People in the village all cheered. It was time for another festive celebration. Time to honour and remember our loved ones in the beyond.
Ah, this was not an easy moment. A mix of joy that I was glad they were not in pain, or suffering any more. But also sadness, their physical presence was no more.
I walked a little further away from the crowds of folks. After finding a nice spot by the River of the ancestors; I sat by the edge of the water & pondered about how the circle of life.
A group of dark clouds gathered in the sky. Oh no! Don’t tell me someone had invited the rain makers to the celebration.
I sighed, and hardly noticed a stranger approach. He sat down right by my side.
Suddenly, I tried to get up and leave right away. If it was going to really pour, ’twas best for me to head home.
The stranger coughed & asked me where I was rushing to. I told him there was a storm coming. He smiled, and told me to settle back into my former position.
So, I quietly moved back to my comfortable spot by the river’s edge. He then handed me a cup of the locally brewed beer~ Chibwantu.
I stared at the cup in his left hand. With a gentle—slow motion, I held the cup and pulled it away from him.
He noticed that I didn’t swallow the sip I took. I looked at him and smiled.
‘‘Dont’ drink it if you don’t like it.’’
I shook my head and swallowed the Chibwantu. It was not as sweet as the one my Dad makes.
The stranger asked why I wasn’t part of the cheering over by the huts. I shrugged my shoulders.
‘‘Oh!’’ he exclaimed. ‘’You young ones think you know so much.
’‘‘When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see.’’’
This man’s wisdom seemed somewhat familiar. I grinned. Er, I guess his spirit was still roaming about this earth.
He rose to his feet and fixed his glasses.
I rushed to get up, and tried to follow him. ‘‘Wait.’’ For an elderly person he sure did move at lightning speed.
He laughed at my bad attempt to keep up with him. Unbelievable it was him after all, I spotted his book- ‘Things Fall Apart’- in his hand.
I guess it was important for us to all gather together and remember the souls that were in the beyond. What a story this would be to tell. How I met Chinua Achebe! Well, maybe I’d tell folks it was just a dream. Wonder if they’d believe me if I said it wasn’t.
To Have and Have Another
The floor trembled as I felt a powerful presence sidle up to the bar and plop down beside me.
“I’ll have a bowl of conch chowder with a Kalik beer and keep the beers coming.” his loud voice boomed.
The time was in the mid 1930’s and I was nursing a beer at the Compleat Angler in Bimini, Bahamas at 11:30 in the morning, trying to cure a hangover from the night before, when Ernest Hemingway sat down beside me.
“Whatcha doing in Bimini?” I asked, trying to start a conversation with this colorful character.
“I’m tired of sitting down at my typewriter and bleeding,” he laughed in reply. “I like to swim, eat, drink, work, read and talk but I can’t drink while I’m working or I’ll never get anything done! My motto is To Have and Have Another.
I knew him by his reputation as a famous writer but he was not at all intimidating. In fact, he jousted with me as if he were an old friend. Since his notoriety preceded him, I realized that he was most at home on a barstool.
“If you want to know a culture, spend a night in its bars,” he joked. “I try to remember to always do sober what I said I’d do drunk to teach myself to keep my mouth shut!”
“Are you enjoying your stay in Bimini?” I asked trying to keep up the conversation with this revered man.
“Well,” he chuckled, “I Iike to fish, fight and drink, so this little corner of heaven in perfect!”
As I looked around the Compleat Angler Bar and Hotel, I noticed pictures of Hemingway plastered on the walls holding out marlins, tuna and swordfish, showing his bravado and ruggedness! There was a much-repeated myth of him being “King” on Bimini!
“I’m writing a novel,” he intoned, “called Islands in the Stream but it’s taking longer than I thought it would because there are too many temptations here." At that moment, a beautiful Hispanic girl sat down beside him and kissed him with familiarity.
Soon, I noticed them both drinking dry martinis and paying attention only to each other. I left the bar, joining some friends on their boat and never saw him again.
In 1961, I was saddened to read that Hemingway died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound in Ketchum, Idaho which his fourth wife claimed was accidental. His novel, Islands in the Stream, penned in Bimini was released posthumously, found among his works by his wife. His last words ever uttered were, “Goodnight, Kitten!” I felt like I had lost a friend.
Footnote: The bar so loved by Hemingway, The Compleat Angler burned to the ground on Friday the 13th, 2006. I felt almost like it was playing homage to its favorite customer! (How could it continue to go on without him?"
La Nuit d’Ennui
The sun did not shine.
It was too cold to write
so I went to the bar
on that wet, dreary night.
I had me a beer
then another or two;
I was fatally bored.
I had nothing to do.
But then the door opened.
Some people came in.
They were singing and laughing,
revved up by the wind.
That’s when I saw him,
his hat large and loose.
He came straight to my table,
my pal, Dr. Suess.
He sat and he smiled.
He chuckled and grinned.
He pinched my cheeks madly
and said, “Let’s begin!”
He ordered Sam Adams
and green eggs and ham.
He talked about writing
and said, “Here’s my plan!
“I’ll write about flub-jubs
with slithery ponkles
and starry-tailed dogs.
Tiny French bongtruffles!
and goo-birds with cheese...”
Seuss got so excited
he jumped to his feet,
spat out his beer foam
and whistled, “Tweeeeet tweeeet!”
That beer must be strong;
it went right to his head.
He frisbee’d the green eggs.
It filled me with dread.
He hopped on the table
and tapped out a dance.
I had a bad feeling;
he winked me a glance.
“Don’t worry,” he said,
hopping down to the floor.
“We’ll not get kicked out
of that fine wooden door.
“For I can repair this!
It’s magic! You’ll see.
I brought some Things with me,
Things One, Two, and Three.”
They sprang from his hat.
Then, with twinkling eyes,
Dr. Suess sat back down
as the barkeep came by.
“You clean up this mess!
You clean it up now!
Or I’ll call the cops!
This is just not allowed.”
So Thing One swept the floor
and Thing Two did the dishes.
Thing Three licked up green eggs,
said, “These are delicious!”
They dried all the glasses
and put them away.
They wiped every table
and called it a day.
The barkeep was happy;
his place was so clean!
So very much cleaner
than he’d ever seen.
He offered to hire them,
Things One, Two, and Three.
My pal, Dr. Suess said,
“Hey! What about ME?”
“You should stick to your writing.
Your act is not funny.
Keep on writing stories,
come back when it’s sunny.”
Suess counted his dough.
He looked pretty rough.
He paid, he was ploughed,
he’d had more than enough.
He put on his hat
and finished his beer.
Pushed in his chair
and said, “I’m outta here.”
Some fish are red fish.
Some fish are blue.
Dr. Suess made them all up.
I wish they were true.
I drank my warm beer
and stood up on my feet
and shuffled on home,
back to Mulberry Street.
I enrolled in the university with a dream to write. It mattered little to me what words were written, or upon what subject they spoke, only that I wrote it well and that it was well received. To write was the dream that carried me here, and to write well was the dream that brought me to this room, “his” room, No. 13 on the West Range, that part of the Western Range traditionally known as “Rowdy Row.” Once it was discovered that “he” had lived in this very room as a first year student, then I knew that I must have it also. It was with much effort that I finagled my way in, but what I did not know, what I could not know, was that he lived here yet, or that at least some small part of him did.
I was so very pleased when my devious work paid off, and the assignment of the room was granted to me. It had only been ten years since “his” 1847 death, but his fame was such that, in his honor, some admiring student had already decorated the room with an iron raven. The raven stood steeped in black upon the bedside table, it’s posture draped in melancholy, its head turned back as though in search of the shadow that the window must throw when the moon struck it just so. The raven statue was the perfect adornment for the space, except that I often found myself staring at it in admiration, my mind filled with wonderous tales when it should have instead been focused on the opened textbook in my hands.
Schooling was never easy for me. I was neither the best student, nor the most popular. I was cursed with a mind that was easily distracted, so to fall in with the bad lot was predictable, as they are generally the first to befriend the weak, and the wayward. Drunk I spent most nights, my yawp loud on “Rowdy Row” as I unwittingly added my piece to its legacy. I was a First Year near the bottom of my class. There was plenty of time yet to kick in the work, but for now there was a movement afoot, and the pubs were alive with talk of rebellion. Mine was a simple mind that would add its youthful passions to the mix.
It was on one such boisterous night, when the debates ran loud and the tempers long, that “he” visited me in his old haunt. The taproom had thinned considerably when I made ready to leave with, as was usual, a bottle of chilled ale hidden inside my jacket. On this particular night a storm blew from the North and East, a storm angry and cold, a storm easily ignored through the wine glasses and the philosophical quarrels of the tavern, but a storm which now begged my attention. I raced its winds to my room, bumbling hard through the dreary night with my youthful mind a-fog. As you would expect from someone in such a condition I lost the race. I arrived at my room soaked, frozen, and sauced. Stripped of sopping clothes I laid myself across the bed, my back hard against the wall, the pilfered pilsner in one hand, an unlit candle in the other. By way of the casements the gaslights from the yard-walk shone through the room, through glass opaqued with pattering droplets and awash in watery waves. The occaisional lightening blast crackled across the roof-top before giving way to violent thunderclaps which shook the very air, and sparked a freightened prayer from lips tasting of devil-ish piss, lips that were seldom quick to implore God’s assistance. But with all of that, with all of the turmoil outside, inside the room was soft, if not safe. The gaslight filtering through the watery window made delicate, drifting shadows upon the walls, creating strange effects highlighted by tremendous bursts of spectral light that whispered a low, demonic hiss beneath the sulferous hammer blows of Thor and Odin.
It was not the night for a sailor’s wife, nor for a student far from home.
The ale was half empty when I found myself staring. My eyes strayed above the door, upon the wall, where the shadow of the statue crawled! The raven’s shadow, flitted by the light and the water, alive for the moment, head bobbing, dancing a raven’s dance. I could not help but wonder, “Was this the start of it all? Was it here in this room that the idea bloomed, on just such a tempestual night?” It was then I knew fear, for it was then he came near, ominous, black, his tell-tale heart beating from out the storm...
Tossed on the night’s plutonium shore
As Seraphim tip-toed the tufted floor,
Caught up in the raven-shade’s web of lore
I heard his rap-a-tap-tap on my door.
Young, drunk, cold, alone, afraid, naked, shivering, I opened that door.
I let him inside, where his spirit resides...
Maybe a Fiddlehead?
Everything I say will be an assumption. There is no way of getting around it. Unless, that is, I was to leave you alone, and say nothing.
But, that would defeat the point of this exercise.
I lay in the grass, spread-eagled atop the damp earth, and you are standing at your window. Indistinct, and silent.
I snap open the can, hear the hiss of carbonation, and muster the energy to give you a Nod.
This beer tastes like dirt, flecked with Salt and new-grown leaves. There's the tiniest sweetness in the back of my throat as I swallow, the tiniest of Hopes.
Birds flutter overhead; they flit from branch to branch in the bushes and trees. Their music helps me pass the time as I gaze up at you.
Crotchedy New Englanders make me laugh. Their stubborn refusal to admit they care about puppies, flowers, their families, or themselves keep me watching.
They don't need fixing; Neither do You.
I wonder if you and your sister scrounged through spring time mud, searching for fiddleheads. I wonder if you cupped the uncurled ferns in your hand before letting them plunk into a bucket at your feet.
Rain patters down across my face. The water trickles down my cheeks like it slides down your window pane. Lightning Screams through the Darkling sky as I take another swallow.
It might just be the memory of light flashing behind my eyes, but you might be smiling. Maybe.
"Who was it for?" I want to ask. "How did it help you?" I take another swallow.
Your skeletal hand traces along the glass as the rain comes down in sheets. The birds have gone Quiet, the only sound is the water tapping against the Metal of the can.
"I want the entire world to read my words." I say to the raging storm, to your ever-distant expression. "What do you think of that?"
Your eyes are dark shadows in the gloom. The sodden earth pulls at me, and I know I must be going soon. I fear all I've done is bother you.
But, the Last Gulp is full of wood and sunshine. Even in the Dregs there is that tiny bit of sweetness, tiny bit of hope.
We will never speak. I will never know how you felt when they published your poetry. I will never know.
You step away from the window, the rain has slowed, and I crush the can in my fist. "I must Make my Own choices." I say sitting up, the wet earth clinging to my clothes.
I won't ever get to know you the way I want, I may always feel guilty that they shared your words wit the world.
At least I had this dream, this surreal comfort in knowing that you did exist. I hear the birdsong Emily, I taste the Earth, and perhaps We will dream again.
A cocktail with Hemingway:
Let me be your fifth ex wife
You can call me puss
I’ll be the cat
eat your canary
We are canard
On a diatribe
Ask me what came first
I’ll savor each syllable
Purr my way into your
Ask me for a night
The best are always
Absinthe in the Afternoon
The big man leaned back in his chair and let out a laugh that began in his belly and after it raced around inside him for a while exploded through his mouth with the force of a thunderstorm. When he had sufficently recovered he leaned forward and grabbed his drink from the table, a whiskey and soda, and took a long pull. A cigar lay in the ashtray to his right with its plume of smoke heading straight up again now that the big man had settled down.
“You kill me Russ. If that story’s true,” he said with a smile, “it’s a better fish tail than the one I wrote.” he glanced at my drink and nodded at it with his chin. “What do you think?”
He had ordered my cocktail for me, an absinthe and champagne. I had had an absinthe drip before but never this. I lifted my glass again and took another sip. “It’s quite a unique combination, Mr. Hemingway, but I must say it’s growing on me,” I answered and took still another sip before returning it to the table.
“Ernest, its Ernest or Papa, if you like, not Mister anything.” He eyed his cigar as if he were about to pick it up but then thought otherwise. “That’s my recipe, you know, they should call it a Papa if it ever catches on. First mixed it up on the Savannah chasing lion’s around. We’d sit by the campfire at night telling tales and mixing together whatever the hell we had. Some crazy ones, I’ll tell ya but that one there, that might have legs.”
“Gotta admit, I think I’ll have another,” I said, as I drained the last of it from my fluted glass.
As if accepting a challenge the big man rubbed his beard while he eyed me up and down and then picked up his whiskey and knocked it back. “Me too! So anyway, this story of yours, I think the hero needs to be tougher, more of a man; troubled maybe, flawed is okay, but a real man, you know? He takes too much shit from folks.”
A Beer With Buk The Puke
Charles Bukowski and I are stumbling into one of those dark lit, cigarette-stained dive bars where the beautiful and damned and ugly go to raise a glass to giving up on everything. One man with his face hidden by a black ballcap sits at the end of the bar, leaning against death, staring into his tall cold and gold beer like he might find peace of mind at the bottom of the round, when he's really just watering the dark seed of his own insanity. Willing himself into believing it will work out any different than half-baked fever dreams hatched up with some liquid courage that dry up under the bleak hungover sunrise of another day back on the grind, chasing a paycheck at half speed. A young gone woman with sad blue eyes that could drown you if you look into 'em too long without a lifesaver spelled out as a-l-c-o-h-o-l, dances and moans against the bar's dusty jukebox. She put on the Rolling Stones, and they're deep into singing about how you can't always get what you want. Nope, you can't. But you can wash up here, carried in on the Tide of the Disillusioned, and get drunk enough to learn it doesn't matter, or even worse, believe it does and is within reach.
Bukowski growls and barks at the tall, bearded, bartender who has long black hair that falls down to his shoulders and looks like he's some tormented Messiah of the Underworld. This is our underworld, our chosen hell. It's nice, no ventilation, halitosis in the air that could be another lost soul kicking the bucket behind the locked bathroom stall door cause the powder they railed had a little something more they never saw coming. Oh well, it's all gone to hell. Pull up a seat and grab a whiskey! Yes, yes, here we are. Bukowski and I found decent enough company in each other while we sit at our stools and squint our eyes, and curse the heavens. The glow of the beer under the sun escaping through the window is heaven enough for us. He's really on one now. He's ordered his sixth green bottle of Heineken. We've been here for 30 minutes. I don't know where he finds the room. His eyes are almost closed, while his blinks might be drunken naps, before he wakes himself up to take another sip. I'm clenching my barstool with a white-knuckled grip, falling off the face of the earth, and drinking with a reckless bloodthirsty abandon like enough whiskey might make me forget about how fucked up we are. Don't close your eyes now, or the spins will kickstart. Bukowski's going on about the music of the crowd, how people make him sick, and the pity he feels for those folk that never go truly crazy, and what terrible lives they must lead as a result. You know, the ones who don't just wake up, but jump out of bed, with a healthy pink glow of well rested vitality painted on their faces, no hangovers, shakes, dark hedonistic cravings like another bump off the key when nobody's looking, just an empty white sandy beach mind of complacency. To show up on time with a hot, steaming coffee -- room for almondmilk -- and a full tank of gas with a paycheck looming on the horizon is enough for them. Maybe they invest, diversify their portfolio, save for decades later, smile stubbornly through quarterly meetings, meet friends for a reasonable sole cocktail once every few weeks when they really cut loose, and all the while get caught up in the blur of riding down a straight-edged life never given over to the jagged, jarring tumbles off the cliff of insanity.
Bukowski and I have taken a tumble or two. He managed to find insanity and forge his art, his word, the way, as the flames danced around him, and his insides shriveled up, and he shot blood from every hole in his body uncontrollably. The doctors told him he could never drink again in that time, and the first thing he did when he got out, was to grab a sixer. And he's never stopped. And along the way he's lit up the blank page with words of raw and bloody truth about the darker sides of life that anyone would've crossed the street to get away from. I look over at him, and he's silently weeping. Tears falling slow down his face. He could be the happiest or saddest monster alive. I grab the bartender's attention, and before I can order up another round, he's grabbed a bottle of whiskey off the shelf, opened it, and left it in front of us. He's either trying to kill us faster or numb the pain as we freefall from sanity once more...
The Rabbit Hole
The pavement was as hot and gritty as my pursuit, and the New York City traffic was predictable. Walking, my preferred mode of transportation, wouldn’t have perplexed me if I knew where I was going.
When I woke up, my only agenda was to write a few hundred words, maybe more if luck was on my side. Sitting down on the sofa with my laptop and a cup of coffee, don’t ask me how, my fingers took on a life of their own. They, not me, began to type. Absolutely no mental authorization. Rubbing my eyes didn’t help, neither did the self inflicted pesky pinch as I read the words that could not have been written by me, “Go down the rabbit hole and you will find Edith Wharton waiting for you.”
Staring at that sentence, a part of me really hoped it was true, but my sensibility typed back, this time definitely under my full control, “Is this a joke? Am I being hacked? And if not, where is this rabbit hole, because I would do anything to meet Edith Wharton? I like dead people, especially when the dead person is my favorite author.”
Typically, I am not sarcastic, but if I was being hacked, why not mess with whomever? And typically, I love a mystery, so instead of finishing the chapter I had started the night before, I was all in with a potential criminal mind courting me.
And then, without my fingers on the keyboard the words, “JUST START WALKING IN ANY DIRECTION AND YOU WILL KNOW WHEN YOU HAVE ARRIVED,” appeared like the words flashing on a TV screen, “THIS IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCASTING SYSTEM.”
“Bizarre!” I said out loud to no one. “Why not play along? Or...maybe there is some truth in these words?!” I thought, and dutifully, my obedient hopeful self put on my sneakers, and I left my apartment with reckless abandonment. Forgetting my phone, and wallet, neither crossed my mind, nor did my shabby appearance. Anyway, I was pretty sure even in sweats and sneakers, with a scrunchie bun, I should look better than a dead person. Stranger things have happened. If Peter the Great could have his wife’s lover executed and then make her keep his head in her room preserved in alcohol, I could follow a cryptic message and take a walk in the West village.
Wandering aimlessly without direction on a crazy as it sounds lark, I thought, “What’s the harm in playing detective? If nothing else, perhaps this goose chase will give me something to write about when I get back, and maybe, just maybe more.” Looking more like a sightseer than a veteran city dweller, I searched for a clue, any clue, when I saw a black wrought iron sign displaying the words, Old Rabbit Club #124, with an arrow pointing down an old fire escape. More than intrigued, was I just gullible? I didn’t care or hesitate and gleefully sauntered down what I had hoped was the rabbit hole. It came as a surprise to me after the many times I had walked this block, never once had I seen the “Old Rabbit Club” sign. “If nothing else, maybe they have good beer on tap,” then crossed my mind, because I was thirsty for suds, but more hungry for the dubious mysterious encounter I willingly anticipated.
The door was black too, oddly no handle, with #124 up above in white. About to knock, because why wouldn’t I, I noticed a small white buzzer to the right of the door, reminiscent of the old speakeasy days. I pressed it and as if someone was waiting for me, it opened, seemingly automatically. The hallway was dark, long and empty, and unafraid, I kept on walking, still believing in the crazy premise that I was somehow going to meet the one and only Edith Wharton, dead or alive.
At the end of the hallway, the underground space opened up to a huge bar, suggestive of the images I’d seen about the era of prohibition, the dark wood, brass fixtures, exposed red brick, leather furniture and classic tin ceiling. I was diggin what my eyes absorbed, excited with palpitations, yet still unafraid, while also disappointed since I seemed to be the sole patron, when I heard her clear her throat from the back corner. It had to be her. Turning around slowly, compulsively pinching my arm, it was incredible yet thrilling to accept the lovely vision of greatness across the room. As I live and breathe, apparently so does Edith Wharton, because I would know that face anywhere from staring at her novel profile page. Her books never leave my bedside, Ethan Frome on top with well worn pages. With jello legs, I approached her, not even interested in the absurdness of my current circumstance. I just wanted to sit beside her.
She said, “My dear you have arrived. I took the liberty of ordering you a beer. It’s stout you prefer, am I correct?”
How did she know? “Edith, I’m not going to ask you any how’s or why’s about our encounter, because I don’t want to waste any time on impertinent questions. Let me just say it is my honor to meet you and I’ve read all of your work, but without a doubt, Ethan Frome is by far my favorite book of all time. It is the book I wish I had written, and it haunts me and taunts me to read it over and over.”
“Then write it,” she said, matter of factly.
“Write it? How can I write it? You wrote it. It is already written.”
“I mean write a book such as Ethan Frome. Don’t you know it was inspired by my reading of Henry James’ work? It is true you know, what they say, if you want to write, read. Read what you like over and over and eventually your very own style and voice will emerge through a story only you can tell. We were very good friends you know, Henry James and I, but only after I reached out to him unsuccessfully for a decade. He finally noticed my writing, but only after my publication of The House of Mirth. Hard work my dear. Persistence. That is also what it will take for you to write your Ethan Frome. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Not everyone has the talent or the vivid imagination to write a good book, but anyone can learn to show a story rather than tell one. You do know what I mean by that dear, don’t you? Read everyday. Write everyday, if it’s what you love to do and then published or not, you can call yourself a writer.
Rendering me speechless, I didn’t know how or why I wound up down that rabbit hole, but I was sure I had just been gifted Edith Wharton’s literary sermon on the mount. Within my silence, she lifted her glass towards mine and simply said, “Cheers my dear. To writing. And to living. I might be dead, but thanks to readers like you, in a way, in this moment, I am immortal. Thank you.” And I picked up my glass in awe, touching hers, shocked that it was her that thanked me, appreciating her genius, wanting to sit with her in that moment forever, but not if it meant I had to give up on writing.