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Joseph E Bird

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Literature

bucket list from the past

This is what happens when you clean out a closet. I came across this hand-written list from years ago. Not sure when, but most likely from my junior high school days. All the things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.

1. Learn to snow ski. I did. Even made my own pair of skis. I used old belts for the binding. Seriously.

2. Visit St. Albans, Vermont. I’m from St. Albans, West Virginia. Haven’t made it to Vermont. I guess there’s still time.

3. Build an underground hut. I don’t know why. Never did it. Never will.

4. Learn to pick padlocks and combination locks. Because that would be so cool. I still want to learn to do this.

5. Perform magic in front of a large audience. I learned a few card tricks in my day, but I’ll be happy to let this goal slide.

6. Master escape tricks as Houdini did. I once made my own wooden stocks to escape from, but I never became a great escape artist. I’ll let this one go, too.

7. Learn to scuba dive. I actually considered this a couple of years ago. May still do it.

8. Explore the Atlantic Ocean in a submarine. That’s a big step from scuba diving. I’m surprised I didn’t say I wanted to build my own submarine.

9. Learn to fly an airplane. The company I work for used to have an airplane. I flew in the co-pilot’s seat many times. I learned enough about flying that I was confident I could crash the plane within sight of the airport.

10. Learn to fly a glider. It’s just an airplane without an engine. Piece of cake.

11. Build a hovercraft. This is classic Joe. I figured I could do it with an old lawnmower.

12. Build a man-powered glider and/or a regular glider. What’s a man-powered glider? Yeah, I can build anything.

13. Go into space and/or visit the moon. It was the middle of the space race. Every kid wanted to go to the moon.

14. Learn to play the banjo. I can play the guitar. And I’m still thinking about the banjo.

15. Find out all possible about the Lost City of Atlantis. I know nothing more today than I did back then. Must have been a passing interest.

16. Live to the year 2000. Seemed so far into the future. Now it seems so far in the past. Time, it swallows everything. From the Amos Lee song, What’s Been Going On.

17. Get patents an at least three inventions. That’s just too much like work.

18. Write a book. Yes! I’ve written five! Six, if you count carnival dreams, my collection of stories, now available on Amazon (shameless plug).

That’s it. Guess I’ve always been a dreamer. Still am. And I think that’s a good thing.

the ferris wheel

the image is from the cover of carnival dreams, my collection of stories, available at Amazon and the Coal River Coffee Company.

i wanted an image that suggested a carnival and though i found many others that were maybe more festive, this subdued image worked with the cover layout i had in mind.

any idea where this ferris wheel is located?

Pripyat, Ukraine.

does that mean anything to you?

how about Chernobyl?

Pripyat was a city founded to serve the doomed power plant that failed in 1986. the amusement park was never opened. it remains a ghostly reminder of what happened.

the song below, carnival dreams, has nothing to do with Chernobyl. it’s just a story of two people sharing a moment in time.


you said you’d be pleased
to walk by my side
to breathe the night air
maybe go for a ride

so we walk down the shore
toward the music and light
with your hand in mine
feeling good, feeling right

then we stop for a drink
sipping cola on ice
and watch the wheel roll
and a toss of the dice

the carousel goes ’round
with the kids holding tight
never wanting to fall
but knowing they might.

*

and we’re walking the midway
the music is playing
and I’m wishing tomorrow
that you would be staying

my time here with you
is not what it seems
everything that I hope for
is a carnival dream

*

the smell of food fills the air
and it’s prodding my hunger
and your laugh fills my ear
makes me wish I was younger

i’d ask you to stay
to let go of tomorrow
let’s chart our own course
we’ll beg, steal, or borrow.

but our time is just this
cotton candy this eve
a quick kiss goodnight
and then you will leave

i’ll awake all alone
in the morning’s first light
and remember our time
in the carnival night

*

and we’re walking the midway
the music is playing
and I’m wishing tomorrow
that you would be staying

but my time here with you
is not what it seems
everything that I hope for
is a carnival dream


copyright 2018, joseph e bird
image from iStock Photo

watch this, read this

where does fiction come from?

as you know, i listen to a lot of different music. one day i stumbled onto Pokey Lafarge. kind of reminded me of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks from back in the day. and then my imagination drifted.

so watch this, then read the story.

kiss me

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.

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 was 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.

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.

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 of 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.

Oh, man.


from the short story collection, carnival dreams, available at Amazon.com

copyright 2018, joseph e bird

tomorrow

this is one of the stories in my book, carnival dreams, available at Amazon, and the trunk of my car.


tomorrow will come

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

i killed sally’s lover

So here we have a provocative headline. And also a dramatic photo that has nothing to do with the headline. Except it does.

I haven’t killed anyone. Don’t even know a Sally.

It’s an Avett Brothers song. Yes, I do listen to other music but the Avetts just keep drawing me in. This song is a cautionary tale about getting caught up in a crime of passion.

Now all you ramblin' fellas
You listen close to me
That woman gonna bring you pain
Your heart is gonna bleed
But it ain't worth the trouble
The sufferin' or the grief
A bleeding heart is better than the penitentiary

So, yeah, don’t do it.

But it’s a heck of a fun song. Just watch this live version.

Ok, so maybe this is just backwoods hillbilly music. But it looks like so much fun, especially when played at the frenetic pace of their live version. Naturally I want to learn to play it like that.

I’ve been playing guitar for most of my life but it’s only been in the last six months or so that I’ve really begun to learn songs from beginning to end. I’ve even learned to sing while I play. That may not sound like a big deal, but try patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. That’s playing and singing. It doesn’t come easy.

I’ll never be a star. But there’s a great deal of personal satisfaction in trying and learning and getting better and reaching your goal. I’ve got a play list of 12 songs now.

Sally’s Lover will be one of the harder songs I’ve learned. The chords are easy – G-C-D – but there’s some fast picking I have to learn that’s really going to be difficult. But I’ll get there.

The photograph?

A relatively simply structure I built on the back of my deck. It’s a result of my experience over the years with even simpler projects.

I’ll never be a contractor. But there’s a great deal of personal satisfaction in trying and learning and getting better and reaching your goal.

Now all you ramblin’ fellas
You listen close to me
This life is gonna bring you pain
Your heart is gonna bleed.
But it’s surely worth the trouble
The sufferin’ and the grief
To do that thing you want to do, don’t quit till you succeed.

kangaroo

old shoes
cheap booze
jumping like a kangaroo

gimme this
gimme that
ink another tattoo

i’m bored
ignored
hatin’ like a warlord

pop a pill
do the shot
headin’ for the psyche ward

the lambs are young and still so
innocent
their dreams are pure and hope is
infinite
the shepherd’s blind and speaks with
insolence
the wolves are close, destruction
imminent

sweet bread
silk thread
actin’ like a godhead

drive your ‘vette
fly your jet
all i got is cornbread

it’s not fair
you gotta share
baby needs the daycare

give me yours
and i’ll have mine
i don’t want no welfare

the lambs are young and still so
innocent
their dreams are pure and hope is
infinite
the shepherd’s blind and speaks with
insolence
the wolves are close, destruction
imminent

low pay
you say
i don’t need it anyway

take from her
give me his
all about the green way

lip sync
group think
preachin’ just a hoodwink

yes i do
no i don’t
throw me in the precinct

the lambs are young and still so
innocent
their dreams are pure and hope is
infinite
the shepherd’s blind and speaks with
insolence
the wolves are close, destruction
imminent

hard rain
fast lane
working up the food chain

i will work
sweat my brow
i don’t want no slow train

take a stand
hold my hand
a better way we should demand

pray for peace
and sweet release
let’s walk into the promised land

the lambs are young and still so
innocent
their dreams are pure and hope is
infinite
the shepherd’s blind and speaks with
insolence
the wolves are close, destruction
imminent


copyright 2020, joseph e bird

give me leave to do my utmost

“I am going away forever – and I shall never, never see you again. For I have learned here that life is hard and cruel and that in this world there are things that are – impossible.” — Lt. Lorens Lowenhielm, from the short story and film, Babbette’s Feast, by Isak Dinesen.

“And, I shall be with you every day that is left to me. Every evening I shall sit down, if not in flesh, which means nothing, in spirit, which is all, to dine with you, just like tonight. For tonight I have learned that in this world anything is possible.” — General Lorens Lowenhielm Dinesen, from the short story and film, Babette’s Feast, by Isak Dinesen.

I’m not a fan of subtitled movies. I have a hard enough time following stories without trying to read the subtitles instead of watching the scene. Babette’s Feast is a 1987 Danish film (and a short story by Isak Dinesen) about two sisters who live in a small village in Denmark. It’s without dramatic action, crazy plot twists, or wildly eccentric characters. It’s subtitled for English speakers.

And it’s terrific.

The quotes above are from the same character, the first when he was young and impetuous. The second when he was older and wiser.

And then there’s Babette, a secondary character without whom there would be no story. Her motives are pure.

“Through all the world there goes on long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.”

If you can find it, give it a chance. You won’t be sorry.

through a glass darkly

Normally, especially as of late, when she steps in front of a mirror an automatic mental process kicks into gear that prepares her to greet her older self. It buffers her, dulls the shock.  But in the shopwindow, she has caught herself off guard, vulnerable to the reality undistorted by self-delusion.  She sees a middle-aged woman in a drab floppy blouse and a beach skirt that doesn’t conceal quite enough of the saggy folds of skin over her kneecaps.  The sun picks out the gray in her hair.  And despite eyeliner, and the lipstick that defines her lips, she has a face now that a passerby’s gaze will engage and then bounce from, as it would a street sign or a mailbox number.  The moment is brief, barely enough for a flutter of the pulse but long enough for her illusory self to catch up with the reality of the woman gazing back from the shopwindow.  It is a little devastating.  This is what aging is, she thinks as she follows Isabelle into the store, these random unkind moments that catch you when you least expect them.

          Pari, from And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

we americans

someone said in the comments, if they don’t play at my funeral, i’m not coming. i agree.

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