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Joseph E Bird

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literary writing

monika

a photograph of monika
her reflection in the glass
of the empty train
as time passes
with the sound
of the wheels
across the steel
of the tracks

there are no conversations
and no hidden meanings
in furtive glances
and no possibility
with the man
with dark eyes
because he’s not there
and never was

a newspaper
is folded on the seat
left behind by those
who have come before
and knew of the day
and of its end
and are now
home quietly

days upon days
and nights upon nights
weeks and
months and
years upon years
the mundane
passing of time
a blessing and curse

waiting and hoping
for meaning
beyond the ordinary
until one person
sees her reflection in the glass
on the empty train
and knows loneliness
no more


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

Kiss me, you fool.

woman with a clarinet

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

I know she wasn’t talking to me, but, yeah, she was talking to me. I know she was even though she wasn’t. Sometimes you just know.

I ain’t into music. I mean I like rock and roll but that ain’t music, you know what I mean? It’s just rock and roll. What these guys were playing wasn’t that by a mile. I don’t know what you call it, cause I ain’t into music.

The singer was a complete dork with a guitar bigger than he was. And they had one of them big fiddles and another dork slapping on the strings, p-thub, p-thub, p-thub. Some puny fellow with hair sticking up in ever direction played one of them whiny little guitars. And a fiddle player. Regular fiddle tucked under the chin. I would of thought maybe they was a country band, but then there’s the trumpet player, a tall, lanky drink of water who thought he was all that, but to me he was just a goof. Had one of them mufflers stuck in the end of his horn that made it sound weird. So I don’t guess they was country.

It was Jess’s plan. Me and Hoby went along with it cause we pretty much go along with all of Jess’s plans. Usually turns out ok.

Now the fact that I spent the night in lock-up, and the fact that I’m likely gonna spend some time in the house, don’t mean it wasn’t a good plan. Sometimes that’s just how things work out.

Besides, I’d spend six months in the hole if I knew Charlotte was waiting on me when I got out.

Kiss me, you fool.

Yeah, she was talking to me.

Number one, I’m a fool. Always have been. Been hard for me to live a sensible life. Guys like Jess and Hoby come calling and I’m off. More often than not things end in trouble but that’s ok. What’s the point of living if you can’t get into some trouble now and then?

Number two, I’ve always had a way with the ladies. Maybe it’s the bad boy thing. Maybe it’s cause I’m the quiet one. Jess and Hoby always looking for attention. Me, I just sit back and let the game come to me.

So, yeah, it’s only natural that Charlotte would notice.

She was the clarinet player in the band of weirdos. I didn’t know what a clarinet was at the time, just looked like some kind pipe she was holding. Being the only girl in the group, she was hard not to notice. She wore a red dress that fell down below her knees. Dirty brown hair. I don’t mean her hair was dirty, it just kind of colored that way. A little too skinny for my tastes, but she was a girl, so you noticed, even though overall she was kind of plain. At least I thought so at first.  Not the kind of girl that old Connie would hook up with. Conrad, as my mother calls me. My friends call me Connie, which I like all right. It’s good for starting fights with wannabe tough guys.

Hanging in the bar was part of the plan. So that night we’re in El Poopo’s or whatever the name of the joint was. It was the first one we came to when we were walking down the street. The plan was this: We were going to hang out in the bar for a couple hours. Blend in. Just three dudes in the crowd. We was going to wait until the night started to wind down cause it’d be easier to pull off, plus there’d be more money in the till.

I was sitting up next to the end of the bar by myself, which also put me right up next to the stage. When the time was right, Jess and Hoby was to start something. They was going to go at it pretty quick, cause if it was just a bunch of hollering, the bouncer would throw them out before it got going. They had to throw punches and try to drag a few more into it while they was at it. Then, when all hell broke loose, I’m supposed to slide behind the bar and grab some cash. A little fun, a little green. No big robbery or nothing like that, just a little cash and dash.

Ok, yeah, now that I say it out loud, it sounds like pretty bad plan.

Truth is, I don’t think none of us thought we’d go through with it. I figured we’d end up drinking and having a good time and nothing would come of it. And I’d probably been three sheets to the wind had it been a rock and roll band. Hell, I’d probably been three sheets to the wind if Charlotte hadn’t been in that dopey band of flake bats. But she was. And even though she was the only girl in the band, and the more I studied on her, the better she looked, she still hadn’t hooked me. She looked like she was dressed for Sunday morning church. I like my women with a little more edge.

The band had been playing when we got there, some kind of rockabilly that might been respectful if they had played it like Skynard might have played it. They followed that up with some jazz crap that just wasn’t doing it, but there was a lot of them beatnik types with their fashion model beards and their cute little jeans with the rolled up cuffs and they seemed to like the dorky guitar player. Whatever. I ordered another beer.

Then they played a slow song. A sad song. I ain’t into music but I know blues when I hear it and that’s what they launched into. Ok. I could handle that. Dorko was singing and the big fiddle player quit thumping on that thing and plucked the strings soft and slow. Then Dorko quit singing and turned to Charlotte.

I never heard nothing like it. She made that clarinet cry, playing notes long and sad, then a run of notes together going from low to high and back down again, her fingers dancing over them little holes on that pipe. I don’t know how long she played but it wasn’t long enough. Dorko ruined it with his guitar and whiny voice. But it was too late. She’d hooked me.

So I paced myself. Cause in my mind, in my twisted reality, I knew me and her was meant to be. And when I finally get a chance to talk to her, I wanted my wits to be with me.

I looked over at Jess and Hoby and they was talking to some girls, drinking like there was no tomorrow. I relaxed a little, thinking Jess would just forget about the fight and the stealing and just sit back and have a good time. Suited me just fine. Me and Charlotte had our destiny to fulfill.

So the band goes back to whatever crazy music they play. Thumping on that fiddle, goofball tooting his horn. Even Charlotte was into it, but that’s ok. You got to do what you got to do. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She smiled at me once or twice. Pretty sure. I was hard not to miss sitting so close. I smiled back.

By the time I was on my fourth beer, I was starting to want the night over, hoping the band was winding down and I’d get a chance to work my charms on Charlotte. Jess and Hoby was still going at it, but Hoby looked a little agitated. Dang. Maybe they was going to go through with it after all.

Then the band played something different. Slower. The drummer played a kind of shuffling sound. Made me think of walking by myself on the street, walking up to Charlotte. She’s leaning on the handrail of one of the walk-ups down on Fourteenth Street. Somebody’s singing but it ain’t Dorko. I think maybe it’s the horn player. Got a deep, gravelly voice. And Charlotte sees me from down the street. I’m walking slow, shuffling like the drum. I’m a few feet away. She’s wearing that red dress, but now it don’t look like a church dress, cause she looks too good to be wearing it to church. She’s looking down at her matching red shoes. Then looks up at me, locks eyes with me.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

Ok, I know I was just making up the scene in my head, and truth is, maybe I made it up after the fact, but she said those words that night. So smokey, so hot. It was part of that slow song. And when she said it, she was looking right at me. For sure. Right at me. Probably.

Then that gravelly voice was singing again.

I was sweating. Trying to catch my breath. Cause Charlotte does that to me. Every time.

I finished my beer and looked back at Jess and Hoby. They was jawing at each other. Didn’t seem like they was putting on, either.

Please let this be your last song. I’m just about out of time.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

Then that tinny trumpet sound and I could tell the song was winding down.

And behind me, a big crash. It was on.

Dang.

I wanted to let it play out. Just let Jess and Hoby get thrown out of the bar. I could tell them later that me and Charlotte had a thing going on.

I looked back at the band they was all watching, their eyes wide. Charlotte, too. Another crash. Hoby threw some dude across a table. Two more got into it. Jess looked at me and winked just as the bouncer grabbed him around the neck and punched him the face.

I had to do my part.

The bartender was down at the end of the bar helping a couple of girls climb over to get out of the way of fight. I took out the small pry bar out of my jacket, slipped behind the bar, opened the cash drawer, grabbed a hand full and started to make my way out. It took all of seven seconds. I was just about at the door when somebody grabbed me by the collar. I looked around and it was the bartender. He looked back to the stage. Charlotte nodded. She ratted me out.

They dragged me out there before I even knew her name.  Course these days stuff like that’s easy to figure out.

That was two weeks ago.  I go before the judge tomorrow for my sentencing. I’m hoping for probation but if he sends me to the house for a spell, I’m ok with that.

I’m cleaning up my act. No more drinking. Not that I was a fall down drunk, and I when I was in the middle of one of Jess’s plans, it was a total blast. But there was always some kind of mess to clean up the next day. And truth is, I’d never have a chance at someone like Charlotte being the low-life thug that I was.

So, yeah, I’m cleaning up my act. No more Jess or Hoby, either. And no more Connie. I’m Conrad now, just like my momma intended.

Speaking of momma, I went to church with her last Sunday. Not sure if church life is for me, but hey, they talk about forgiveness and starting over and hell, that’s a good place to start. Pardon my language. Got to work on that, too.

And someday Charlotte’s going to say it for real.

Come on over here, Conrad.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.


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.

copyright 2018, joseph e bird
photo credit: iStock

Writing Tip – Go Back. Way Back.

Have you ever lost your way?

Lost your vision?

Lost your purpose?

As you know, I’ve been working on Heather Girl for a while now, taking my time, letting the story unfold gently, getting to know the characters.  I’m about two-thirds through.  I’ve passed the dreaded middle section and should be cruising to the finish line.

And yet, as I stare at the computer screen, I wonder if it’s all been a wasted effort. Sure, I’ve written a scene or two that I’m fond of, but I worry that there’s not enough story. Maybe I should just trash it all.

So I went back to the beginning. To that first sentence I wrote. The first paragraph. The first chapter.

I met Heather all over again.

And I remembered.

I remembered why I started this in the first place. Remembered why I like her.   Remembered why I have to tell her story, from beginning to end.

I wonder if this technique might work for other art forms.

I can see an artist, not sure where a painting is going, looking back at the first sketch in the notebook that inspired the painting. Or a musician, caught up in working out the third verse, going back to that first phrase, or that first chord progression that got her started. Even the runner, working through an injury, finding joy in just running a mile again.

It helps to remember why you’re doing something in the first place.

Go back.

and here comes the man

and here comes the man
with hat in his hand
and here comes the man
who can’t understand

he pleads
and he begs
and he asks for forgiveness

he’s told
to get out
it’s none of his business

go back
do your job
and leave us to dreaming

your thoughts
are of naught
don’t bother our scheming

and he tries
to be wise
and arise
through the lies
and see light
shine
above it all
.

and here comes the girl
eyes bright in the sun
and here comes the girl
with hearts to be won

she plans
and she dreams
to be the good mother

she loves
and she cares
with no thoughts of another

they see
that she lives
a life of the old ways

no job
no career
and nothing to earn praise

and she tries
to be wise
and arise
through the lies
and see light
shine
above it all

.

and here comes the thief
to steal in the night
and here comes the thief
to lead us to light

we fight
and resist
and cling beyond reason

we pray
and we know
that it can’t be our season

we push
through our pain
and battle the strife

till love
overcomes
and gives us new life

and we try
to be wise
and arise
through the lies
and see light
shine
above it all


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

Glory

This from poet laureate of the Shelton College Review, Larry Ellis.


Psalm 57: 8

Awake up, my glory; awake psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.


Think of David as he lies on the mountain

He looks at the night sky

Unending, unfathomable, unreachable

The diamond stars

The firmament that declares the glory of God

And he aches

His heart panting like the hart after the waterbrook

At his side are sword, spear and bow

His body is cut from oak, his skin like leather

His mind a blade itself, with razor’s edge

He breathes the open air and the day’s tension dissolves

He rests in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty

.

This man who killed the giant

And tens of thousands

Hears heaven’s choir and plays on his harp

Songs that soothe the savage breast of Saul

His poems are those very psalms

That have charmed and inspired

Over millennia

And he aches

.

At first light, at first rustling of dawn

He turns and shakes away sleep

Here is a new day

He rises, believing the promise

“Awake up, my glory”

.

What is his glory?

One more win in bloody combat?

Or is it that unknowable thing

That all men share with him

That desire beneath all desires

That lesser men have long since forgotten

And forfeited to the unrelenting fates

That lesser men are afraid to confess

.

Does David wake early

Expecting glory in bloodshed

Or does he crave

That his righteousness will shine like the dawn

And the justice of his cause like the noonday sun?

Does he crave that gift, that grace, that dispensation

That is his and his alone?

That unspeakable grace promised to him

When he first came to know himself?

.

Is the difference between him and me

That he believes it will happen

And maybe this very day

And so he wakes early

And takes in hand

Psaltery and harp


Copyright 2017, Larry Ellis

running and writing

If you’re a runner, you know the feeling.

Every now and then, it all comes together.  You’ve trained just enough, you’ve found just enough rest, your legs feel fresh, the weather is just right, and you’re running as if you’re weightless, moving fast and smooth, and as the miles click off, you never slow down and you wish you could run that way forever.

Not so much for me, lately, as I struggle to get back on the road.

Writing has a similar zone, one that I haven’t felt for a while.  It’s been a rocky year and  I’ve had difficulty in finding a rhythm. Just the ordinary trials of life that we all face. The week of Thanksgiving our furnace was out.  It was so cold in the house I couldn’t put two words together. Then there’s work (the paying job) and work at home (the basement remodeling project) that have been conspiring against my mind and body.

But Sunday morning I found it. After a tenuous start, the words started to flow. Just enough training, just enough rest, my mind felt fresh, the room felt right, and I was writing as if I were weightless, so fast and smooth, and as the words clicked off, I never slowed down and I felt like I could write that way forever.

truth in fiction

“The consolation of imaginary things

is not imaginary consolation.”

— Roger Scruton

across the room

she smiles at him from across the room.
she means nothing.
well, of course she means something,
because she’s the kind of person
whose heart can do nothing
but smile,
because she’s the kind of person
who cares and loves and can do nothing
but smile.
even at this young man
who is a stranger who she will
never see again.
and because he is there,
she smiles.

and he will think of her
in the days to come
and will visit the coffee shop
again and again in hopes of catching
her smile
once more.
and he will think of her
in the weeks and months and years to come
because one day she made him
feel worthwhile
and he will love her
forever.

ok.
maybe not forever.
that’s a really long time.
and it’s not really love.
but, he thinks,
given the chance,
it might have been.
because he can’t help himself.
anything is possible.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

tomorrow will come

sid-on-porch-for-web

tomorrow will come, and i’ll sing an old song
and think of the day, that the words came along
i didn’t know then, that song was my last
i didn’t know then, that time flies so fast

tomorrow will come, and i’ll look toward the sun
and remember the spring, when i went for a run
i didn’t know then, that it was my last
i didn’t know then, that time flies so fast.

so remember the day, of all that was good
when youth was forever, we’d play when we would
remember the day, of life with no fears
tomorrow is coming, and with it the tears

.

tomorrow will come, and i’ll think of my friend
and read all the words, that he took time to send
i didn’t know then, that they were his last
i didn’t know then, that time flies so fast

tomorrow will come, and i’ll hear her sweet voice
and laugh at her jokes, her spirit rejoice
i didn’t know then, that her smile was her last
i didn’t know then, that time flies so fast

so remember the day, of our one last good time
when I touched your face, and your hand held mine
remember the day, and when we would dance
for tomorrow is coming, leave nothing to chance


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

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