Posted this song to Sound Cloud today. It's an older composition that I never got around to recording. Enjoy.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013
This is the last chapter I'm going to post for a while of In the Depths of the Valley. I might post a few more as the book ends; this isn't going to be a 134,000 page work like Black Box.
It is noon, and while the children lunch I find myself engaged in a conversation with Mr. Lurch, the other English teacher at
. We lean
against the lockers, Mr. Lurch clutching a diet soda, gesticulating with his free
hand. People think that Mr. Lurch and I look like twins, since we are both short,
stocky men; Mr. Lurch's stockiness, however, is resultant of his weightlifting
regimen, to which he is extremely dedicated. He also has more hair on his head
than I, a fact which I resent deeply. He is something, however, of a bozo. Hillsdale
"Sometimes during a lecture, I fade off and walk to the trash can, just to make sure that my fly's not unzipped," says Mr. Lurch. "You ever stop halfway through a lecture and discover that your pants are unzipped? I swear, the kids will never let you forget."
I find myself always being cornered by a faculty member, usually at times when I'd rather be alone. People tell me things that should be kept private—I know which marriages are in trouble, whose kids are probable psychopaths, which teachers have criminal records. Mr. Lurch is eager to discuss his wife's infidelity, I can tell, since it is the subject we always discuss, and despite my disinterest, my innate politeness keeps me from walking away.
"I'll tell ya, Will, she did it again, I can tell," says Mr. Lurch. "I got home the other day and she wasn't there, even though it was her day off. So I pace around, debating what to do. I'm thinking I should go out looking for her, hit the bars, you know, when I see a sweater lying on the couch. A man's sweater, but not one of my own. It's got a low cut neckline and it's light pink. I don't have any V-neck pink sweaters, Will. I wouldn't wear pink if you put a gun to my head. It's an effeminate color. It saps testosterone, drains it right from the skin. I pick up this pink sweater and smell it. That's my first instinct. It smells like a man's sweater, by which I mean it smells like cheap cologne and body odor. There's even a little bit of moistness in the armpit region. No woman would sweat in a sweater, am I right? That's just not a possibility in this universe."
"You are sure it was a man's sweater?" I say, telling him what he wants to hear.
"Oh yeah, the shoulders were stretched out. It was too broad for any woman. And like I said, no woman would foul an article of clothing with her body fluids. You learn these things, Will, when you're married. As far as some women are concerned, they don't sweat, fart, belch, or do anything remotely unladylike, except for cheat on their husbands."
"Did you confront her about it?" I ask, leading him along. The locker I'm leaning against is cold and slick, and I'm getting whiffs of a foul odor like unwashed gym shorts coming from its vent.
"I need more evidence," he says, shaking his head. "You and I know that there's no way that sweater belongs to me. Logic dictates that it belongs to some bastard that's cuckolding me, but it's not the kind of evidence that would stand up in court. She'd deny it, say it was either my sweater or her own. I just looked at her when she got back around nine that night. Just looked at her and didn't say a think. 'How was work?' she asks, like everything's a-ok. I don't reply and keep staring. You can't sleep in the same bed with a woman like that. I stayed on the couch."
I have no idea whether Mr. Lurch is delusional or if his wife is a floozy. I don't particularly care; herein lies the irony in people seeing me as a confidant. I have my suspicions regarding Mr. Lurch's intelligence: for example, how can he be certain that a pink V-neck sweater, a sweater that he admits as a man he would never wear, could not belong to a woman? False bravado surrounds Mr. Lurch. He had some sort of failed athletic career in football or baseball, I can't remember, and it seems that his failure to realize his dream of playing professional sports has resulted in a palpable sense of inadequacy. He puffs up his chest, talks tough, struts down the hallways, yet he confesses his fears to me while no one else is around. His students snicker at him during class while he checks his zipper. It is best that he does not know this.
I tell him to hang in there, that his worries may be unfounded. He looks at me uncertainly and then hits me hard on the back, a friendly gesture, to be sure, but it hurts. The bell rings and the hallways flood with children. I walk quickly back to class, standing in the doorway, smiling as my AP students walk inside. I give Katarina Giles extra room for her wide ass. They slouch into their chairs, throw their books onto the floor, whisper amongst themselves as I give them a minute to adjust. Illusions die quickly for teachers; I know these children only desire to pass the class. I don't want to make it too hard for them, but my integrity prevents me from making it too easy to pass.
"So, how did your poems go?" I ask. The students immediately understand that it is to be a casual day, and they relax. No hands will be raised. My intention is to approximate the atmosphere of a college classroom. Too few of the teachers here treat these children like adults.
"It wasn't too bad," says Pamela, smiling. Her legs are bare and crossed, her black hair in a pony-tail. She is certainly the prettiest girl in the room.
The boys in the back mumble and look down at their desks. Most likely, they devoted about fifteen minutes before class scrawling something down. I decide to make them confront their fear of public speaking.
"I want everyone to pull their desks into a circle," I say, my words immediately eliciting a chorus of groans.
"You're not going to make us read our poems out loud?" whines Bobby Stevens, petulant as always.
"Why is that a problem? This is an advanced placement course. You will receive college credit upon completion of the final exam. You don't think you'll ever have to speak out loud in college or in life? I don't ask much from you people." I furrow my brow, trying to approximate an implacable expression.
"What's that supposed to mean?" says Katarina, who occasionally mirrors Stevens' attitude. They are teenagers, after all.
"Mr. Toblé, will you please read your poem?" I ask. Jasper looks up with heavy-lidded eyes, purple circles hanging beneath. He slouches and comes to life slowly, like a creature just waking from hibernation. I consider taking him aside after class and advising him to shave that unkempt mustache, hinting that he will perhaps see more attention from the females of his age if he were to do so. Such behavior, however, would be inappropriate.
Mr. Toblé pulls out a crinkled piece of paper from a weathered Trapper Keeper binder that is on the verge of falling to pieces. He takes his time to smooth the paper, clears his voice, and then looks at me. I nod and he begins to read.
"My poem is called Explosion. Here it goes…"
I look out across a grassy knoll and see a drum of metal
It speaks to me as I walk with heavy footsteps
My hands burdened with matches and implements of tiny destruction
It asks me to spare its life
But I am deaf to its words.
How can metal speak?
How can it be heard?
I'll tell you: You fill up the drum with paper and childhood toys
Prized possessions of your younger brother
And you add some kindling and about half a quart of kerosene
Then you light your firework and toss it in.
You run like hell, your feet stumbling over one another
Snorting like a pig, air sucking into your hungry mouth.
You turn at the right moment and see the now air born drum
Fifty feet high and smoking
And you cry out loud like an infant
Raising your fist in celebration
Waiting with anticipation for the coming crash and the flames.
They will spread, sowing destruction and Indian signals,
Sent to gods that you will never know.
"Well that wasn't too bad, was it, Jasper?" I say, a little shocked. "I don't know if you wrote two pages worth of material, and you were a little off subject, but I am impressed. This is a hypothetical event you wrote about, correct?"
Jasper shrugs, a little embarrassed.
"You're not going to blow up the school some day, are you?" asks Bobby Stevens.
"Probably not," replies Toblé.
"You all know there's no kidding around about that subject." I have Bobby Stevens read next, and her poem commits all the errors I warned against. It rhymes, is concerned with a nebulous subject unrelated to any feature of the environment, and seems to be composed entirely of clichés. There are better poems, but not everyone gets to read as time dwindles down. I tell them all to read another three chapters of Deliverance and to be prepared for a quiz.
I sit at my desk for a while and move the papers around, thinking of William Burroughs' cut-up technique. I could take a pair of scissors and remove lines from my students' poems, rearranging their phrases, creating something new and fresh out of the cliché and hackneyed, and then present the poem to them, challenging them to notice anything particular about it. Would they recognize their own clauses? Would they know their own words? Is it possible to teach anyone anything?
I turn to look out the window and see Miss Mendez walking across the parking lot to her red sedan. She is a math teacher; we operate on opposite sides of the narrow spectrum of secondary education. The intelligent students here are either math wizs like Jasper Toblé or future English majors like Pamela Jean Harvey. They are either logical, square thinkers or round-about daydreamers. I feel as though the gulf would close if Miss Mendez and I were to unite—such whimsical thinking is characteristic of the daydreamer, and I have always been a daydreamer, a space cadet, a foggy-eyed seer of hypotheticals. I want to tell her about the graveyard, but I know she could not understand.
A word catches my eye from one of the papers. The paper is Dwight Howard's. Goat Belly it says at the top, and I start to read it while gooseflesh prickles my skin.
When there is no one left to give names or define characteristics, or say what exactly makes an entity alike or different from another, then the realm of possibility becomes vast and black and empty with promise.
You could say that it was a thing and that it was vast and black and empty with promise. Maybe it was like a dog except for the hooves and the horns and the sour barren pits where eyeballs should be. In its mannerisms it probably most closely resembled man's best friend, that is, if a dog could be both friendly and hateful, both loyal and independent. It was like a dog except for it might lick your hand while sucking your blood. It loved and hated, it courted while killing. It was not a very pleasant creature.
This isn't a poem; it's some sort of strange short story. Goat Belly resonates with me; it's the word on the tip of my tongue that I have never dared to speak. Has he seen me? There are no coincidences or happy accidents. I crinkle the paper up and shove it into my pocket and make my way outside, my heart in my throat, sweat beading on my brow. I can't ask it. I can only show it the paper and hope that it will understand.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Thursday, May 2, 2013
"Get the hell back before this blows us to hell!" yells Jasper Toblé, tossing the M-80 into a fifty-five gallon drum. He runs from the small hill through the tan, tall grass, his lanky body moving awkwardly in frayed blue jeans, skinned knees just visible. Dwight Howard and Thad Pencilton have predicted his warning and are huddled down in a ditch several hundred feet away, exchanging looks as Jasper runs with wide-eyed terror and excitement. They don't know what he's placed in the drum; judging from his speed, the drum is filled with something that will react violently with the firework and possibly produce shrapnel. Dwight is thinking how Jasper runs like a wounded man, with a slight limp caused by a knee that doesn't quite go as high as it should; Thad is seeing the coming explosion, which causes him to think back to the previous night, when he achieved an important milestone in the development of any young man: his first impromptu orgasm, occurring prematurely in the presence of a female. Thad has not told his friends about his nascent relationship with Pamela Jean Harvey; Dwight Howard is too scared around girls, and Jasper Toblé shows little interest in the opposite sex. In Thad's opinion, Jasper is either gay or asexual. He doesn't particularly care.
The fifty-five gallon drum shoots into the air, rusty pieces of metal flying out in all directions, the drum clearing twenty feet before falling back toward the earth. Jasper is hit as he jumps for the ditch; Thad sees a shard of metal lodge itself into the boy's calf muscle as he soars through the air. Dwight makes a face like he has been shot; Jasper is still grinning, crooked teeth visible as he lands hard on his chest in-between his friends, the smell of gun powder and burnt grass reaching their nostrils.
"That was pretty good, wasn't it?" says Jasper.
"You weren't even facing the right way to see it," says Thad.
"I'll watch it on the camera," says Jasper, pointing toward the large black camcorder he's installed atop an old basketball goal. It stands forlornly in the field, its patch of concrete cracked and overgrown with grass. Jasper and his brother have no interest in traditional sports.
"Dude, you're wounded," says Dwight, pointing to the leg. Jasper's calf is bleeding through the thin material of his pant leg.
"I just got a tetanus shot," replies Jasper. He rolls up the pant leg, and after examining his wound, pulls out a thin sliver of rusted metal.
"What did you put in that drum?" says Thad.
"Kerosene and some of Jimmy's junk," he says. Jimmy is Jasper's frequently tormented younger brother.
"You're lucky you didn't set the field on fire," says Thad.
"It's been on fire before. That's why the extinguisher is close at hand." He points toward the single-story metal garage that houses Jasper's tools and experiments. "Come on, I'll show you guys what I've been working on."
Dwight considers Jasper to be a budding mad scientist, albeit a hillbilly one; his main interests lie in figuring out ways to make things explode. They follow him into the garage, stepping around scattered pneumatic tools and ancient CRT monitors. A go-cart rests disassembled in one corner; an automobile engine sits propped up by thick boards stretching across two metal sawhorses. Chains hang from the ceiling; the whole place is soaked in the odor of gasoline, and it will always smell that way, no matter how much cleaning is performed. In the center of the floor, illuminated by large hanging lights, is a curious structure made out of PVC pipe. It looks like a cannon or some other homemade weapon of war, the kind of creation a terrorist might utilize in some desperate scenario, if left with only a bit of cash and the resources of a small hardware store.
"I put it together with pipe cement," begins Jasper. "There's a main chamber with a female adapter for connecting to my air compressor. I installed one with a pressure meter so that I don't go over one-hundred and twenty PSI, which I've deemed to be just under the maximum safe load. When that level of compression is reached, and a projectile loaded down the barrel," he points to the tip of the cannon and a broom stick that is lodged within it, "you only need to aim and press this button, which will open the solenoid value, almost instantly releasing the air and propelling the projectile at high velocity. I've been meaning to buy a radar detector, but suffice it to say that I've buried six inch nails into the trunk of an oak tree on the corner of the property, so this thing's pretty powerful."
"Jeez, man, really?" says Dwight. He steps toward the cannon. "This is more impressive than the old potato cannon."
"Jasper burned his eyebrows off too many times with Aqua Net hairspray," says Thad.
"That old combustion launcher was cool and elegantly simple, but this thing is better." Jasper picks up the cannon and cradles it in his arms. "We'll have a lot of fun with it."
"You're not thinking about using it in the war, are you?" asks Thad.
Jasper doesn't say anything, but the right corner of his mouth rises slightly.
"The war" Thad refers to is an annual event called the stick war, a wild occasion that has become a simulation of forest combat, its violence escalating every year as the boys grow older. The first Stick War occurred sometime around '96 or early '97 on the Toblé property, and it consisted of two teams of three, each approaching from different corners of the woods, the boys armed with both heavy and light tree branches, the former for throwing, the latter for striking with whip-like slashes. The objective of these early battles was nebulous; rules were not defined, there was no way to win or lose (although Jonas McClain certainly lost a lot of blood when his lip was split by an oak branch thrown by Douglas Murray). Then the boys obtained paintball guns; Jasper commenced building a crude structure out of posts, two by fours, and plywood that he simply referred to as "the fort." Each year he's added on to the building, giving it a second story and dual turrets, and now there's the rumor that he's wired the fort, providing it with electricity, powering it with car batteries and a homemade generator. Wires are strung through the trees, leading back to the barn. He hints at booby-traps, plans for an underground tunnel system, and an electrified fence. Dwight and Thad are not on Jasper's team; they have not seen the fort for almost a year. Each has expressed concerns to the other that Jasper is taking the simulation a bit too far.
"Let's fill it up and shoot it," says Jasper, grabbing the air compressor's hose and plugging it into the cannon. The compressor kicks on loudly, and Thad and Dwight step out of the dark metal barn and into the sunlight. Sweat streams down both boys' faces. Jasper is used to the heat. He never wears shorts, only jeans.
They follow him back out into the field, passing the exploded drum, still smoldering, and walk down a steep hill, digging their heels into the earth. Jasper cuts through the brush, his free hand grasping onto tree trunks for support. At the bottom, they cross a trickle of a creek, hopping from large stone to stone, their feet standing on the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures, mollusks, worms, and trilobites. Dwight likes the smells out here, the scents of grass and wild foliage, the slight fishy stink of the creek. They step carefully around a rotting carcass, little more than a skull and dried up bits of skin. They are climbing another hill now; the forest thins somewhat, giving way to tall grass and stunted pine trees. At the top, Jasper stops and points straight ahead.
"There," he says, "You can see it from a distance."
Standing twenty feet above a tangled wall of dried vine and thorn stands a boxy structure with two elevated towers, small, square platforms like deer stands. It has been painted a dull white with red streaks running randomly across its front like trails of blood. There are only slits for windows and no visible door. A ditch lies around the wall of debris, spikes jutting up from the earth. Thad thinks it looks like a prehistoric castle, the kind of thing cobbled together by hulking cavemen and their captives, built with brawn and human sacrifice. There is a flag billowing from a pole extending from the top of the fort. It is the American flag, but a black x has been spray painted across it.
"Doug did that," says Jasper, pointing to the flag. "You know how he is."
"He's a weird hillbilly albino scarecrow," says Thad, "full of hippie shit."
"You're going to kill somebody," says Dwight, pointing toward the spikes.
"It's just decoration," says Jasper. "All right, who wants to shoot this thing?"
"You should shoot it. You built it," says Thad.
"I'll shoot it," volunteers Dwight. "What should I aim at?"
"We could wait till Jimmy finishes jacking off in the house," says Jasper. "He'll come wandering down here sooner or later. He's curious about the fort."
"To be your younger brother. I don't know how he's managed to live this long," says Thad.
"I swear he won't live more than a couple of months," says Jasper. Dwight looks in his eyes, black and almond-shaped, and knows that he's serious.
"Isn't there a glass house down that way?" says Dwight.
"I've caused enough damaged to it," says Jasper. "Hit that scrubby pine about one-hundred yards ahead."
Dwight crouches down and steadies the cannon across his knee. Jasper shakes his head and pulls the broom stick out of the barrel, and then pulls a six inch nail out of his pocket and places it in the cannon.
Thad looks at the long, lean piece of two inch PVC and thinks about Pamela Jean's long, lean legs. You need to buy her something, he thinks. Within the wallet lies the way to third base.
Dwight presses the button and the nail shoots out, lodging into the tree. "Cool," he says, simply.
"Too much air is escaping around the nail. I need to buy some with larger heads," says Jasper.
Thad looks up toward the ridge and sees a little shape moving along, spying on them. On the ground a centipede moves, orange and black like Halloween candy. He can't take his eyes off of it, as his friends move back up the hill. It looks like jewelry, he thinks, as it scurries beneath a rock. Back among the cool, the wet, and the dark.