if writers were superheroes words would be their villains
Knowing can be a hard thing to master-- i've seen many a pupil fail. the long words, the limit of biolelectrical impulses, the blinding fluorescent light that is "self overcoming." but of all the terrible monsters that lurk in the mind and rip apart Knowing before it is even known Telling is of the most awful lot. Telling is soot and tarp-covered quicksand. it presents itself the harmless creature with a broken wing. beware the broken thing at any cost or else the Telling will latch itself to you-- sucking out the Knowing and the Living until Sanity flees from your mind, a refugee, and you are relabled by society "the writer."
Thunder clashed outside my bedroom window, jolting me from my sleep. I sat straight up in my twin bed and noticed something… strange. There, at the end of the bed, sat a man—or, rather, the transparent shadow of a man. His shoulders were raised to his ears and his gaze landed directly onto the one decoration in my 10X10 studio apartment—a Christmas wreath small enough to wear as a bracelet hung on the wall just to the right of my kitchenette.
I thought briefly that I might ask the shadow who he was. There was something familiar about him—something telling about his slumped posture and his furrowed brow glued to the Christmas wreath. I thought that I must know this man. Before I could open my mouth, he spoke, still fixed on the donut-sized wall ornament.
“Are you a Christian, boy?” His voice echoed throughout the room, as if bouncing from one corner to the next before penetrating my ears.
“It’s just a decoration.” I whispered in response.
“A decoration.” His gaze turned from the wall on the other end of the room to my frozen face, and I saw him for what he was.
“I understand you,” I said, and I watched as the large, salt and pepper mustache on his lip curled on the edges and small wrinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes.
Friedrich Nietzsche stood from the end of my bed, straightened his coat and pointed to my feet, which were dangling over the edge of the mattress. “You really should buy a larger bed, dear boy,” he said in a grandfatherly manner, and he continued, “Well then, I wouldn’t suppose you have any snacks, would you? I haven’t eaten in decades.” With this, he turned toward my kitchenette and pulled open my refrigerator door, rummaging through it aimlessly.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up, flattening flyaways with the palm of my hand so as to look presentable. “Uh, Fred—Can I call you Fred?”
Nietzsche made a distinct “aha” sound as if he had just struck gold and pulled himself out of the refrigerator along with a carton of 2% milk. “I usually prefer whole, but 2% will do.” He took a seat on a bar stool at the end of my bed and gulped directly from the carton.
“Fred,” I began again, “You’re dead, no?”
“Oh, yes, my boy. Dead as a doornail.” He took another sip and expelled a milky belch.
“Right.” I tugged at my shirt a little before continuing. “What exactly are you doing in my apartment, if you don’t mind my asking?”
He tipped the bottom of the carton up, slurping down the last drop of milk. “Oh, I’ll let you decide the meaning of this visit,” he said, tossing the carton into a trash bin near the door. Then, he pointed at the wreath and added, “It’s Christmas.”
“Well, no,” I responded, “Christmas Eve.”
“My boy,” He said with a chuckle in his voice, “When you’ve lived as long as I, you find that the hours between two days tend to melt together.” He gave me the kind of stare your grandfather gives when he’s just told a story from his boyhood—straight on and unblinking with the slightest hint of a grin beneath his wrinkled face.
“But you haven’t lived,” I said, “Not really. I mean… you’re—”
“See-through. Yes,” he interjected, “but I am here, nonetheless, and if to be present is not living, then, I confess, I do not know what is.” He wiped a bit of milk from his mustache and checked his pocket watch. A bell outside rang once.
“You must be here to teach me something,” I said, “otherwise, what would be the point? I mean, you’re one of the greatest philosophers in history. Why would you come to my room in the middle of the night?” I sat as if I were a plastic mannequin glued to my mattress, awaiting his answer.
His response didn’t come until the outside bell rang twice. By that time, he had begun to fade incrementally until all that was left was his wide mustache, the mouth beneath it, and two eyes set behind a strong brow.
“In death,” he began,” I have found that I am more alive than you or any other breathing human could ever be. Meaning is irrelevant, dear boy, until death finds you.” He let another knowing grin spread across the empty space where his face had been previously. “You’ll want to answer that,” he said, and his face faded into nothingness. All that was left of Friedrich Nietzsche in my apartment was an empty milk carton and his last words bouncing around the four corners of the room. I sat for quite a while with a furrowed brow contemplating those words. What was the point of his visit? Just to wake me in the middle of the night? What could he possibly mean by this?
A ringing began again—this time inside my room. I snapped my head toward the floor to see my cellphone screen lit with an incoming call, and the caller ID read “S.” I grabbed the phone from the floor and pressed the little green icon at the bottom of the screen.
“Hello?” My heart began to throb as I awaited a response from the other end of the line. I hadn’t heard her voice in years, and my ears seemed to burn with anticipation.
The silence from the other side was cut sharply by her words, “I just had the strangest dream,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied, “So did I.”
“W--will you come over?”
"Yes," I said, and the bell outside rang three times. The echoing of Niezsche's voice had stopped.
Listen to me, now.
On the third of January 2021, David Diamond married Ruby Buffer. The event had been delicate enough—faint pink plastic peonies, battery-powered tealights, a pastel bouquet of Styrofoam baby’s breath.
Regardless of the manmade pretties and unwashed “marble” linoleum floor of the refurbished barn which had housed the event, David and Ruby were united in matrimony with a beautiful and flawless set of vows and two mostly shiny plated gold rings.
The event had been a wonderful success. Family members swarmed the reception, where the couple had splurged for an open bar, and the family danced and laughed and had a wonderful night. They told old inside jokes and started new ones meant to last lifetimes.
Anyone who saw Ruby Buffer that night would agree that she had never shown brighter in her life. Her union to David Diamond had had the effect on her that a shiny new quarter has on a five-year-old. Ruby seemed happy. No one would suspect her for anything that was to happen.
Two weeks later on January 17th, David Diamond died tragically in a house fire while Ruby was out for lunch with a friend.
The cause of the fire was never to be discovered. Ruby Diamond wept for her husband—two tears, to be exact—at his funeral, and, when the insurance money from both her house and her late husband’s policy came in the mail, she moved far away from the town, which she had claimed held too many memories for her.
On the fourth of February 2021, Christopher Emerald married Ruby Diamond.
"No, no, no! You aren't listening to the facts."
"Yes, he's quite right, the fact is that this gentleman is guilty. Plain and simple…"
"We know it's hard for your type to accept such heinousness, but..."
"Yes, who on God's green earth put a woman on a jury to begin with?"
In another life, Elizabeth would have winced at that last comment. Though, her current life had been filled with them-- men who talk loudly and overlap one another with their wagging tongues-- she felt sure that the eleven incredibly diverse specimens of the male species—well, as diverse as a room full of old white men can be, that is to say, very little—which stood around her barking out their opinions would not halt until she gave them what they wanted.
Elizabeth was incredibly used to giving men what they want. She thought to herself that she may as well give in this time, too. The men were not likely to hear her arguments or even shut up long enough to acknowledge them. She could “change her mind,” as she’d so often done in the past during arguments with her father or her husband. She knew that she could just agree with the men now and be home in time for supper.
Thoughts of the young man in question flooded her mind. She saw him sitting, quivering, behind the stand, unable to look at the lawyers or jury—probably for the fear of being labeled too bold for a black boy. Elizabeth had heard the evidence against him. It was purely circumstantial, and she felt sure that if young Arthur had been a white boy of the same age of 14 his innocence would not be in question.
“Miss,” one of the more tolerable men who swarmed about the room appealed to her now, “we would all like to get home for supper just as much as you—”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ve got some cooking to do for your husband as well.”
The tolerable one spoke again, “The punishment for stealing isn’t too bad in Alabama. If you would just… agree.”
But the boy wasn’t just accused of stealing. That was why he was on trial, yes, but Elizabeth knew there had been a much darker reason for his arrest. Judge Taymour’s wife had been sneaking the boy an apple every Sunday so that he would have food in his belly before church—Elizabeth had witnessed it herself. The boy never stole a thing other than that woman’s affection, and Taymour couldn’t stand a little black boy so close to his wife.
“Miss,” he didn’t know she was married, “all you need to do is say yes. Just a simple yes will do.”
The room filled with silence, drained, for once, of the constant buzzing of men’s mighty voices, and the air was thick with, well, with whatever possessed men to be quiet. They all stood on their toes, staring like predators at the place where poor Elizabeth sat.
“No,” she said.
A loud grumble rolled about the room, and just like that, the buzzing was back. Some threw their meaty arms up impatiently, some plopped into chairs defeatedly, others paced about the room.
Elizabeth allowed the them to accept her answer, wondering if the men would ever accept being told no, and then she spoke,
“I am going to speak now, do you all understand?” Her words broke through the buzzing and hissing of others’ voices, and, perhaps shocked to hear a woman speak with such authority, the men fell silent. She went on, “I have quietly listened to all of you slander a poor, defenseless boy for hours now. Not one of you has mentioned the word ‘evidence’ let alone spoken about Taymour’s relation to the child.”
Elizabeth looked the man straight in the eyes and replied, “Arthur never committed any crime other than accepting a gift from Harold Taymour’s wife.”
“That is a serious accusation you’re tip-toeing around there, dear.”
Elizabeth snapped back, “No more serious than locking up a 14-year-old boy over an apple, I assure you.” She went on, “I’ve seen with my own eyes Mrs. Taymour handing the boy his Sunday apple and kissing him on the cheek, as a matter—”
“You’ve seen? Woman, may I remind you that a jury is to be completely dethatched from the defendant and free from all partiality toward him. How do you reckon you’ll be able to see through your obvious feelings about the boy and make a fair decision?”
Elizabeth smiled the same smile she always gave her husband when he was being an ass and said, “Well, I ‘reckon’ the same way you pretend your own fear of black skin isn’t what makes the ‘boy’ guilty, Sir.”
The room fell silent again, a different kind of silence from before. The man’s face grew red, either form anger or embarrassment, and Elizabeth stood, now in the middle of eleven men who may never let go of their grandfathers’ ways and said,
“Arthur is alone in this court—one black boy in a sea of white men telling him he’s guilty of accepting kindness from a stranger. Think for one second. Other than the boy on the stand, how many black people were in that courtroom?”
“That’s right,” she said, “None. Not even Arthurs own parents showed up to the trial to support him because they knew what might happen to them if they went around offending white men.”
“That’s preposterous. The boy’s only 14. His parents are legally obligated to be in the room when—”
“When little black boys go to prison for touching a white woman’s heart, legality is no longer the issue.”
Elizabeth nodded in agreement.
Love and other Fragile Things
pressing against our fingertips;
parted Purple lips;
that go nowhere.
moving an inch,
like Red light,
like soflty spoken words.
meets wondering Purple
more than halfway;
not yet sharpened,
not yet deadly,
not deadly enough.
Piss off the Yellow.
To Hell with the Red.
And the cold White freezes
when smooth tongues part
the Purple and the Blue.
God and the Ginkgo
Perhaps God is like the Ginkgo tree. Maybe Her golden leaves are the last of many, the only proof left of the long history of emerald fans and maidens' hair. Stories-- myths-- of Her former family fill the air wherever men gather. Some say She's gone--extinct, that is. Others, well, they still remember the whistle of the warm summer breeze, the swaying of Her curved limbs, Her feathery hands reaching for the skies as if to wisk the clouds away from the sun.
Perhaps the journey is yet to be finished, Her roots undiscoverd, and maybe, just maybe, the tree we call God is waiting, hidden in some wooden garden in the east and guarded by serious men called monks-- waiting to be rediscovered.
What happens once we discover the tree? Do we plant Her in every courner of the earth? Or, do we leave Her be, untouched by soiled non-monk hands and the unclean air from across the seas?
Perhaps the Ginkgo doesn't need to be freed. Perhaps She's happy in the monks' company, alone and yellowing in Her life's late Fall.
Long Live the King
You crack your neck, and I think of what it'd be like if your head would snap from your shoulders and roll down the hall into a dark corner or something, alone and collecting dust and in a happier position atop the cold ceramic than ever above your punishing build.
Yet your Spine holds tight its precious King.
I envision you slumping in half like a one-slice pb and j, back crackling all the way to the hardwood, and staying that way so that my foot may help your high King release himself and make his escape.
To my dismay you do not fold or bend or move toward submission in any other
way, and my hopes fade as quickly as a Lily under your thumb.
To the Lonely Pink Cloud that Floats Above my Head
Where are you from, little Cloud? And where will your path fade? Will you sit a while with me as I enjoy my morning tea? Or are you in a dreadful hurry to get to wherever Clouds need to be?
And why is it that your hue is that of a peach?
Did you swallow a ruby? Lie too long on a sandy beach? The sun is a funny thing, warming our bones and leaving us blushed— a forbidden love, embracing, foreboding.
Oh! Tell me, little Cherry blossom, from where you get your shape— or rather lack thereof. Is it possible for a thing to be so free yet so obviously bound to one place? If you know you are free, why do you not leave? Do you prefer to float here, impossibly elevated, just out of my reach?
Oh, won't you lie with me, little wispy thing? Enjoy the sunny morning, the dewy grass. We'll nap in the green and dream of floating away together to some place never discovered.