In Minor

A few months back, I’d opened up a window on Sunday morning to keep the smell of bacon from wafting. I’d just bought my first hollow body guitar that week. My days sleeping on couches and hauling sound gear in my beat up, ’88 Ford Econoline van had long passed, and I wanted something to scratch out riffs on while I reminisced the good ol’ days of playing lead in a rock band that barely ever made it out of the garage.

It’s a beautiful instrument, with two P-90 humbuckers and one of those Bigsby knock-off tremelos—an Epiphone effigy of that same Gibson guitar that Chris Cornell used to play. On stage. With Soundgarden. There’s a dream I once had; music used to be my life. But that was almost twenty years ago. And now, Chris Cornell’s gone, and I was sour that morning because I never got to see Soundgarden live.

Before we ever booked any decent gigs, the internet came: with its free downloads, and MTV went from Unplugged and Nine Inch Nails videos, to Brittany Spears and what would later become reality TV. And the guys I played with were as broke as I was, in the middle-of-nowhere, West Virginia. And we fought all the time, and that was that.

Casualties of the digital revolution, or poor Appalachia. Or just…life.

I sat there with the window open, picking away minor scales with hints of dissonance. That’s how I like my music—melancholy, with broken, out-of-key overtones. I never could stand any of that upbeat, happy shit. People always used to cock their heads sideways, like dogs do when they’re trying to learn a new sound, whenever I’d play. I imagine they still would, if anyone ever heard me these days.

A handful of people really got into my style, even if they couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do. Maybe I play this way because it’s just…me. Maybe it still is I thought, as I sat there, strumming out my emptiness, and wondering where my life had gone. In part, I figured it was good that I live here, alone. When I play, part of me is glad that I ran all the women off, and another part of me probably plays what I do out of loneliness.

I’m playing right along, and then:

Werp-werp-werp-werp! Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!

Somebody’s car alarm must be going off, I thought. Maybe they’re an idiot who pressed the wrong button on their keyless entry. Maybe crime’s going up in the neighborhood, but that’s the kind of neighborhood this is, sometimes, and some part of me picked this place for that reason.

I stopped playing my usual, improv riffs, and started in on some of the old band stuff, and then, again:

Werp-werp-werp-werp. Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!

Only, this time, it sounded…closer? I stopped playing, and stood next to the window. And I heard it again a couple of times, with two-minute intervals in between. And it was…moving? Did some fucking moron steal a car? Or, maybe they’re like me: their car is fucked up, but they just drive it that way. Good God.

But when I heard it again, I realized: it’s a fucking bird! A bird’s doing that! Some dejected mockingbird picked up the only tune it knew how to carry—one learned from living on the outskirts of human progress.

That’s amazing! I thought. I just pictured this little guy, stuck up in the rafters of Home Depot, freaking the hell out of newlyweds and contractors. Busting out windows. Flipping the bird, with his little bird talon, at anybody who gave him any shit.

Hell, this guy’s species probably invented punk rock.

And here I was, feeling down on myself. Meanwhile, he’s out there just absolutely transforming garbage into art. He’s defying the odds, making a hell of a go at it. And it’s goddamn glorious. Carpe Diem, motherfucker! Give ’em hell!

Eat the fucking elephant!

So I smiled, sat back down, and started playing Fell on Black Days.

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Calling Shots

In 1987, a man drops an eight ball in the corner pocket, and goes home with a drunk girl impressed by this feat. Thirty years later, their son wonders if his life would’ve been better if his mother had made better choices.

 

Battle Scars

–by Derek Alan Wilkinson

You don’t hang out with your friends
because they’re fun.
Even if you do enjoy it,
that’s not why you’re there.
Nor they.

Maybe there are people
who you just have fun with.
But they’re not your friends:
they’re just acquaintances.
Just fucking strangers
on the street.

You can tell your real friends
from these strangers you meet
because you can recognize
their battle scars.
You can see the suffering
in their faces:
Sullen eyes and shrunken hearts.
You can feel the shrapnel
in their gut
like it was your own.

They don’t have to talk about
their pain,
their struggle,
or their life.
Nor do you,
because you already know it.
And so do they.
You can feel their misery,
and they can feel yours.

Like they’re always there
even when they’re not.

If you do talk about your pain,
you don’t say much
because you know,
deep down,
that you don’t have to.
They know, and they always will:
without any explanation at all.

And you know.
And that’s that:
that’s all there is to it.

Decades will pass,
and you will see their torment:
over and over, again.
Their agony will surface
in the most subtle of ways.
In a silent facial expression.
In an underhanded comment.
In a body gesture that seems
so out of place:
like a breeze floating over
an otherwise empty room.

For the times that you enjoy together,
you will have suffered apart.
And your friends will see it in you,
and you’ll see it in them, too.
But none of your friends has to say much
about the war–the struggle,
or about life,
about children,
or about death.

Because you seek it in them
and they see it in you.

So, smile you fucking assholes:
I just wrote a poem about you.
I just wish that you were here,
sometimes,
when you’re not.

Inside

Her soft, lotioned legs held me—leading me into a womb that I never wanted to escape.  We laughed, while my semen dripped out. “I have to clean up!” she’d exclaim.

I’d had this hunger—this craving for wanting to be inside of someone soft and fleshy and wet.  Why?  Because I was and am human, and mimicking reproduction, over and over, was my way of quelling the need—which was deeper than anything I’d ever felt.

She, and dozens of others.  I didn’t want it like this.  I never just wanted to “bang some chick.” But they came, I came, and they went.

Help me…feel like I once was.

The whole thing was always—the repetition of these things—just  some dream I’d wanted to relive, without realizing it. “Born again” was a Christian indiscretion.  Those zealots didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.  But there was this girl, and this other girl.  And I wanted to be a part of them—of their lives.  Of who and everything that they were.  I wanted, desperately and with unheeded caution, to be inside of them.  This wasn’t just to fuck them.  I wanted to listen to them talk about things—everything. To know them.

I wanted to listen to their heartbeats when we were done—to hear the drums of that old human effort, over and over.  I clawed at the double-helix of what it was to be a person.  But, in all this, I knew what it meant to succeed: to reproduce.  And, all in all, I just didn’t believe in it—to replicate such a wretched thing as life.

Yet, I craved it from someplace I couldn’t grasp.  It was something that was a deeper part of who I am that I wanted to believe.  I wanted to transcend this natural selection shit.  But, if it weren’t for the old algorithm, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it to begin with.  I wouldn’t be here to bitch.

So, the girl, she cleaned off my semen.  My worthless slime.  I’d had a vasectomy years back.  I didn’t believe in life.  I still don’t. “Ugly thing! Life!” I’d exclaim this, to myself. “I’m not having kids.  I don’t want to give this wretchedness—this need—to anyone!”

Yet, here I am—the unwilling participant in a game that disgusts me, and from which I cannot escape.

And I still, despite it all, want inside.

The Human Spirit

–by Derek Alan Wilkinson

They’d finally found it.

“The Human Spirit,” they called this entity: this carcass. Its double-helix body lay strewn across a stone slab of an examination table—which was blasphemy, if you ask me; using such a sturdy, piece of granite to examine something so…malleable. Well, I guess that’s only true if you believe in free will, or infinity paradoxes. If you don’t…I won’t waste your time in debate.

Narcissus, as always, was the first to speak up, “I think it represents all of us. Most importantly, I connect with this thing. It exemplifies the deepest parts of who I am.”

Nemesis countered (as always), “I wish I were there when it saw defeat. I’d been looking for a way to correct—to chasten—it. It always eluded me. So, I must say…I’m glad it’s finally dead.”

Hercules declared: “What was once our trusted ally was also our most feared enemy. We may have triumphed, but only by mishaps. We must resurrect this creature!”

Mars resounded, “Yes!” As did Echo.

An old mortal spoke up: which, by just about everyone’s standards, was normally considered heresy. But this guy had been around for awhile.

Lazarus said his piece: speaking through broken vocal channels, with his usually sullen and eyeless expression, “This one’s got me beat. Give it a minute, and it’ll be back. And you’ll have your hopeless war again.”

Faustus said that it was only dead because of a deal it had made with him, but he couldn’t provide the paperwork to prove it.

Mephistopheles, while having no claim, attempted to barter with both Faustus and Charon over the matter. When they’d finally reached the point of having their deal, Hercules stood up and insisted that his father would resolve the matter.

I wasn’t having any of this shit.

I ran up and grabbed the coin right out of its dead mouth, and screamed, “Let me show you what this thing is!”

And I ripped out its heart, and held it in my hands. The gods stood still. Normally, they would’ve had my hide, being a mere mortal. But I knew the thing more than they: mortality never escaped me. Only I it.

“This is the drumbeat that it follows!” I threw the useless organ down onto the marble floor. “And this…” I grabbed the thing by its head, and smashed its skull in with Thor’s hammer (smashed its skull against the hammer.  I couldn’t lift the thing), “Is where they dreamed, and what I’ve infected.” I pulled its brain out, and held it like a trophy over my head.

The gods thought up useless ways to punish me—I could see it in their eyes. They sought the means to prosecute, but couldn’t come to a conclusion: although, I saw both home and hope in Nemesis’s eyes.

So, I waited like a desert victim—for the vultures, the so-called gods—to have me.

And I’m still waiting on my death sentence—as I’ve ran, and have stolen the Pale Horse, and I’ve been riding as far as I can go to get away. I still have that coin—the one that I use to make difficult choices.

Wherever I go, I hear the rumor: “the Human Spirit lives on.”