Saturday, December 26, 2009


You only know order from the waist down
And the rest is primitive distress
That feeds from your need to compound
The crime of your lifelessness.

The solemn terror that perturbs
Your affection gives no protection
Against any sentiment that disturbs
The purity of your direction.

Blame, like a graceless crown, shifts
And crawls across all I have lost.
I affirm its terms with gifts
That defy all reason and cost.

The Labors of Nada

Where is my hatred now?
Does it pervade my own infidelities
Or do I harangue the specters
Of others treachery?
Do I dare to dance on gilded threads
Of shapely rage, framed in rhyme,
Or do I turn my vaunted hand of trivia
Towards a just and proper end?

I should reserve my hatred
For what I have become
And not chastise what I deserve.
I should conduct my contempt
Through proper channels
Sweeping into the swill
The foundations of a poisoned life.
I must aspire to cloak my heart
In a new-found clarity
That rejects the obscure glow of wrath
That powered a personal iconography
Justified in my eyes.

But instead, I will dither at altars of song
And forestall all life,
A yeoman working at the labors of nada.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Hounds

The hounds were snapping at his heels.

They were vicious, murderous beasts. Their grotesquely misshapen teeth were green and jutted far outside their mouths. Throbbing internal organs clung to their distended bodies and oozed a red putrescence. They seemed ravenous in their thirst for his flesh and pursued him in great, breathtaking leaps through a charred and lifeless landscape. Purple storms of color flared around him.

He was running for his life. Occasionally, one would catch up to him and wound a leg. The pain was intense. He would batter the animal with a few desperate blows and continue to run. However, there was no escape from them. They never seemed to tire. On the other hand, he felt like he had been running from them for years. Every inch of his body throbbed with excruciating agony. He could not keep going much longer. His mind raced with thoughts of them overtaking him and eviscerating his flesh.

He woke up. His frantic eyes stared upwards as he gasped for air. He was in a large tent illuminated by an opaque twilight and a foul odor clung to the air. He briefly convulsed and felt a cold layer of sweat covering his entire body. His heart was racing at a furious clip. Though his thoughts were scattered, he sensed the presence of someone next to him and slowly rolled his head to the right to look. His friend, Walter, was huddled in the rear corner of the tent and looked at him in astonishment.

“Fuckin’ Christ, you scared the livin’ shit outta me, Johnny! What the fuck is wrong with you?” Walter asked.

Walter was in his late forties, but looked ten years older. He had a face scarred by ancient pits of acne and covered by a ragged, patchy beard and mustache. He was thin, looked malnourished and his arms looked like loose, fleshy spools of rope. His gray hair was thin and matted down to his head. He looked very sick and very drunk.

Johnny’s thoughts had gained some semblance of order. He ran his hand slowly over his face and sighed. “Sorry, man. A nightmare.”

“I’ll fuckin’ say. You started thrashin’ ‘round like crazy!” He paused for a second and looked at Johnny gravely. “I’m kinda glad it happened though. I was havin’ a nightmare too and you woke me up.”

“Is there any of that bottle still left? I need a fuckin’ drink. I’m startin’ to shake already.”

Walter nodded. “Yeah, little over half.”

Walter reached inside a nearby backpack and pulled out a half-gallon of vodka. This was the solvent of choice, the poison that scoured away the crime of their birth. He handed the bottle to Johnny. Johnny unscrewed the lid and used both hands to hoist the bottle to his mouth. He felt the liquor reach his stomach and relax his overworked nervous system. He passed the bottle back to Walter. He took a drink from the bottle before putting the lid back on.

“You got any tobacco left?” Johnny asked.

Walter nodded. “Want me to roll it?”

“Yeah, man, if you would. My hands are shakin’ really bad. I’d just fuck up the paper.”

Walter reached into the backpack once again and brought out a tattered Ziploc bag full of rolling tobacco and a package of rolling papers. He reached inside the bag and pinched out some tobacco. He looked at Johnny before rolling the cigarette. Worn down from days of drinking, both men were teetering on the edge of a toxic abyss and Johnny looked particularly worse for wear. His face was pale and puffy, and dark rings had formed under his bloodshot eyes. His balding head glistened with sweat in the dim light and his bloated stomach heaved erratically in an attempt to regulate his breathing. The smell of alcohol not only lingered on his breath, it came from every pore of his body. He was obviously a very sick man.

“What kinda nightmare was it?” Walter asked.

Johnny’s face went pale and his eyes widened. “It was fuckin’ horrible. These hounds were chasin’ me and bitin’ me. They were turned all inside out and I could see their insides. They had horrible teeth and they would bite and tear at me every time they caught up to me. They were like demons.”

“Damn. I have nightmares too. I was havin’ one when you woke me up.”

“What did ya see?”

Walter finished rolling cigarettes for both of them and handed one to Johnny.

“I was in a strange house built outta human bones. I was lost and these horrible fuckin’ faces and claws would come out of the walls for me. They were snappin’ at me and talkin’ to me.”

“What did they say?”

Walter took a long drag from his cigarette. “They screamed I was scum and deserved to die like a dog in the streets. They told me they’d get me and I was gonna die soon.”

Both men fell silent again.

“It was so real, man. Swear to Christ, every time those dogs bit me, I could feel it. I mean, really feel it.”

“They were just dreams, man.”


They became silent. What more could be said? They were two sick, dying men living in a tattered tent. Their tent was in a wooded area within a large city. A railroad switchyard was nearby. Beyond the wilderness were the lights of another world but, despite the proximity of civilization, they were not part of such things. Their isolation was total. The bottle and its attendant fever dreams was life. Their families were long gone. They got by as such men get by; scraping for metal and aluminum, day labor or petty theft. Anything to finance their descent into the void.

“I heard voices too, Walter.”

“Voices?” Walter asked incredulously.

“Yeah, the hounds were talkin’ to me.”

“Whatda say?”

“They talked about us and said they were gonna eat us alive.”

Walter felt a chill pass over his body. It left him profoundly unsettled to have been a part of Johnny’s nightmare.


Johnny took a couple of short drags from his cigarette. His eyes were tense and restless. “Yeah, both of us.”

Walter shifted uneasily. “Well, it’s just a dream, like I said. I’m gonna get another drink. You want one?”

“Yeah, I sure need one.” Johnny replied with a whisper.

Walter took a long drink and passed the bottle to Johnny. Once more, Johnny steadied the bottle with both hands as he took a drink. Afterwards, he looked at the bottle with resignation and weariness.

“Is that all we got left?”

Walter frowned and nodded. “Yeah. But we got a little money left from yesterday.”

“Enough for another one?”

“Yeah, I think so. What time ya got?”

Walter shrugged. “Shit, man, I don’t fuckin’ know. Lemme find my watch.”

Walter searched through his backpack for a few moments to no avail. “Motherfucker! Where is that damn thing?” He sighed loudly. His frustration sprung full born from the dread they both feel at the idea of running out. They had been drunk for two weeks and their withdrawal would be tortured.

“Well, ya know, ain’t been that long since the sun went down. So I imagine it’s eight, maybe eight thirty. Plenty of time. We didn’t pass out too long.” Johnny said. “I need that bottle, man. I don’t feel right.”

“Alright, man. Lemme roll a couple of cigarettes for the trip, and then we’ll go get another jug. I don’t wanna run out either, man.”

“Yeah. I think I’d fuckin’ die, man, I really do.”

There was a heavy quality to the nighttime air that seemed to slow everything down. Their tent was placed in a tiny clearing amidst many tall, robust oaks. A small footpath led from their camp towards the railroad tracks. However, the sky was a black, starless vault and the darkness they faced was total. The only sound that punctuated the dark was the sharp crackle of dry foliage under their feet. With no light to guide them and an inability to think straight, they staggered into the wilderness baffled and desperate.

“We missed the trail! I can’t see anything!” Johnny shouted.

“We’ll find our way. I ain’t very steady though and I can’t hardly see.”

“You and me both. Just take it slow, okay?”

They wandered recklessly through the darkness. Increasingly, the trees seemed to leer over both men like implacable sentries crowding their perspective. They stumbled over fallen tree limbs, lost their balance in hidden dips of the earth, and vines and overgrowth alike smacked them in the face. Nevertheless, they plodded onward with purpose, but without any particular design.

“I’m scared, man. Ain’t no light at all.”

“Man, I don’t think there ever is ‘round here.” Walter replied with a barely audible mutter.

Johnny suddenly froze. “Walter, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That sound! Shhh! I think somethin’s followin’ us!”

“I don’t hear nothin’.”

Johnny sighed and shook his head sadly. “My head’s a mess, Walt. I wanna sit down for a while.”

“Okay, no problem.”

They sat down and fell silent for a moment.

“How’d we get like this, Walt? I’m scared and my head’s all fucked up. Shit keeps movin’ ‘round on me.”

“We’ve been drunk for two weeks runnin’, man. Hell, I don’t even know what day of the week it is.”

“I’ve been seein’ things for days, man. I don’t feel right in the head. If it wasn’t for you bein’ ‘round, I’d think I’d gone fuckin’ nuts. And it’s gettin’ worse.”

“Whatcha seein’?”

“Those fuckin’ dogs. Insects as big as fists. Colors seem all fuckin’ weird and, I’ll tell you, the air even smells funny.”

“What? The air?”

“Yeah, smells like the whole world has gone rotten.” Johnny replied with terror in his voice. He reached inside the backpack once again and removed the half-gallon bottle of vodka. He took a couple of drinks from it and passed it to Walter.

“Tell me again what those hounds looked like, Johnny?”

“They were horrible, disgustin’ things. They were turned all inside out and this red slime covered ’em. They had fur, huge deformed teeth, and big heads. And when they talked…” Johnny’s voice began to tremble.

“What? What about it?”

“They sounded like you and me. They told me they were coming for us both and we couldn’t escape them.”

Walter lit a cigarette with shaking hands. “Maybe we should go back to the tent and lay down. Worry about getting’ a bottle later. I don’t think it’s more than nine o’clock, we’ve got six more hours ‘fore the liquor store closes.”

“I sure wouldn’t mind layin’ back down. I can’t think straight. I’m scared.”

“We ain’t got nothin’ to be scared of, Johnny, it’s all in yer head. ‘

“Let’s just go back to camp, okay?”

“Okay, man. we’ll turn around. I don’t think the tent’s far.”

With that, the two men turned around and tried to walk back the way they came. The tepid breeze that slid through the dense wilderness was not comforting. The tree limbs clashed and rustled in the wake of its secretive current.

“Walter, I’m scared.” Johnny said. His voice trembled with uncertainty.

“What’s scarin’ you now, Johnny?”

“We ain’t findin’ our way outta here and I feel really weird. I keep hearin’ things, man. HEARIN’ THINGS, MAN!” His voice strained with mania.

“There ain’t nothin’ out there, Johnny, I’m tellin’ ya.”

“Walter, don’t tell me that shit, I’m hearin’ what I’m hearin’. There’s somethin’ fuckin’ out there!” There was rage in his voice now. He was convinced that something was stalking them both and would no longer broker any disagreement.

“You’re losin’ your mind, Johnny. I’m tellin’ ya, we’re just fucked up and lost. We’ll figure it out.” Walter tried to remain patient. He knew Johnny was sick and out of sorts. His own condition was marginally better.


He’s lost his fuckin’ mind, Walter thought to himself. “Johnny, let’s just sit down again and see if we can get our bearings.”

“Yeah, you motherfucker, let’s sit down.” He was no longer screaming, but his voice had taken on a sinister edge nonetheless.

Walter sat down on the ground and Johnny practically collapsed beside him. Without a word, Johnny found the half-gallon bottle of vodka and took a drink from it. He sat the bottle down in front of Walter. After a few seconds, Johnny’s entire body began to shake. At first, it was merely a tremor, but soon reached a feverish pitch. He began to writhe wildly.

“Johnny, what’s wrong?” The sudden outburst terrified Walter. He reached out and wrapped his arms around Johnny’s emaciated frame in an attempt to stifle the convulsions.

“It’s gonna be alright, man, it’s gonna be alright! Just hang on to me!”

However, Johnny could not stop shaking. With a sudden surge of energy, he pushed Walter away and began to scream. He leapt to his feet and staggered blindly into the darkness.


Johnny did not respond. All Walter could hear was Johnny crashing through the woods as he ran away. The sudden silence that came next was disconcerting. He felt utterly helpless as he walked in the direction Johnny had fled calling out for him in hopes that he would answer.


Out in the dark, Johnny waited. The hounds had come again and, if they found him, he would fight. They would not take him without a fight. He knew now that Walter was helping them as well. He wanted to lead him to some place where the hounds would be waiting. Johnny’s mind turned as his eyes scanned the darkness for any sign of his foes.


He could hear Walter coming. He would not allow Walter to reveal his hiding place. He would not permit Walter to lead him to the hounds. He would protect himself at all costs.


He was only a few feet away. Johnny silently reached in his pants pocket and pulled out his knife. He opened the knife with an innocuous click. He would put an end to Walter’s attempts to murder him. He leapt out of the darkness with startling speed and plunged the knife repeatedly into Walter’s back. A warm spray of blood splashed onto his face.


Walter collapsed to the ground and landed on his back. Johnny jumped on top of him and clutched a handful of his hair. With one decisive slice, he slit Walter’s throat from ear to ear.


Then, out of the darkness, the hounds came again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Music of Serpents

I will arrange the music of serpents
To sing of the loftier connections.
The skin that spans the strict observance
Of the quality of our affections.

The bitter slander that rests on the tongue
And venomous melodies of malice
Will uncover marvels still yet unsung
Spinning within the night's starry ballast.

I assert the raw power to enchant
The vipers that bedevil every dream.
The language of man will recant
The lies that its music cannot redeem.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spanish Tony

Marty was ten years old when his rock and roll parents divorced. His dad played guitar in a rock and roll band. His mother, Beverly, was a blue-collar girl from nearby Spencer with a fetish for blonde-haired, blue-eyed and broad-shouldered guitar players. After a whirlwind courtship in an alley behind the bar, they were inseparable from the moment they met.

It lasted a year. He was cheating on her, she was cheating on him, he was a druggie, she was a whore, all the various sundry civilities that distinguish the end of such relationships. They agreed on custody with surprising ease. Marty Sr. agreed to a loose custody arrangement that entailed him ceding some of his parental rights in exchange for smaller support payments and moved to northern Indiana. He neglected to tell his son about moving for six months. Soon afterwards, Beverly married once again. True to type, if nothing else, she married a man who handled sound for a number of local rock bands. Dwayne. He hated Marty from the start and the feeling was mutual. Familial bliss, at last.

The year was nineteen eighty-two and Marty Jr. was twelve years old. The rock music that achieved popularity in that era was the likes of Kansas and Toto, arena rock with a bright, inviting pop sheen. Toto’s hit song, “Rosanna”, enjoyed considerable airplay during that summer. The dramatic sweep and strong melody of the song impressed him greatly. He found himself humming or singing it to himself since he first heard it.

Even as a child, music stirred a tempest of emotions for Marty Jr. and it grew stronger as he grew older. Cut from the same cloth, his mother demonstrated an appreciation for music that masked an outright obsession. She expected that her child would be a strapping, blonde haired guitar player. No other instrument would do.

“Mom, what if I wanted to play drums?”

Beverly frowned. “That’s stupid, drummers don’t mean anything.” She paused. “Well, what I mean is that they usually don’t get any recognition ‘cause they’re at the back of the stage and they’re usually pretty stupid too. You don’t wanna be stupid, do you, Marty?”

Marty’s eyes widened. “No, mom.”

“Then quit makin’ stupid suggestions.”

She wanted a budding stud, a slender, blonde-haired blue-eyed rock god in the making and what she ended up with was a sensitive, pudgy, blonde-haired myopic little boy. At least he got the blonde-hair part down right. She made him wear his hair long despite his protests. She harangued him constantly about his weight. It invariably came cloaked in concern but with a cancer at the heart of every word.

“Marty, don’t you wanna be like other kids? You should do more.”

“Mom…” His voice was strained, emotional.

“Mom what? Marty, you’re too fat. You need exercise or somethin’. Don’t you wanna ever have a girlfriend?”

“Mom, I’ve had girlfriends!”

“Who? I think you’re lyin’. Girls don’t like fat boys, Marty. Don’t come cryin’ to me later.”

It was always about the music, or so she claimed. The first time she caught him listening to Toto’s “Rosanna”, she teased him.

“Marty, you’re listenin’ to Toto? I thought I taught you better.”

“God, mom, I like this song!” he insisted.

Beverly snorted. “It’s a pop song, a crappy pop song. You wanna listen to some shit like that instead of good rock like The Stones?”

“I think it’s kinda cool. I wish you liked it.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, buddy-o.” Her expression hardened. “Fine, listen to your pop music. I’m disappointed, my own son, gettin’ into shit like this.”

She left the room in a hurry. Marty rewound the cassette tape, lowered the volume a little to prevent from provoking his mother further, and listened to the song once again.

The strains of The Rolling Stones song "Street Fightin’ Man" swelled from the next room. Marty recognized the song immediately. He heard his mother singing along with a thin, reedy voice.

He would quit listening to Toto and start listening to The Rolling Stones. He would love his mom’s music and, in turn, she would love him. She would see that he could be cool and that she could be proud to call him her son. He was certain it would work. A rush of excitement came over him as he imagined his mother loving him.

He stepped into the next room and found her cleaning the living room while the music played. She seemed lost in her own world, unaware of her son’s presence, and wore a thin smile on her face. When she saw her son at last, she stopped and her smile disappeared.

“If you’re done listenin’ to that shit, go out and play or somethin’. You can’t hang out in here right now, I’m cleanin’.”

“No, mom, I was wonderin’ if I could borrow a couple of your Rolling Stones tapes.”

She seemed taken slightly aback. “You wanna borrow some Stones?”

“Yeah. I’m startin’ to think their pretty cool.”

“Pretty cool? They’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, honey.”

“They are? Cool.”

“Lemme get you a couple of tapes.”

She left the room. As soon as she passed through the doorway, Marty could not help but smile. She called me honey! There were only scattered occasions when she had used such terms of affection for her son.

She returned with two cassette tapes in her hand, Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers and a book. She held onto them when Marty reached out to take them from her hand.

“First, don’t lose this stuff. Lose it and your ass is mine.”

“I won’t lose any of it, mom.”

She looked skeptical. “Let go for a minute and lemme tell ya about this book I want you to read.”

Marty released his hold and stepped back.

“This book is called Up and Down with the Rolling Stones. It’s written by a guy named Spanish Tony who was Keith Richard’s best friend. Keith is the guitarist for the band and one of the songwriters. He wrote this book because he was worried that his friend, Keith, was in bad shape because of drugs. You gonna read it and tell me what ya think?”

“Yeah, mom, sure.”

He took the book and cassettes from her and returned to his bedroom. He put Sticky Fingers in the tape player and heard the raucous chords of “Brown Sugar” begin. He didn’t like it. It was too raw, not tuneful enough. He liked melody and this song didn’t have much of one.

However, he could feign enthusiasm. He could act as if they were the greatest rock and roll band on earth and that he had never heard anything like it before in his short life. He could read this book and act awestruck. He could do it all if she would love him in the end.

He read the book on the school bus over the next few days. Written from the point of view of Richards drug connection, it was a grim, dark account of excess and debauchery. The world depicted in those pages was one where everyone pretended to care for each other while greed and disease reigned.

He finished the book on the way home from school. Eager to share all he had learned from the book, he hurriedly stuffed the book into a backpack pocket and rushed off the bus. His mom was sure to be impressed with his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the subject. He napped in front of the television until his mother came home from work.

“Hi, mom. I wanted to tell ya I finished that book today!”

She had sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. She puffed on it nervously.

“Really? That’s quick. What’d ya think of it?”

“I loved it! It was fun to read. Especially those stories about Keith and all his guns!”

She smiled. “Yeah, lots of rock stars carry pistols. They probably should considerin’ what happened to John Lennon.”

“What happened to John Lennon?”

“He was shot by a crazy fan. You really liked the book?”

“Yeah, mom, it was cool!”

She smiled again. “That’s great! Come here and give your mom a hug!”

Feeling as if he were walking through a dream, Marty practically leapt up from the couch and ran to his mother. He gave her a long, tight hug that seemed to dispel the years of contempt and outright neglect. It felt warm, affectionate, and sincere.

“Okay, honey. Go get the book for me so I can put it back up. You’ll have good taste in music yet, just like your mom.”

He smiled and went into his bedroom.

The first sign that something was amiss was when he noticed the backpack pocket wide open. He opened it and looked inside. It was empty. He frantically searched every pocket, but he knew, he knew all too well, that the book had fallen out somewhere. He had to retrace his steps.

He tore out of his bedroom and ran outside, bypassing his mother. In their front yard, he found nothing. Obviously, it had to have fallen out either in the yard or on the bus. However, his mother wrote her name and phone number on the inside front cover, so the bus driver would have called. It seemed that it had fallen out in the front yard and someone walking down the street discovered it and claimed it as if it were their own.

He did not want to go back inside. He wanted to run away, far away, far beyond the place where he had to answer questions. He wanted that moment when they embraced to last forever; he did not want this. However, there is was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to do but walk back in and tell his mother what had happened.

He went back inside. She was sitting at the kitchen table.

“Where did ya rush off to?” she asked jovially.

“I thought I mighta dropped somethin’ in the front yard.”

“Did ya?”


“Oh. Well, go get the book, honey, like I asked.”

He lowered his head and shuffled his feet. “I… lost it.”


“I think I lost it, mom.”

“Lost it!”

He nodded slowly.

“How? Where? Jesus fucking Christ…”

“I don’t know..”

“You don’t know? You DON’T FUCKING KNOW? You weren’t payin’ attention and lost it!”

Marty was on the verge of tears. “I think so… mom.”

“DON’T YOU MOM ME, MOTHERFUCKER! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT BOOK WAS TO FIND?” She took a deep breath. “No, ‘course you don’t. You wouldn’t know. Everything’s about your little world and nothin’ else.” Her tone was disgusted and resigned.

“It’s not true! It was an accident and I’m sorry!”

“Everythin’ is an accident with you. Just accidents all around. When you gonna take some responsibility? You ain’t gonna be a kid forever.” She glared at him intensely. “I thought you were my friend. Guess I was wrong. You’re just my kid.”

Marty wept and felt like he was going to pass out. “Mom, that… that’s not true. I’m your friend. I love you.”

She snorted. “Save it. I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re like Spanish Tony. Keith trusted him with his secrets and Tony wrote a book. I trusted you book and you screwed me over. Your own mother.”

His sobs were painful and they wracked his body. “Mom!”

She waved him away. “Get outta here. I wanna be alone. Go to your room.”

Marty slowly walked to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He began playing “Rosanna” once again and looked outside his window. The backyard was empty. The plaintive vocals overwhelmed his emotions and helped bring tears to his eyes. The drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards conspired to transform his sorrow. He immersed himself in singing the words, placed his fingers against the glass, and wept.