~ (JD Brayton)
…the spork chiseling on a stranger
Seltzer terrier terrified of tenure gasping unilaterally and
Allies of post-volcanic kings past kinship
Two heartloads of writhing tumescent grey-toned cousins
Escaping the metastasizing gaudiness of Mother’s orgasmic shriek:
ARE. They. Twins. ? .
Some freak circuses may never be photographed
A fierce internecine battle for a tub of wilted brown celery sticks
Whoring for a Mary, Bloody, otherwise ensconced
In pearl gimlet.
Later, as a waiter
I found myself sitting beside tepid cannibal coffee
Engaging in philosophic torture with a truck driver from
Lizard’s Thicket, Insomnianna.
His teeth, (he informed me, proudly)
Are entirely new –bought and un-paid for
bathed now in a peppy, twisted neon beer burp apparently
re-imagined by illumination
FREE PARKING FREE Barking: FREE DARTS:
(incidentally —> (you’re bleeding).
So? Sweet potatoes?(sour) Do they squirm?
I found and entered some cactus
Thankfully, there was nowhere to sit
Lectures are best served—>? STANDING ? <—
Mulling tense and tensely mulling
Mumbling down the hellish hall of a vestibule,
immune to it all
looking from the first available window
From which to spit.
Pause —> I REMEMBERED <—
My 4th grade Snenglish teacher Mizz Smith sitting, culling
Straining muck coffee through her mortgaged dentures
Pointing at the squatting red flag on her desk
Poised fangs baring
Whenever I tried to speak beyond her aching head
past creatures mummified with extreme prejudice
sweaty heat and salty rain
crenelated inside a 10-year old’s
gutter snipe pockets –bristling for natural identification
thoughts feasting and crushed beneath
Discalced uncalloused digits
cheap peanut-brother crackers. Nude Testament.
The Day expands with each constant blink
B (lin)K <—
FOCAL YE: ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,
WHO CAN KNOW IT?’
So the Crème Janes’ Bible shouts from the aquarium city
Babylon, Sylvester, Poughkeepsie, Tehran
Be Satisfied and Certain
Secrets Will Kill You
Because What You Need To Live
Will Kill You In The End.
Aiai! My name is a lament!
Who would have thought it would fit
so well with my misfortunes!
Now truly I can cry out — aiai! —
two and three times in my agony.
Aiee, Ajax! My name says what I feel;
who’d have believed that pain and I’d be one;
Aiee, Ajax! I say it twice,
and then again, aiee, for what is happening.
~Ajax by Sophocles
He sat in the deer stand high in an oak tree as the last light of day bathed the tops of the trees in an electric apricot orange. In the distance he heard thunder, if it rained, he didn’t care. The cold rain would help him feel something, even if cold meant alive. He wore layers of camouflage, it could be Noah’s down-pour, he would abide, sit out here all night, until the time was right, staring at the spots of dried blood on his pants from last month’s kill. Rain would never wash it out, neither would washing powder or the oily sweat of a night terror. Sitting, his back against the tree, holding his rifle, barrel aloft; the rest of his guns and knives stowed underneath him in an earthen pit reinforced with slats of old barn lumber salvaged over time, camouflaged so well that it was undiscernible as ground scrub. He built it over the past two years, a place to keep his hunting equipment and rustic gear on those long nights spent away from Deidra – an elision, an escape from routine posing as a fake- normal man, clawing through a fraud-normal existence in abnormal circumstance punctuated, linear, prevarication. Since her cancer returned, he spent far less time out here; sometimes he came out for a few hours in the day while she was working, just to smell the open woods, listen to small sounds of twee night creatures, squirrels, field-mice, wild dogs, birds, hawks or anything imminently more trustworthy than any human being. He kept his hunting license current in rarest chance a Game Warden happened upon his makeshift stand out in this desolate stand of trees; he rarely discharged his firearm. He usually kept his rifle un-loaded. A six-pack of Budweiser, a few joints, a couple juice-boxes and cinnamon graham crackers could hold him for 12 hours if necessary, not that he had any real appetite on this, his last twilight on Earth. He smoked a lot more weed now, since the V.A. stopped his meds because he piss-tested positive for marijuana. Government policy. Weed and beer calmed his anxiety, eased his painful headaches – maybe not as succinctly as the oxycodone, Risperidone, Xanax, Ambien, Ativan – but at least he could get up and down his deer stand without nodding out or losing balance. At least he could feel – back when he was loaded on the V.A. cocktail, before Deidra’s cancer returned, he would leave for days at a time, would always bring a strap and buckle himself to the trunk of the oak in case he passed out while perched above terra firma. The silence of the woods eased the pain in his head and the metal plate they used to rebuild his skull. The alloy didn’t vibrate or hum as badly as it did around the city –all the cars, televisions, buses, street-lamps and radios. Worst of all, he hated supermarkets. The lard cans, mush vegetables, scented deodorant soaps and candy all vibrated with the same frequency of the florescent lights. Reverse magnets. He could never focus for more than five minutes at a time. It drove him batshit. How do you explain to a V.A. shrink or a civie or your wife that you could smell and taste light? That you can hear skin? That computers and cell-phones made your skin itch like poison ivy? Beer and weed, clamped jaw and solitary hours were enough. They slowed the static hum to a passive trill. He decided long ago that he would die here when the time came. And he was here waiting for that one last sure sign that this was the moment. Maybe a hawk would circle and sound, maybe the cicadas would speak directly to him. Maybe the ghost of his parents. Maybe the ghosts of his interpreter Mazzo, Wally-O and Frany and Paunter. Hale Brook – war hero, vibrating. Magnetized. This was the night he would reflect ALL. This was the night he would review every scintilla of eidetic fear, love, anguish, pride, terror, brutality and gentle flora –the way his new shoes smelled when he was ten years old, the jack-knife Uncle Terry gave him, the teachers who spanked him, the horse that threw him, the fish he caught gutted ate. The hot orange Georgia sun slaking the salt from his skin, and the breeze after a rain that came in answer to a prayer. The scent of his wife’s skin after sex, the taste of her lips and her concupiscent breath. Also, her breasts, her stomach flat, heaving from the remains of culpable lust. DEIDRA- MY TECMESSA. Scars. Ribs. Also, his beloved dog, Commotion, a funny-ass mixture of hunting breeds, a cur with razor sharp ears and a four-mile nose, kept everyone awake all night, baying at the moon-shadows, deep into the night, hearing and sensing phantoms only dogs can understand. Commotion taught him everything about the stillness between bays, barks and whimpers – because it was in those fleet moments life was an enveloping breath, a wise silent and recondite symphony, a tease from beyond the grave that we all share just by blinking, chasing blood, shitting, laughing, touching wet air, breathing out.
Those fake people. Their guns. Their clubs. Their pretension.
None of them will ever know how close he came. Slaughter them all.
Their cows. Their sheep. Their dogs, concubines and horses.
One. Last. Time. I. Am. Ajax.
When all this was done he would whisper his love for Deidra, ask her forgiveness for his cowardice, my dearest Tecmessa; the Lord’s forgiveness for murdering his fellow man on orders of a malicious corrupt government, the creatures he killed to assuage his appetite, offer the gift his remains to carrion crows and fishing worms, stick the barrel of his rifle in his mouth and pull the silence right out of the first gentle morning star.
My dearest Tecmessa, forgive me.
It’s better this way.
Dear God, I stand here before you, shoulders hunched, a rack of bones grappling sin everlasting. Reciting chapter and verse. Make my heart contrite, Oh Lord. Maketh me drown in the still waters.
Passionate, dedicated, correct, soulful and attired in clunky → Awkward puce.
And our children, having been beautifully born, begin to ripen and die slowly before our eyes. They osculate, perpetrate an unnecessary discalced pink rabble, unable to hesitate or move forward without base sustenance regurgitating rote glory. Bought and sold dancing in tandem sung in a happy thundering hundreds, bringing twee jingle music to accompany the restless slaughter of human-cousinkind. Pithy. Oozing.
To some, a reward. Toast and jam. To others, pestilence and worms. I doubt The Supreme Creator is much more than a spent deity with a nearly empty bourbon bottle, tending a roulette wheel, his only begotten Son a 2000 year old blind piano player, nimble still, with only the black keys to pixilate.
Fact → Flat the third and you are left with the unknowable blues.
Hungry congregations. Eyes shining with purpose. Passing aghast.
A meme. A black and white photo of death-by-other. Tears. Emaciated, ribs clearly visible. Palm out-stretched, pooling acid rain. Be humble. Have gratitude.
Or simply eat, sleep, fuck, shit and respect the repeating pattern of a wallpaper horizon.
The conductor will be along directly to punch your gnarly ticket.
And yer little dog too.
Friday. It was to be a day of doctors with prognoses; some good, some less than optimistic.
Deidra Brook sat in the waiting room holding hands with Hale at the Stropshrift Cancer Center waiting for her doctor to call her back. Before she stepped through the door, she knew that the results from the tests were not good. Her body told her so. Her bones spoke to her at night.
She moved closer to his ear and half-whispered; “Hale honey: now you did remember to tell the folks at the V.A. that you don’t want any more of the Ativan. It makes you feel wrong all day,” She squeezed his hand twice to get his attention. He had been staring at the ceiling instead of the other patients sitting across from them – his way of being polite. A fluorescent bulb was flickering out of phase. She could tell it was starting to drive him crazy.
“You assume anyone ever listens over there.”
“One would hope.”
“Yuh, hope is what we need more of darlin’”
“You shouldn’t drink with it.”
“A beer or two ain’t a thing.”
Deidra decided to drop it, this was not the place to rekindle arguments about mixing his anxiety meds with alcohol. Never went well. He always gives a flip answer, clams right up. Be lucky to speak the rest of the day. She tried to stay positive before trips to the V.A. office in Columbus, a two-hour drive. It was the nearest facility capable of serving combat Vets suffering from P.T.S.D. and traumatic brain injury. It took up an entire day to travel just to be seen by a doctor or case-worker. The backlog was purely shameful. Deidra and Hale decided to make a full day of it, a Friday date to kick off a long weekend – first the Cancer Center, lunch on the road to Columbus, then the V.A. where the wait could be three hours.
As long as we’re together, he’ll be alright. On the way back we’ll stop at the Rib Shack. Fresh Hush Puppies. Warm cornbread.
That always cheers him up.
“Yuh think I could reach that fixture if I stood on this chair?”
“They have janitors for that sort of thing, Hale.”
He sat there a few more minutes. He still had the Gun and Ammo magazine he’d picked up from the stack on the table when they first arrived; hadn’t even opened it. In an effort to make the waiting room more cheerful, someone painted a scene of pus green trees and bile yellow flowers being carried aloft by peace doves that resembled clumsy duck-chickens. There was a message of hope rendered above in a neo-biblical version of calligraphy.
GOD’S PLANS ARE BETTER THAN OUR OWN PETTY CONTRIVANCES
Deidra always had to force herself not to laugh. The script was barely readable. A cynical sense of humor seemed out of place in a cancer treatment facility; mordant humor, part of her secret nature, amplified now by her esoteric correspondences with Thrip, made her see suffering less as a result of the grueling courses of chemo, but of good intentions of those trying to soften the blow by hiding their personal relief that it was your suffering, not theirs. Kindness offered up by endless guilt pie, baked sugar shame cookies, bargained bible quotes and penurious art. It was an extreme sense of personal ascesis keeping her from tumbling off the precipice of humility and mocking the absurdity. Ah, the shambolic and well-intentioned candy-stripers of humanity. They are just trying their best to help me die with a smile on my face.
“Well, hell…let’s see…”
“Hale! Don’t you dare!”
Hale broke free of her grip, pulled the chipped waiting room chair with into the middle of the floor and stood on it at full height, arm outstretched, hiking himself the few inches higher by putting his boot on the arm rest, trying to reach the receptacle with the improperly cycling bulb.
“Hale, you get down this instant!” hissed Deidra, trying not to laugh at his random acrobatics. He was being comedic- the quiet clown, the dry practical joker. He is so rarely like this anymore. Falluja baked the childishness right out of him. Madcap veniality – the very character trait she loved most of all about him, practically nonexistent since coming home, being wounded. If anyone could pull off harmless dead-panning, it was Hale. Before he went to war. Before the plate in his head caused the massive migraines. Before he went dust devil.
“Al-most… got… it…” He was straining more than necessary just to crack her up. He tilted his head and grit his teeth like a charging boar. His face was turning red and the veins in his neck bulging out with his piercing blue eyes. The other patients in the room weren’t sure whether to laugh, offer to help or call security. They sat and looked up at Hale who had pulled an ink-pen from his pocket, adding the two inches necessary to reach the light cover, began to pry it upwards.
“Sir? Sir! Can I help you? What chawl doing?” A receptionist with a blonde puffed out helmet hair-doo stood holding a clipboard looking up at him. He paused and looked down on her. Clearly, she wasn’t amused. He looks at her, wide eyes; mocks her rural Jawja accent.
“This’n blankin’ light is fitt’n to make me fall faward in an epilepsy. Yawl gotta taller ink-peen?”
“No, no, no…please don’t worry. Yawl get down please. I’ll call the building engineer directly. It woont dyew for yawl to get bad hurt doing sometheen that ain’t your job.”
He stares back. “Too late.” He says, cryptically.
“Sir, yawl please get down. Insurance regulations, you understand?”
Hale smiled slightly, put away his ink pen, got down off the chair and pushed it back into place, right next to Deidra, whose eyes were beginning to tear up from repressed laughter. He sits back down, splays both feet out like a drunk on a prison bench, resumes his staring at the blinking bulb.
“Never volunteer for anything.”
~ * ~
The face, without question, her face. Small, puckish, beautiful—small sparkling eyes of new genius, love, brown like Africa. In her pupils his reflection; himself within a sphere, they created, co-joined and …perfect. A chocolate doll. Milk awaits, sugar succumbs. Tiny hands, palms outstretched, gesturing—the faintest of life-lines melting into warm rays of magnolia sun. The smell of her. The smell of her. The smell of them both together like warm rich cloying honey dripping off rose petals and jasmine cake- my loves, my loves. She has a Polaroid. Here Daddy. Thank You Precious. She took it herself, John—Africa’s voice from beyond the Soul Kitchen. She has a dozen to show you. They are all of people you’ve butchered and left as shadows. Here’s one of a Christmas tree, Daddy— because it wasn’t all bad. How can an infant speak so? Fresh cornbread anyone? Africa stands holding a pan of fresh steaming ocher, the bottom of the pan red-hot, supporting the treat without burning her hands. I’m not hungry, Affie…I’m starving… but nothing can go down my throat because I reckon…all… I’ll… do is… choke. Oh John, she says —Choking to survive is the story of our lives. Africa smiles, lifts the pan of cornbread above her shoulder with one hand. Baa-Baa black sheep sings half baby whitebread— Speak. John. Daddy…with straight hair. Reckon. You. Should. Have. Fought. Harder. John. In a blaze blue white star flash she the Baby-Mama smashes the pan of hot southern confection against his face. HARD. So HARD. HARDER than any one pan could impossibly smash. Pain. And good-bye.
The Husband and Wife Sculptors of Rock Creek Cemetery
James Earle Fraser –Frederick Keep Monument. 1920
Laura Gardin Fraser – Hitt Memorial, 1931
The world renown sculptor James Earle Fraser, and his wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, a great sculptor in her own right, are an interesting study in how marriage and the arts can co-exist and even flourish in the spirit of collaboration.
James Earle Fraser was a student of Augustus Saint Gaudens; his best known works in Washington, D.C. are:
- “Music & Harvest” “Aspiration & Literature”(The Arts of Peace) – on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
- The John Ericsson Memorial, in East Potomac Park near The Lincoln Memorial- comemorating the Swedish-American inventor of the screw-type propellor and designer of the USS Monitor Iron ship.
- The Alexander Hamilton statue at the Commerce Department.
- The Second Division Memorial, The Ellipse.
- The Robert Todd Lincoln sarcophagus in Arlington Cemetery and a score more installations in the National Capitol area.
His best known sculpture-The End Of The Trail-an evocative and graceful statue of a Native American brave slouched on horseback wearied by war and loss, holding a battle lance is one of the most copied pieces of “Western Frontier” art. Fraser himself complained that he should have gotten a copyright on the image, as everyone who used it for calendars and reproductions have made more money off this work than he ever did. Still, if counterfeit exposure is any corelation to the axiom ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’— this piece serves as an illustration. Because of wartime scarcity of bronze this great piece was never actually cast from the plaster in Fraser’s lifetime. It began to degrade and was saved and is now being preserved and exhibited in the entrance of the Oklahoma Museum.
Fraser’s famous design of the so-called ‘Indian Head-Buffalo Nickel’ is iconic. Fraser’s father—an executive in the trans-continental railroad—was one of the party sent to The Black Hills of Dakota to find and bury the remains of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th calvary after the military disaster at the Little Big Horn. Fraser was exposed to the terrible consequences of the Native American wars, as his art illustrated. This great drama still remains unresolved, if not largely forgotten, in the history taught in the United States today.
His internship to Augustus Saint Gaudens is yet another example of how a pupil can flourish and indeed stand shoulder to shoulder with a former mentor. Augustus Saint Gaudens (sculptor of the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery) was so sought after that he couldn’t fill all his orders or requests— hence all the commissions he was unable to complete he handed to James E. Fraser, his brightest pupil.
Laura Gardin Fraser was James Fraser’s student at The Art Students League in New York City, where they met and later married. All great artists have mentors – in this case the love, talent and mutual respect grew into a lifelong love and commitment to the art of neo-classical sculpture. She gained much, both by her time as Fraser’s student, and by Augustus Saint Gauden’s mentorship. Their marriage was indeed a mutual collaboration, though James E. Fraser may have attained greater stature in the decidedly male dominated world, Laura worked as an artist worthy of respect and and merit. The Frasers remained a truly great creative couple for life. By the efforts of Laura Gardin Fraser, and the many great female sculptors and artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, the social barriers have all but been eliminated in the world of art—where true equality has always been at the avant-gaarde of history.
(Pan Camera- interior, luxury suite-soft focus slowly sharpens.)
“Where are your tax returns, honey?” she whispered in his ear, slowly, suggestively, while spanking him with a Forbes magazine. He tittered like a little boy, wiggling his bum in pleasure. In the background-We Are Family played on the cassette player, smothered with chicken grease. Outside, a crow romps with a tattered golf ball in its beak, mocking a fat beached dispirited gator, prostrate on the green lawn, belly full of discarded prophylactic wrappers, moaning reflexively like a beached Republican at sunset. A swarthy Mexican waiter hides beside a dumpster, smoking a cigarette, humming a snippet of the ‘Battle Hymn Of The Republic’, scratching his nuts. The Florida sky above, straight across to the horizon, looks like a melted box of crayons. A tree full of exhausted Mockingbirds, fighting sleep, observe the dying gator on the chemical lawn, weighing the benefits of flesh—eating, warbling the words Mar-A-Lago, Mar-A-Lago. The waiter flicks his cigarette onto the parking lot, the sparks explode into a blue-collar fireworks display. 10 miles distant, The Everglades are still in flames. The waiter pushes an audible poot, smiles with sullen pleasure, and returns to the hot, steaming sink full of political germs, and diplomatic bacteria.
No one has signed the paychecks. The spoons remain unwashed.
Stormy-The Movie) End Credits-voice over.
Another Dreamer hoping for a spare piece of chocolate cake in the land of the Free, Home of the Brave.
Walk-Out Music- The Doobies- Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.