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Joseph E Bird

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cordite

photo by vadim kaipov

His hair was greasy under his hoodie and his clothes hung loosely from his skinny bones and had he not already shot me in the arm, I would have smacked him in the face and rolled him down the street. But I’m a realist. I didn’t want to get shot again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Tried to miss you.”

At first I didn’t feel much, just a sting, then I smelled the gunshot, kind of a chemically smell. Cordite, I would learn later, the modern replacement for gunpowder and the reason I didn’t see smoke drifting from the barrel of his gun. A 9mm, I guessed, but for all I knew it could have been a 45. I have no idea what those numbers mean. I’ve never owned a gun.

I looked at my arm and saw a hole in my jacket, my favorite jacket, and a growing circle of bright red blood, being pulled by gravity into an ever-lengthening oval.

“Get in the car.”

I heard him say it, a demand, really, and though I knew he might put another bullet in me, I didn’t comply with his wishes. Instead, I sat down on the guardrail and put my head between my knees and tried to fight off the world turning darker than it already was. If I passed out, the second bullet might be in the back of my head.


copyright joseph e bird, 2022

james

I’ve been writing less these days and playing more music. I’ve been a regular at the open mic night at Coal River Coffee, and though I have no misconceptions about my musical abilities, it’s been a blast performing songs that mean something to me. I never would have done this if not for the encouragement of James Townsend. James is an accomplished singer/songwriter, as you can see if you watch the Press Room Recordings below. He’s also an excellent writer. He’s writing a serial story about Billy the Kid and is currently writing a musical on the same subject.

Of the songs in the Press Room Recordings, my current favorite (my favorites change frequently) is Wars and Rumors.

Enjoy.

she came in through the bathroom window

One of the nonsensical (at least for me) Beatles songs that I added to my set list after watching “Let It Be.”

I subscribed to Disney+ just to watch it. I loved almost every minute of it.

Much has been written about it. Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Jill Lawrence for USA Today, speaking specifically about the concert on the roof.

“That mini concert, and this maxi documentary, underscore for all time the truth and universality of advice I’ve had posted on my bulletin board for years, from the late New York Times media critic David Carr: “Keep typing until it turns into writing.” For the Beatles, that translates into keep playing and singing until it turns into music. For politicians, keep negotiating until it turns into a deal. For scientists, keep experimenting until you get a vaccine. For my husband last week, it was keep trying until that box of boards, screws and what-not turns into an ottoman.”

Great advice.

You can read the entire article here.

and so it goes

All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.

— Ernest Hemmingway

Anna

Vronsky followed the conductor to the carriage and at the door to the compartment stopped to allow a lady to leave. With the habitual flair of a worldly man, Vronsky determined from one glance at this lady’s appearance that she belonged to high society. He excused himself and was about to enter his carriage, but felt a need to glance at her once more – not because she was very beautiful, not because of the elegance and modest grace that could be seen in her whole figure, but because there was something especially gentle and tender in the expression of her sweet-looking face as she stepped past him. As he looked back, she also turned her head. He shining grey eyes, which seemed dark because of their thick lashes, rested amiably and attentively on his face, as if she recognized him, and at once wandered over the approaching crowd as if looking for someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in a barely noticeable smile.


The first time we see Anna.

From Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.

the porch

Home. The theme of Katie’s writing challenge. I failed to get a new story for March. I tried, but it didn’t happen. I could tell you the reasons, but you don’t really care. Instead, here is something I wrote few years ago that fits the theme. Next month, something new.

She sits on the porch alone

as we drive by.

Stop on your way back.

Past the house,

we turn up the hill that’s almost too steep.

The trees reach out and touch the car.

as if to comfort, as if they know.

In the clearing, faded flowers lean

in front of slabs of stone,

forever marking the place

where we visit those

we can no longer visit.

Gospel music from across the hollow

filters through the trees.

Dusk is creeping closer.

Has it been that long already?

We leave because we must.

She sits on a swing

built by her husband’s father,

so many year ago.

We sit in rockers

and talk.

The porch is painted white,

the floor boards brick red.

Once-sharp edges are now round

from years of touch

by those who rest

on the hill above.

The swing creaks back and forth,

a soothing lullaby.

Nearby a bird calls in strong song.

Farther away, another answers.

Still another sings the song of

the solitary bird.

A frog croaks.

Just one, for now.

Others will follow later.

A cool breeze brings relief

from the hot, muggy day.

The serenity of the world

from the porch

is comforting.

All things of youth

are memories now.

He is gone.

Though there are friends,

though there is family,

she is alone.

She embraces the solitude.

I love this porch, she says.

In the mornings

on the swing

by myself.

I am blessed.

The Lord

brought him

to me.

And he brought me

to this house,

this porch.

And now,

though alone,

I am blessed.


copyright joseph e bird, 2016

listen to this song and learn about art and literature

Yet again I’m at my desk, working, with music in the background. Again it’s Wilco. I’m learning a couple of their songs and I’m letting them sink in. I came across this live performance of Shot in the Arm. When I play it on my guitar it’s just me and it’s a simple song, though the song itself is infused with conflict and doubt. In this live version, you see Jeff Tweedy up front, singing and playing his simple chords. In the background a whole heckuva a lot is going on. The conflict can’t be avoided. Doubt is everywhere. It’s all in the music and it might be a chaotic mess if not for the simple story (Tweedy) holding it all together. It makes a simple song complex and engaging. Good art and good literature do the same thing.

Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm.

So, Mr. Chekhov.

No, not that Chekov.

Chekhov, as in Anton Chekhov, the Russian author.

In The Darling, Chekhov tells the story of a woman who is somewhat of a serial lover, losing herself to whomever she loves. When we first meet Olenko, we admire her utter devotion to the man she loves. When he dies, she repeats the pattern with her new love. And when he dies, she repeats it again with her new love, and we begin to have questions about her. We begin to see the flaws in her character. And yet, her biggest sin is loving too much and too easily.

In his book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders offers this about Olenka:

“I feel about Olenko the way I think God might. I know so much about her. Nothing has been hidden from me. It’s rare, in the real world, that I get to know someone so completely. I’ve known her in so many modes: a happy young newlywed and a lonely old lady; a rosy beloved darling and an overlooked, neglected piece of furniture, nearly a local joke; a nurturing wife and an overbearing false mother.

And look at that: the more I know about her, the less inclined I feel to pass a too-harsh or premature judgment. Some essential mercy in me has been switched on. What God has going for Him that we don’t is infinite information. Maybe that’s why He’s able to, supposedly, love us so much.”

in the clearing stands a boxer

A publisher has expressed interest in my novel, Heather Girl. They like the story and the primary characters; however, they feel that I have too many sub-plots and secondary characters that take away from the main focus of the novel. There are a couple of sub-plots and secondary characters that I have no trouble eliminating. There are others that I’m hesitant to lose.

I’ve been reading a book recommended by Mr. Larry Ellis, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders. In the book, Saunders examines short stories of Russian authors so that writers may learn and hone their craft. Saunders just told me something that is helpful in evaluating Heather Girl. It is this:

Imagine we’re bouncers, roaming through Club Story, asking each part [of the story], “Excuse me, but why do you need to be in here?” In a perfect story, every part has a good answer. (“Well, uh, in my subtle way, I am routing energy to the heart of the story.”)

Our evolving, rather hard-ass model of a story says that every part of it should be there for a reason. The merely incidental (“this really happened” or “this was pretty cool” or “this got into the story and I couldn’t quite take it out again”) won’t cut it. Every part of the story should be able to withstand this level of scrutiny…

The second paragraph confirms what I think needs to be cut.

The first paragraph makes me hesitate on other parts, those that I believe are routing energy to the heart of the story.

It’s fun, this building of a complete story.

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