filling in circles with an ink pen, just like I did on high school tests back in the olden days.

But technology has finally arrived to the backwoods corner of my world.  This morning at 7:15, I arrived at the polling place to find brand new touch screen voting machines.  The poll workers felt obligated to teach me how to use them.  Not that I couldn’t figure it out by myself.

So I slide in the ballot to get things going and start touching away.  I knew some of the candidates, but rather than vote for people I don’t know anything about, I’ll skip to the next office until I see a candidate in which I have some confidence. On these new machines, it meant I touched “Next”.  I did that a lot.

I finally finished and then the machine started making me review all my choices.  I didn’t have time to do that.  I had to drive to Lexington.  More on that in a little bit.  I needed to end the voting exercise.  So I hit “Exit.”

And out came my ballot.

I took it to the next station where it was inserted into the magic vote counting machine. The magic machine spit it back out.  They tried again.  Same result.

“Did you hit Exit?”

“Yes.”

“You weren’t supposed to do that.”

“Oh.”

“You should have hit Print.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, Jimmy.  He hit Exit.  What do we do?”

“He should have hit Print.”

“That’s what I told him.”

“Try it again.”

“We did.  It didn’t work.”

They huddled to consider the options.

“Nevermind.  I have to go.”

“But sir.  We’ll figure it out.”

“I don’t have time.”

They were still huddled when I left.

It’s ok.  The people I vote for never win anyway.

this morning

fog for web

this morning the skies are gray and the air is warm and dry like a mid-summer day.

this morning i stopped at Tim Horton’s and got a cup of oatmeal and a black coffee.

this morning i sit in my office planning for a day of phone calls and emails, and too little design.

this morning when i was young i worked outside tilling the soil and tending the plants and earning callouses on my hands.

this morning the birds call out in the quiet, reminding me of the days i worked the earth and toiled in sweat.

this morning it’s quiet inside, but soon the phone will ring and my day will start and i’ll forget this thought.

this morning i want to go outside and hoe the ground and smell the richness of the compost and eat lunch in the shade.

this morning the train rumbles on the tracks two blocks away and the bus roars by and and a siren wails.

this morning, like any other morning.


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

dystopia

kmart for web

what’s that building?

it used to be a store.

a store?

people used to go there to buy things.

what kind of things?

clothes.  paint.  medicine.  watches.  televisions.  tools.

why didn’t they just order it?

it was different then.  people wanted to see what they were getting.

why?

i don’t know.  something about feeling the heft of a hammer in your hands.  seeing how a watch looked on your wrist.  or shoes on your feet.

seems like a lot of trouble.

i guess.  sometimes they’d sell hot dogs out front. or brownies.

why?

cheerleaders raising money for uniforms.  veterans helping veterans.

what’s a veteran?

people who went to war defending our freedom.

war is bad, isn’t it?

yeah.  it can get complicated.

why is there so much pavement in front?

people used to drive cars.

you mean ride in cars?

no.  they actually drove cars.  everybody had a car.  they’d keep it at home and drive it to the store.

no way.

yes. and they’d leave their cars all over the pavement while they went in the store and shopped.

that’s just crazy.

maybe.  but it worked.  i met your grandmother in that store.

was she shopping?

no.  she was a cashier.

what’s that?

we used to buy things with money.  dollar bills.  coins.  we’d pay the cashier before we left with whatever we bought.

grandma was a cashier?

i went to the store a lot.  bought things i really didn’t need just for the chance to talk to her.

why didn’t you use an app?

you can’t flirt with an app.

why do you need to flirt?

you don’t.  it’s just part of the dance.

you danced, grandpa?

oh yeah.  we danced, all right.

so what’s with the rocket?

beats me.  we never did figure that out.

rocket for web


The first photo is the former K-Mart in my small town, closed just a few weeks ago.  It’s unsettling how deserted the parking lot is now.  To the right, just out of the frame, a Kroger store continues to thrive, so it’s not quite the apocalypse.  Not yet.  The sign in the second photo is soliciting tenants for the vacant building.  In the background, across the highway on the riverbank, is the rocket of St. Albans.  I’ve lived here all (most) of my life and have no idea why we have a rocket on the riverbank by the highway.


images and story copyright 2018, joseph e bird

 

 

it’s a west virginia thing

The temperature and humidity were rising as she drove farther south and just outside of Montgomery she stopped for gas at a convenience store, filled her tank, and went inside for a cold drink. When she came back out, she paid no attention to the car parked at the pump behind her.

“West Virginia, almost heaven.”

She turned to look. A black man, about her age, wearing a tattered ball cap. He was smiling,

She gave him a friendly look and unlocked her car.

“Your license plate.” He pointed to the back end of her car. “I’m from there.”

She stopped. She couldn’t resist.

“Where?”

“McDowell County.”

It was a West Virginia thing. If you’re from southern West Virginia, you’re identified with your county, not your town. Mingo County. Boone County. Lincoln County. McDowell was the poorest of the poor. She didn’t have to ask why he left. The decline of the coal industry affected everyone in southern West Virginia. As the jobs left, the drugs came in. Anybody with any hope for the future left. At least that’s the way she saw it.

“I’m from Charleston.”


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

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.

new york morning

sunday morning
by myself
and it’s cold
in the shade
of the tall buildings
as I unlock the doors
of the parish
a full hour before
the service begins

and I know where
she’ll be sitting
her hair falling
onto her shoulders
her brown eyes
and that perfect
practiced
professional
smile

because she is an
actor
like so many are
but she really is
and she is so
nice and friendly
and unpretentious
and
perfect

so perfect
and I can
do no more than
look her way
when she lingers
afterward
by the heavy doors
reading her bulletin
waiting

she has my heart
without knowing
but she is
perfect
and I am me
and the holy
and the profane
can not
be together

but I speak
and
she smiles
and I ask
her name
and I shake
her hand
and I tell her
my name

and I ask
where she’s
from because
everybody has
come to new york
from somewhere else
in search
of
something

cincinnati, she says

now I’m smiling

I’ve seen the
reds play there
I’ve skated
on the ice
at fountain square
and looked out
over the city
from the top
of carew tower

and I turn off the lights
and lock
the heavy doors
and she waits
in the cool
sunday shadows
and we walk
together
in the new york morning


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

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