Remembering John Keats

John Keats

John Keats wrote in a 1820 letter before he died of tuberculosis in Rome: “I have left no immortal work behind me, but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had the time I would have made myself remember’d.”

Our man only lived to be 25 years of age. Which is kind of fitting because he never grows old in style or age.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

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40 Years and 40 More

You’re born and 40 years later you stumble out of a bar into a damp dark night and every ache and pain reminds you of all the past lives you lived. But you keep moving because movement is the destination and a new start begins again after the next last thing lost. So you spark up a Camel and the taste is better than ever before and you tell yourself you got 40 more.

Notes

  1. I’m not 40 but I can see it from here.
  2. Some of this was plagiarized from a novel I read “Galveston” and I changed it because I liked it.

Who’s Read Cormac McCarthy?

cormac-mccarthy-4.jpg Cormac McCarthy is a favorite writer of mine. Some don’t prefer him because of his dark and grotesque subject matter. His book Child of God is an example of that criticism. Here are two examples of a powerful piece of writing from Child of God:

Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.

And

In the spring of warmer weather when the snow thaws in the woods the tracks of winter reappear on slender pedestals and the snow reveals in palimpsest old buried wanderings, struggles, scenes of death. Tales of winter brought to light again like time turned back upon itself.

I admit there were times while reading that book that I was repulsed. In fact, it gave me my fill of “the grotesque” for a while. I sat to order another one of his books Suttree but after reading a sample, I realized I wasn’t up for another marathon of flawed characters. However, I will certainly read it and probably sooner than later.

If McCarthy wrote about these things just to write about them, then certainly I would find him grotesque and flawed. So it helps to understand that McCarthy is a Southern Gothic writer and that genre uses dark metaphors, flawed characters and gray and dilapidated surroundings. The HBO series, True Detective is a perfect example. Also written by a young Southern Gothic writer, who grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The point being, there is another story beyond the one written being told. It’s a story about human nature, the depravity man is capable of and how sometimes dark circumstances are a lot of times bigger than we are. He’s showing you something in all that dark blackness. He’s telling you a story that you already know is out there. That there’s a stranger in you; in all of us…that a dog is only two meals away from being a wolf.

Other works I’ve read are No Country for Old Men and The Road. Both great works of writing. The Road especially so because of its subject matter, a post apocalyptic world. He brings to life the impossible and tells it like it really happened, albeit in a dark, dreadful fashion.

Those that may be unfamiliar with his style are surprised to learn that he uses very little punctuation (except for periods and commas, the latter only when absolutely necessary) and no quotation marks. To your mind’s eye that may seem confusing but believe it or not, after a few pages you quickly become used it. In fact, it’s pleasing to the eyes as things tend to flow naturally. He considers all the punctuation in today’s writing as a distraction and in his opinion, is unneeded and unnatural to the eye. Judging from his popularity, enough people agree.

Perhaps, I’ll come back to this and give some deeper thoughts on a specific book of his I’ve read.

Perhaps, you’d like to share some of your own if you got ’em.

Chapter 1 Excerpt “The Dog”

I’ve shared an excerpt from chapter one of a story I’m tinkering with. I’m editing and finishing up chapter three. I’ld like to continue to post parts here and there as I move forward.

THE DOG

Lumps of sandstone sprouted up like half buried skulls. The high noon reflection off the dirt road gave the white farmhouse a rust colored hue. His car was safely parked a half mile away before the turnoff to an empty logging road about 100 yards past a great pine with a no trespassing sign nailed to it.

This wasn’t the first time he’d seen the house, nor the second. He’d been watching the house for three days. Lonely, isolated about eleven miles off Highway 10 just outside of Fordoche, Louisiana.

The silver buckle on the black leather medical satchel he carried in his right hand glistened. He held it out from his body as he stepped over the gaps in the cattle guard. By the time he made it to the mailbox, he was already damp with sweat. Two cowbirds stood like statues in the field looking past one another. Too hot to move; too stupid to fly some place else. The dog, a bulldog mix, lay in a ditch it had dug beneath the white oak. It sat with its tongue out dripping a wet puddle beneath its panting head. It gave a distressed whine and rolled its short ears back but made little effort to inspect him. It was too hot. The oak’s sprawling and ancient roots showed here and there, arching up before snaking back into the earth like great sand worms. Past the corner of the house, near the satellite dish, sat a lawnmower still as a tombstone surrounded by knee high Bahia grass.

He stepped up on the porch, waved a fly from his face and tapped on the screen door. She came from some place beyond the living room. The subfloor creaked with each step. Figurines on the shelves next to the door jingled faintly. She became visible in the doorway of the living room and smiled at him through the screen.

“Hello, can I help you?” she said politely through the screen. Her neck was exposed, her arms too. The dress and apron covered everything else. Visibly embarrassed by his unannounced visit, she patted her forehead and brushed her hair behind her ears. The side of her neck pulsed lightly from anxiety. She blushed. The sight of blood under her skin excited him. Before his eyes could give away the flashes of violence envisioned, he went straight to his pitch.

He told her he worked for a discount sales and packaging firm headquartered out of Denver. It had offices all over the country. A person could order straight from the firm’s catalog and save as much as thirty percent on household items. They even had childcare products: diapers, formula, toys and furniture. In so many words, all the things that should be affordable but aren’t to working families. The way he saw it there shouldn’t be a demand for his job. But here he was like a saint dispatched straight out of the burning sun.

The family was fine at the moment, she admitted. He’d walked seven miles this morning. He figured he could walk another seven more before dark. Wondered how far the nearest neighbor was. Well, she’d have none of that. She would at least allow him to do his job. “C’mon on in and let’s have a look at your brochure. I can’t promise anything other than a glass of water and some lunch if you’re hungry.” The spring slammed the screen door behind them.

The glass was already sweating, condensation forming a perfect ring on the newspaper. He took sips as the fan in the corner circled rotating back and forth spraying them with warm air. The black medical satchel sat on the floor between his feet. He removed his hat. She sat in a chair on the other side of the coffee table. His name was Lloyd. She knew a Lloyd, two in fact. One from church the other one was a friend of her husband. The two went to high school together. He worked in the oilfield and the two still went hunting when they could.

“I guess I should thank you for coming out here. I don’t know if I can be of any help to you though. My husband has to approve of any spending round here. He counts it out to the cent when I go grocery shopping. It’s the way he was raised, I guess. He works for the power line company, Red Fern. Ever heard of ’em? They got great benefits. Hurt his back last summer. They paid for the doctor and gave him eighty hours pay before they moved him to workman’s comp. After that, Dale said he wouldn’t work for no one else. He worked years before that for his daddy hauling timber and cutting firewood. Never made no more than two hundred a week. Cash. They had a real falling out a few years back. Dale broke his arm with an axe handle. That was before I knew him though. He don’t like to talk about that much. His daddy was a hard man, I gather.”

His head began to hurt and his mind raced. The sound of her words caused so much pressure to his ears he feared they would rupture. Great flashes of light stabbed through his eyes and into his brain. He grew sick. Terribly disturbed and panicked, he wondered if he had lost track of time. He glanced at his watch. Only a few minutes had passed since he sat down. Time had already stopped for her, though. He was the only one moving forward. He resolved himself from that fact. He sipped more water.

Then the baby started crying in the next room. “Excuse me, she’s up from her nap.”

He gripped the satchel’s handle tightly and raised it just inches off the floor before setting it back down. He did this again and again. Each drop matched each throb of the migraine in his brain. His skull felt fractured. He touched his forehead expecting to find a depression running across. He clenched his teeth.

He looked around the room as he held the glass to his temple. There on the wall, above the television, was a picture of her and Dale before the baby. Tiny angel figurines lined a shelf next to it. Further down the wall was Dale again holding a buck’s head upright by its antlers. The animals tongue hung down a foot. Its dead eyes gave a green shine. Dale smiled into the camera.

She came back with the baby on her hip. Its hair was matted from sweat. Its cheeks were red from heat. “You said you got some baby items in your brochure?”

She waited but the salesman did not speak. “I said, you mentioned earlier that you had baby items in your brochure.”

He raised the glass to his mouth before speaking. “Yes.”

END EXCERPT

Can I Share a Chapter?

Below is a chapter from a story I’ve been writing. It’s in the Southern Gothic genre. Most people are familiar with the genre as “the grotesque.” The characters are typically flawed. The descriptions of the environment lends the reader to see it all gray, rundown, decrepit, etc. Throw in a deranged killer and you got yourself a story. Here’s a better description if you want more.

At any rate, I needed a scene to show naivety, ignorance and innocence. The locals are unable to grasp what is happening. They are ill-equipped to face the swelling tide of modernity and evil. It’s simply not in their nature. And so the dialogue, characters and behaviors below is their greatest attempt. It’s comical but only because it’s so ridiculous, depressing, and hopeless.

I’d like to share more, and perhaps I will. I’m curious to the reactions/feedback this might receive.

The Minds

There sat in the breakfast diner a collection of local souls. The counter lined a steady row of men drinking coffee, shoveling down pancakes and sausage. T-shirts pulled tighter than a drum over the girth of mid sections. Cigarette smoke poured as freely from black lungs as the black coffee poured by the black waitress. The sweetness of the syrup was just another thick smell in the admixture of all other ones coming and going. Years of accumulated grease, like coal soot, gave every surface a waxy sheen.

One small television mounted to the wall above kept their attention.

At a booth the four men could hear the news. Turns out Fordoche was famous, as famous as any other place in the world. Yeah, someone had seen two Channel Five vans from New Orleans this morning. Must be a big deal. Lord knows New Orleans got its own problems. Sure wish there’d be something better for them to write about. Suppose people don’t care too much about ordinary stuff. But a murdered woman and her baby, now that really gets people’s attention. Ought not be like that though. Well ought not be a lot of things. When it comes to life the only thing people take notice of are the exceptions. All else just gets a ‘good morning, how are ya,’ which don’t mean nothing anymore. Just politeness amongst strangers is all. No I wouldn’t in all my years expect to hear of something like this happening here. Don’t make no sense. Reckon we’ve all done some mean things during our time but this here, well something else is gonna have to be thought up. Ain’t got no words for it.

“Alright now, the four of you together. We can’t have no trouble here. Done got enough of it,” the black waitress motioned with her chin toward the television.

“Tish, we done too old and slow to cause any trouble. Sides, we are scared of you.”

Tish revealed a perfectly straight row of white teeth. “I just teas’n ya. Y’all need refills?”

The men took their coffee black, save one. He splashed it with milk. “What’s crazier, my nephew says they’s more of these kinds of killings. Down in East Baton Rouge over to Avoyelles. All women. It was down in Baton Rouge they found that young man in his living room. Been shot in the head but he was still alive. Neighbors found him. Fella came in and killed his wife and then killed his daughter. I guess he tried to kill him too afterwards. Way my nephew tells it, it’s the same man doing these killings. Called him one of those serial killers you see on TV. But y’all don’t repeat that. Charlie held me to my word.”

“I heard about that one. Some months back. Fella’s in a bad way. Come home to a nightmare, woke up in a bigger one. They got him at one of those funny farms. I guess he ain’t right no more. Can’t say I blame him. Can’t think of anyone who would be. Getting shot through the head on top of it all.”

“I told my daughter-in-law don’t you let anyone in that house during the day while Randy’s at work. No one. Randy drives for FedEx, y’all know. He’s gone a lot. Gave her one of my pistols. Me and Randy showed her how to shoot it last Sunday. That little lady even knocked over few cans.”

“She did? Little ol Becky did that?”

“She sure did. I says, Becky no matter who it is. I don’t care if it’s a man carrying a stack of bibles and wants to give you one for free. You don’t open that door. You call me and the police. I got grandbabies, y’all know. She understood. Hell, she’s scared too.

“That’s good. You did the right thing. Whoever this fella is, he’s a cowardly sonuvabitch. And a twisted one at that. Cutting up women, having is way with them. I hope they catch him. Did Charlie say they might know where he is or noth’in?”

“Naw, he didn’t say. ‘Course prolly wouldn’t tell me that much anyway. He don’t trust me like he used to. Just says the fella’s been driving up and down Highway 1 and 1o. They gather from the towns he’s killed in.

“Well fellas, I was fixin to go fish’n. Don’t really feel like it anymore. Reckon I’ll just go home instead. Tell Anette I said hi. Wife’s been asking about her. Says to tell you that she is in her prayers.”

“I’ll do that, Buck. It’s spreading faster it seems.”

The men filed out of the booth, walked past the row of backs and shoulders and the lone television mounted above them captivated its audience. An attractive woman was holding a microphone looking back at the local souls. Behind her was a farmhouse. Crime scene tape, vehicles of every sort in the driveway. She was out in front of Ol’ Jessup’s place, one patron noticed. Another recalled driving out past it last week. A sense of pride welled up in the new celebrities.

Fordoche was famous. It was now the exception to all other small towns like it.

Has Anyone Seen Me?

Hi folks! Boy, I’m a little embarrassed at having fallen off the radar for so long. I had finals that took a week of research and about 4 days of writing. That’s done.

I’ve been working on another project that has taken a lot of my time. I’m researching and writing a historical fiction autobiography about a Confederate cavalry soldier who rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest during the US Civil War. The project has gone surprisingly fast. I’m in chapter 3, about 46 pages or 13,000 words. I believe I can complete the book in 10 chapters, roughly 170 to 200 pages (60,000 words). I hope to be done with it in 6 months or so.

The book is in the rough stages. I haven’t had time to polish it. I’m busy with the story and research. I am going to hire an editor to help with that part.

Here is an excerpt from an action scene.

I spurred my horse out of a particularly crowded area. I did not want to be shot in the back and could not make heads or tails of anything with so much commotion going on around me. As I turned my steed and spurred him toward the fighting, I felt a terrible crash and was thrown a clear 10 feet through the air. A panicked, riderless horse, blinded by fear and confusion, ran into my own. I lay flat on the ground for only a second, out of breath from the fall, with a bad pain in my left shoulder. My revolver was lost in the tumble and I searched frantically for it. Directly a Federal soldier approached me, seeing that I was unarmed, walked toward me menacingly, rifle out in front, firmly gripped in both hands, just as he was taught in drill. I unsheathed my sabre and displayed it, hoping the sight of it would change the mind of my enemy. He kept coming forward, with that same look of determination, holding that rifle of his. Directly he brought it up, the bayonet extended four feet from his body, and diced the air with it as if he was considering what parts to carve from me.

He slashed once at my head, and lunged quickly with it center of my chest. The sudden rush caused me to trip over a stump. The pain in my shoulder made me howl in agony but not before I slashed a piece of flesh from his forearm with my sabre. He dropped his gun but instead of picking it up, he jumped atop of me and pummeled me with his still one good arm. We fought and rolled, and my shoulder felt shattered. My sabre lay next to my useless arm. I searched by my boot and felt the handle of my Bowie knife, and sank the blade deep into his back. He screamed just inches from my face. I could smell his breath. His eyes went wide and bulged from their sockets. Immediately, he wore a ghostly pale. He rolled off of me and flopped on the ground like he had been splashed with scalding water. “You didn’t have to do that! You didn’t have to stab me!” He moaned. “You killed me. You killed me.” He said through tears. I scooted away from him as if he were contagious. The horror of it sobered me. Killing man as you dart by on a horse is one thing. Killing a man who is so close you can see the expression in his face change the second the blade enteres, changes you forever.

“Now you lay still, Yank!” I told him.

“You killed me. You didn’t have to do that.” He kept saying. The lady he mentioned there at the last, Claire, I am sure was his wife.

“Now just lie still there!” Was all I could think to say. He was a dead man and we both knew it. It was torturous for the both of us waiting for the fact to catch up to the circumstance. Directly he never said another word again.

A Sentence I Came Across

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It grabbed me. There is nothing special or brave about it I don’t suppose. I liked its construction is all. I think it is a useful model. At first glance it may appear ambiguous, dangling out there on its end and would probably be marked down as a fragment, but I like it. Sometimes, and even more rarely than that, language and thought supersedes grammar in my opinion.

“Without night or day, and the sun spinning slowly in a cold sky.”

Writer’s Block

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If there were one among us who could have written the greatest poem or the most significant novel, it was him. He promised he would accomplish a great work many times. With ease, he rolled out ideas for lines, plots, and descriptions of emotionally deep characters. His satchel never far from his body was full of crumpled, blank pieces of paper. For the inspiration, he reached down to pull up a handful. Laid out in front of him delicately on the desk, he spent time smoothing out the wrinkles, and pressing down the creased edges. He placed the blank shreds in order. With his long fingers rested on his chin, he leaned back to consider. “No, that cannot go there. The thought is wrong.” Then set about to rearrange the blank shreds into another order he preferred. A time would pass.

Always by the window – for he liked its view — he sat in deep concentration. His face contorted in agony; the sign of a deep thinker, no doubt. Mumbling to himself things about rhymes and meter, he became uncontrollably excited. He would sit, stand, pace and sit again. The manic actions promised a flurry of creative activity. Then the words came like wind. He bolted to his chair with purpose, grasped tightly in his pale boney hand, the pen stayed still, afraid to touch the paper. A time would pass.

Finally, he exclaimed, “I’ve got it!” and slump over his paper, poor in posture, pen grasped. The paper prepared for the dictates of its master. The paper lay innocently and undisturbed. A time would pass.

“No, it is not right! It cannot end like that.” We heard him say. He grasped the pen again and pulled the paper under his chin. We watched intently with breathless anticipation as he traced the air the words running through his mind, the pen only a few precious inches from the paper, finally the pen stilled, ready to write, slowly closer it descended in his hand until there was but the slightest hint of light between paper and pen! — but gave up to exclaim, “It is no use. I cannot write in such a dreary place!”

He stood and placed his greatcoat over his scrawny and sunken frame. Never did someone resemble a turtle as he did standing there, but we were prepared to claim it a capable turtle. He marched out of the room hurriedly. Saying aloud, his finger raised, “A genius must be free! A genius needs his space!”

A wave of blank shreds of paper circled behind in his wake, and fell to a rest on the floor.

I Played Hooky Today! And It was Everything I Thought It Could Be.

office space

Boy oh boy, have I had an exciting day. It snowed a little last night and stayed below freezing all through the morning, which meant there was ice on the road, which means that is when the worst drivers decide this is the day when they will make it to work free of incident, which means that guarantees an incident, actually three of them, which backed up every lane of the highway, which consists of three.

Do you know what I did? I hit the first exit and circled back around to my house. I ain’t messing with that crap. The heck with it. I came home, drank some coffee, went downstairs to my gym, and got in an early morning workout. After I covered myself in sweat, I quit and took a shower.

Here’s where the actual fun begins.

First, I went down to the boxing gym where I got knocked out last week. I told everyone in there, even the coaches, that they didn’t run me off just because I got a little bump on the head. I told them that I wasn’t that easy to run off. That I had been working and correcting my mistakes. I’d be back.

A man has to save face even if he doesn’t mean it!

After my declaration and threats to all who were in there, I trekked down to Barnes & Noble and picked up a couple of beauties. “The Alchemist” and the “Count of Monte Cristo.” In addition, I bought a couple of “How To” books on writing and creative writing.

I don’t know. I’m actually enjoying this writing thing. I like to tell stories. I come from a great story telling culture — that being the rural South. Everyone there has a story. It may not be told exactly the same each time, it may even be borrowed from someone else, but that practice is accepted so long as one can make it entertaining and memorable. Maybe I can get focused enough to put a few stories down.

I used to be so dull — when I say “used to be” I’m speaking all of about a month ago — in that I never considered there was any value to literature or fiction. If you saw my library you would wonder if I had an imagination or personality at all. But you sure as hell wouldn’t want to tangle with me in a game of trivia!

At any rate, about literature, I thought, if it is not true, “Why bother?” I’m learning fiction is very true despite what it says about itself. I can see clearly now that writers bleed when they write. I respect them. 

So anyway, I stepped out of Barnes & Noble and made my way over to Total Wine. Here’s what I did.

I demanded a 5-minute course on how to choose wine. I told the lady there that I was tired of being the dumb kid in class.

I started by, “Look, I like wine. The red kind. Made from grapes, not tobacco, spice, roots, yams, or whatever else is crammed in the bottle and corked just because it happens to grow. So let me explain to you my taste.”

Which I did.

She looked confused. Her response was, “Okay. So you like wine. The Red kind. Made from grapes.”

“Exactly!”

She took my angry discharge well. I believe she even had sympathy for me. She wrote me down a few rules to follow and wrote down a few grapes I would probably like. The cheat-sheet is in my wallet. She had wonderful handwriting.

We both decided I like cabernet and pinot wines. There, I’m satisfied with that. Corner me; color me even. Label me all you like. But I can now make a beeline to my section, grab my bottles, be at home and uncorked faster than you can figure out how long a wine should be *aeratored.

*Okay, in all honesty I just learned about that today. It was part of the 5-minute course. I just really wanted to work that part in there.