Synchronized Chaos September 2013 – Digestion


Welcome, friends and family, to September 2013’s issue of Synchronized Chaos International Magazine. This month our contributions reflect thought and analysis, taking apart and processing cultural phenomena and life experience.

Many pieces illustrate ways in which we understand and interpret our world, as our writers grapple with huge questions: how to empower the poor, how to find happiness, how to understand and prevent violence and repression, how to heal from trauma. 

Elizabeth Hughes begins by giving us succinct descriptions of the books she reviews in her monthly Book Periscope column, capturing the atmosphere and style of each title. A ‘gut feeling’ initial reaction usually comes first as we make sense of something, and while this often changes or gets refined, it is crucial because it gives us somewhere to start. This month, her surveyed titles include Joe Writeson’s expatriate memoir From Jarrow to Java (on a beer scooter) and Aaron Cohen’s crime and suspense thriller Luke. 

Other submissions deal with later stages of analysis. Poet Shelby Stephenson traces the role of firearms in American society through a long tone poem, “Forthwith – Lament: To Attempt a Meditation on Guns.” He wonders in writing how we went from an era where adults and children freely carried weapons for hunting and target practice to a nation where guns are banned from many public places, and people fear random violence at schools and theaters.

Many cultural artifacts can be used for multiple positive and negative purposes, like multi-layered symbols within a novel. And Stephenson takes a single object, a firearm, and uses it as a lens to track and ponder changing societal attitudes.

Christopher Bernard also focuses in on a particular civic function in his poem “The Taxpayer.” He connects the individual action of paying taxes with the broader effects of what that money finances around the world, illustrating the unavoidable connection in the modern world between the global and the local. When one already participates financially in international events, it becomes impossible to disengage from issues at that level. Also, when ordinary people participate in a systemic effort to accomplish something, even without their choice or full understanding, they can become less likely to critically examine their leaders’ goals and objectives. People want to believe they have been contributing to good, rather than ill, and may not then seek out information shining light on the inefficacy or wrongdoing in which they have played a part. So, by blatantly laying out the broader effects of individual actions, Bernard drives his point home, breaking through our mental blocks.

Poet George Sparling also deals with sociopolitical issues, evoking a state of paranoia in his piece. It is difficult to tell whether his protagonist is a victim of state repression or dealing with personal mental illness. By blurring the line between insanity and external oppression, the poet illustrates the mental toll of constant fear, psychological manipulation and invasion of privacy. Like Elizabeth Hughes, he identifies and describes a particular tone and sensibility, and then goes farther to create that feeling within his piece.

Creating a tutorial, or a guide to something, represents another way to digest it, breaking it down bit by bit into understandable steps. A teacher must master not only the material but also the learning process, how to explain and systematize material. Management professor and mammalian sociologist Dr. Loretta Breuning, journalist Janna Leyde, and fashion writer Mimi Sylte all deal with teaching and learning in their pieces.  

Dr. Breuning presents a guide to natural mood management, identifying and describing the function of each of our brain’s ‘happy chemical’ neurotransmitters, chemicals that affect how we feel that are released in response to perceived situations. She provides a how-to manual for the mammalian brain, summarizing some of the information in her recent book, Meet Your Happy Chemicals. 

Fashion student and upcoming designer Mimi Sylte interviews Sam Formo, leader and coach of Developing Skills through Independence, Networking and Empowerment (D-SINE). This is a San Francisco nonprofit designed to teach design, apparel construction and pattern-making to low-income, struggling people so they can create and sell their own clothing lines. Formo and Sylte converse about Formo’s own work in developing eco-friendly apparel, then move on to discuss education as a means to expand confidence and life options.

Journalist and yoga instructor Janna Leyde describes her middle-aged father’s work with a physical therapist, relearning how to walk, eat, speak and write after suffering a total brain injury. Her piece teeters between fascination, compassion and frustration, emotions many caregivers can share. The fact that she chose a section about teaching, out of a full-length memoir, He Never Liked Cake, to send our way, highlights the intensity of her family’s challenge: figuring out how to be a person, learning how to function and coexist with others, is hard work.

Most of our contributors don’t experience such a dramatic struggle as Janna’s father, but they, along with the rest of us, become new, larger people as we assimilate information and reinterpret our world.

Writer and critic Tapati McDaniels provides a detailed review of comedian Kamau Bell’s recent San Francisco performance of his new show Totally Biased, deconstructing and analyzing the logistics and setup of the event as well as the words that were spoken. According to professor Marshall McLuhan, the medium is an unavoidable part of the message, reflecting and expressing content along with the official presentation. So, as we see, the order in which people performed, where everyone sat on stage, and the schedule of the night contributed to the event’s ability to address and comment on race relations and showcase local talent.

Wendy Saddler processes big issues in her review of Dean Hartwell’s atheist manifesto, St. Peter’s Choice. She analyzes the author’s overall worldview as well as the specific claims he makes in this book, where he outlines why he decided not to believe in traditional Christianity. Understanding and hearing others does not require that we come to agree with them, only that we comprehend what they are saying and envision ourselves in their place. And a reasoned disagreement can promote thought and deeper analysis of the matters at hand, leading to a superior synthesis of ideas, if there is one to be achieved.

Our final contributor, Lorene Miller presents finished products of digestion, perfectly honed crystals of thought and feeling. Miller creates an individual portrait of an unusual character, describing her specifically and lovingly, down to her hair, her vegetarianism, and love for birds. Miller brings us back to the beauty of language and thought, to what we can find when we do the tough work of making sense of our universe. That, along with the practical need to understand and get along with others, and to communicate, inspires us to engage with our cultural ideas and personal experiences at a deeper level.

We at Synchronized Chaos Magazine invite you to accompany us on a journey of thought, sharing in these ideas during the change of seasons.

Excerpt from Janna Leyde’s He Never Liked Cake, a memoir of her father’s brain injury


My dad’s life in rehab was a tedious schedule—brain injury curriculum: bed times, meal times, nap times, bath times, bathroom times, walks, therapy sessions, tests, workouts and pills to take. Pills after pills after pills, to be taken on the hour, with meals, at bedtime, three times a day. Pills you could see through and pills that left a powdery residue. Pills you could write on a chalkboard with and pills you could pop like a Gusher.


The grueling itinerary and his buffet of pills were elemental in getting him on track with his recovery, something that would give him shot at his old life. The accident had left us starting out from scratch, building him back into a real man, from medicines and mealtimes, rules and activities.


When people would ask how he was doing, I felt like I was spouting off rudimentary action verbs—simple action verbs, the kind you learn when you are first learning a language. He’d failed Spanish twice in high school.


Well, my dad has to relearn how to … walk …


A smiley man, what a human being would be like if he was crafted from a Care Bear, was helping him put one foot in front of the other. Down a path of parallel steel bars they went, as painful as watching paint dry, every day.


“’At’s it, John!”


I watched them, driven by the pure curiosity of how you teach a grown man to walk paired with the hope that he would do it on his own in my presence. The smiley man stood at one end, coaxing him forward, applauding his strength and stamina as he panted and sputtered, dragging his feet as if they were tied to cement blocks. As he made millimeters of progress, the cheery man clapped him on.


“You da man!”


Learning to walk, again, at forty-six. Funny how you can’t start out crawling.


Oh, he has to learn how to talk all over again …


“Gimme a kiss.” His first words, said to my mother, were spoken in a scratchy, coarse whisper the day he woke up from his coma. Now all he did was swear, grunt, bellow, holler, and hiss between spurts of breath, with poor diction on the few words he did choose to use. Never a complete sentence.


“John, you have to tell us what you want,” my mother would say to him. “We’ll get it for you, but you need to tell us what it is.”




I suppose No! is a sentence, complete with punctuation the way he said it.


They have him learning to write …


At first, he scribbled all over the notepad we gave him. He was more impressed by the marks a pen could make than anything else. Then he started to write letters, out of sequence, but in his familiar, barely legible penmanship—choppy caps from an awkward lefty.




He wrote my name first, his first word. The pride felt backwards.


We have to help him learn to eat again …


Vanilla Ensure, cleverly designed to open with the same enjoyment of a pop can, was a recipe tailored to people older than my grandparents who had bodies that rejected nutrients and supplements. I popped the tab down and stuck a straw into the frothy, cement-gray liquid posing as a milkshake. I wanted to know if it was as chalky and awful-tasting as it appeared. I took a sip. Worse! How could he stomach them? He hated sweets, and I hated vanilla. The nurse told me he fought harder against the chocolate than the vanilla. Vanilla Ensures—two cans a day.


We’re hoping he’ll learn to read again …


He stared blankly at Dick-and-Jane style paragraphs and pushed flash cards off his tray. Books, magazines, and newspapers piled up in stacks around him. I thought about reading to him. How do you read to your father? What do you read to your father? What would he read to you? English poetry? American? How about Frost?


“Whose woods these are I think I know/His house is in the village though/He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow.”


He promptly fell asleep. A poem about snow in summer is stupid.


To use the bathroom …


My father was wetting the bed, wetting his pants. Was I supposed to potty train him? I was fourteen and had never pissed anything before—myself, my pants, the bed, nothing. And he was shitting the bed at forty-six.


When my father had to go to the bathroom, his body was not able to keep up with the pace that he wanted to move. He’d lean his torso over the side of his bed and forget to swing his legs out from under the sheets to properly plant his feet on the ground.


“Dad, hey … hey …”


As he teetered, I came closer, my arms stretched out. I wanted him to reach for my help, but he just swatted at me, flirting with his imbalance.


“Hang on!”


If he fell, the weight he might put into my arms would be a bridge to cross if I ever got to it.


“Get!” he said, still leaning forward, still forgetting about his legs.


He leaned, pulling pillows, cords and sheets with him. He didn’t want help from his kid. But I was petrified of him falling. That fear has never gone away.


I would watch him struggle and dodge his swats, and my mind would roll horror footage. His head cracking open on the floor, or the doorframe, or the pavement, or the porcelain sink. Me, sitting in a pile of blood, holding together the two sides of his skull. I’ve always been well aware that all this damage was a closed head injury, but my mind wanted more gore. Me, hopeless, his blood dripping down my wrists, to my elbows, staining everything. He would die. And I would just cry. Years later, when Dexter became a hit, something felt too familiar. I’m aware how fucked up these notions are, so messed up they keep me apart from the actual reality.


And then in reality, his legs always caught up, he’d charge towards the door, looking like some kind of primate rather than a father, sights set on the door handle, which would always catch him. Once he was inside the bathroom, I could breathe again. The design was built for his reckless behavior, and with the door shut, my opportunity to help was over. What he did in there was out of my league and into my mother’s. Knowing what she did for him made me queasy.


She did everything. She cleaned him up and dressed him the same way you would a baby. A giant, cranky, helpless baby man. She would get a washcloth and run it under hot water in the bathroom—the sign for me to leave the two of them in the room and shut the door on my way out. She would lift his gangling appendages one by one, turning and rotating each of them at the joints, bending his elbows and knees. With the warm washcloth, she would wipe down the limp, pale skin that clung to nothing more than his skeleton. Then she’d turn him over, put medicine on his bedsores, and rub his back with lotion, checking for bruises. Sometimes she would have to change his diaper. He wore a diaper, because he frequently did not make it to the bathroom in time. I could not dream of having such love for someone.


That August, my father quit loving me. “Hey, Dad, can you just try some for me?” I asked, picking up a plastic container that looked like it should hold pudding rather than six ounces of watered-down orange juice.




“This will help you get stronger, so you can walk and do things like—”


“I don’t want it!”


“Dad, you’ve got to eat something today.”




I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes and conjured up the caretaker Janna, a patient and firm woman, like my mother.


“Please. Stop yelling at me.”




I jabbed a hole in the foil cover with the straw and set it down in front of him on his tray, which hinged around him in bed like a school desk. He stared at me. He shoved the tray away, swinging it wildly. The orange juice cup slid like a beer mug on a bar. I cupped it, catching it midair before it fell to floor.


“I. Said. Yes.”


I set it down in front of him, again. He picked it up with a quivering grip, took a huge breath, puckered his lips around the straw, and sucked. One long suck until the pudding container was empty. He set it back down and removed the straw.


“Thanks, Dad.” I smiled at him.


He put the straw back in his mouth, sat up straighter, and leaned towards me. I walked closer. What was he doing with the straw? He had always chewed on things: toothpicks, wads of paper, swizzle sticks, grass blades, straws. Still holding the straw to his lips, he looked at me. He pulled the accordion end straight with his free hand and took an audible breath through his nose. I leaned towards him.


A stream of orange juice hit me in the forehead. It trickled down my face. I stood, mouth agape, in complete stillness, taking in the sticky droplets clinging to my eyelashes and the warm streams running down my neck, soaking into my shirt.


He chuckled and threw the straw at me. It glided through the air, just like the paper airplanes he taught me how to make as a kid. We’d fly them through the rafters of the living room and kitchen. Mine were often duds. His ascended effortlessly, picking up air currents I never knew existed in our house.


I walked into the bathroom, braced my arms on the sink, and looked in the mirror. My hipbones pressed against the porcelain. It hurt. I hated him; I wanted to. I hated being sticky. I hated that he was always throwing things, at people, at walls—food, forks, books, pens, spoons, pillows, insults, fits, tantrums—all the time.


The doctors increased his medications. Now the mesh net at the head of his bed had a purpose.


“Mom, what is that for?”


My father lay silent, sleeping in his mosquito net.


“Well, he gets very angry, and he needs restrained.”


“By a net?”


I now felt stupid for the first day I saw the net and for secretly wishing to see destruction in action. It was the same thrill I felt when the local programing was interrupted by the “severe weather warning for Mercer County,” tornadoes spinning frighteningly close, touching down and maybe tearing some barn, stretch of woods, or house to shreds. The imminent sense that something powerful and dangerous was about to happen. Hurricanes hitting the coast, thrashing through beach towns. Crazy men confined in mosquito netting—exhilarating.


“If you let him be, he’ll try to escape, and he’ll hurt himself.”


“Oh, so it’s kinda like a net cage?”


The netting looked like something that belonged on a ski boat, white and waterproof, something made to withstand the elements—thick, shiny cotton thread and chunky metal zippers. Inside, his feet and hands were bound in white nylon straps, thick as seat belts, which kept him from moving.


“He can get pretty nasty, Janna,” said my mother, trying to explain the reason for what I was seeing. “It’s one of the stages that they say he might go through during recovery.”




I thought about the summer Fourth of July picnic at the Riegs’ when Nicole, Steven, Lisa, and I had found a rabid raccoon trapped in the drainpipe that ran under the street. We spent hours entertained by fear and a gripping curiosity, shining a flashlight in the pipe to watch it flinch and hiss, trying to fight and climb its way out. It darted from one end to other, flailing and screeching. Trapped. Combative. Eventually, someone shot it.

“So it’s kind of a good thing?” I asked, fingering the zipper.

“What do you mean?”


“Well, if he is going through the stages.”


“Janna, he’s pretty nasty.”


There was nothing I could say. There was nothing nice my mother was saying about my father lately, so maybe there was nothing I wanted to hear. I didn’t see him that much. With school around the corner, I was busy dealing with ninth grade, finding adolescent worries that I challenged to be as important.


The net confinement only lasted a week or so. After the net cage was rolled back up, his anger lessened. He was calming down and starting to talk to us in full sentences—all good things, nothing major. Maybe he was moving through the stages.


In the first days of the accident, when death was the biggest thing to fear, a nurse gave me a book. Simply because I was the fourteen-year-old whose dad had just come out of a coma and now had a brain injury, and according the Glasgow Coma Scale, at 5, he was just two points shy of being in a vegetative state. The book was supposed to help me navigate what could happen if (and when) he woke up. When a Parent Has a Brain Injury: Sons and Daughters Speak Out.


It was a poor excuse for a book—a pamphlet, really. In the hospital, I paged through it, but the writing was boring. I was not able to relate to people talking about dating their boyfriends and bringing their father home and getting into drugs, so I put the book in my desk drawer, thinking I might have a need for it someday.

Janna Leyde is a writer and certified yoga teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She has a master’s in journalism from NYU, and He Never Liked Cake is her first book. 

‘Five Ways to Trigger Your Natural Happy Chemicals’ by Dr. Loretta Breuning



Five Ways to Trigger Your Natural Happy Chemicals

By Loretta Graziano Breuning

Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, is the author of “Meet Your Happy Chemicals,” “Beyond Cynical,” and “I, Mammal.” She’s Professor Emerita at California State University, East Bay, and a Docent at the Oakland Zoo. Her blog, “Your Neurochemical Self,” is hosted at

When your brain releases dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, or oxytocin, you feel good. But soon the spurt is over and you want more. Unfortunately, happy chemicals were not meant to surge all the time, but the more you understand the job your happy chemicals evolved to do, the easier it is to live with their ups and downs.

Here’s a strategy for stimulating each of the happy chemicals. First we’ll see what turns them on in the animal world, and then look at practical ways of stimulating them in today’s world.

1) Dopamine (Embrace a new goal.)
Approaching a reward triggers dopamine. When a lion approaches a gazelle, her dopamine surges and the energy she needs for the hunt is released. Your ancestors released dopamine when they found a water hole. The good feeling surged before they actually sipped the water. Just seeing signs of a water-hole turned on the dopamine. Just smelling a gazelle turns on dopamine. The expectation of a reward triggers a good feeling in the mammal brain, and releases the energy you need to reach the reward.

Dopamine alerts your attention to things that meet your needs. How you define your needs depends on your unique life experience. Each time dopamine flowed in your youth, it connected neurons in your brain. Now you’re wired you to meet your needs in ways that felt good in your past.

Dopamine motivates you to seek, whether you’re seeking a medical degree or a parking spot near the donut shop. Dopamine motivates persistence in the pursuit of things that meet your needs, whether it’s a bar that’s open late, the next level in a video game, or a way to feed children. You can stimulate the good feeling of dopamine without behaviors that hurt your best interests. Embrace a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. Your brain will reward you with dopamine each time you take a step. The repetition will build a new dopamine pathway to take the place of the habit you’re better off without.

2) Serotonin (Believe in yourself.)
Confidence triggers serotonin. Monkeys try to one-up each other because it stimulates their serotonin. People often do the same. This brain we’ve inherited rewards social dominance because that promotes your genes in the state of nature. As much as you may dislike this, you enjoy the good feeling of serotonin when you feel respected by others. Your brain seeks more of that feeling by repeating behaviors that triggered it in your past. The respect you got in your youth paved neural pathways that tell your brain how to get respect today. Sometimes people seek it in ways that undermine their long-term well-being. The solution is not to dismiss your natural urge for status, because you need the serotonin. Instead, you can develop your belief in your own worth. People are probably respecting you behind your back right now. Focus on that instead of scanning for disrespect. Everyone has wins and losses. If you focus on your losses you will depress your serotonin, even if you’re a rock star or a CEO. Build serotonin by focusing on your wins!

3) Oxytocin (Build trust consciously.)
Trust triggers oxytocin. Mammals stick with a herd because they inherited a brain that releases oxytocin when they do. Reptiles cannot stand the company of other reptiles, so it’s not surprising that they only release oxytocin during sex. Social bonds help mammals protect their young from predators, and natural selection built a brain that rewards us with a good feeling when we strengthen those bonds. Sometimes your trust is betrayed. Trusting someone who is not trustworthy is bad for your survival. Your brain releases unhappy chemicals when your trust is betrayed. That paves neural pathways which tell you when to withhold trust in the future. But if you withhold trust all the time, you deprive yourself of oxytocin. You can stimulate it by building trust consciously. Create realistic expectations that both parties can meet. Each time your expectations are met, your brain rewards you with a good feeling. Continual small steps will build your oxytocin circuits. Trust, verify, and repeat. You will grow to trust yourself as well as others.

4) Endorphin (Make time to stretch and laugh!)
Pain causes endorphin. That’s not what you expect when you hear about the “endorphin high.” But runners don’t get that high unless they push past their limits to the point of distress. Endorphin causes a brief euphoria that masks pain. In the state of nature, it helps an injured animal escape from a predator. It helped our ancestors run for help when injured. Endorphin was meant for emergencies. Inflicting harm on yourself to stimulate endorphin is a bad survival strategy. Fortunately, there are better ways: laughing and stretching. Both of these jiggle your innards in irregular ways, causing moderate wear and tear and moderate endorphin flow. When you believe in the power of laughing and stretching, you create opportunities to trigger your endorphin in these ways.

5) Cortisol (Survive, then thrive!)
Cortisol feels bad. It alerts animals to urgent survival threats. Our big brain alerts us to subtle threats as well as urgent ones. The bad feeling of cortisol will always be part of life because your survival is threatened as long as you’re alive. Cortisol especially grabs your attention when it’s not being masked by happy chemicals. You might have a sudden bad feeling when your happy chemicals dip, even though there’s no predator at your door. If you can’t get comfortable with that, you might rush to mask it with any happy-chemical stimulant you’re familiar with. Your well-being will suffer. You will lose the information the cortisol is trying to give you, and your happy habit will have side effects. More cortisol will flow, thus increasing the temptation to overstimulate your happy chemicals. This vicious cycle can be avoided if you learn to accept the bad feeling you get when a happy chemical surge is over. You need unhappy chemicals to warn you of potential harm as much as you need happy chemicals to alert you to potential rewards. If you learn to accept your cortisol, you will make better decisions and end up with more happy chemicals.

Dr. Loretta Breuning may be reached at and welcomes thoughts and comments. 


Mimi Sylte on Fashion: In Conversation with Sam Formo, of San Francisco’s nonprofit D-SINE


The fashion industry is the second most waste-creating industry in the world, right behind weaponry. However, San Francisco is a forerunner in the sustainable fashion world, and Sam Formo has made his home here with his new concept of a zero-waste pattern, which earned him placements for awards and exhibitions internationally. Along with his industry-changing ideas, he also has founded D-SINE, a non-profit that helps down-and-out men and women change their quality of life for the better through learning fashion design.

D-SINE stands for “Developing Skills through Independence, Networking and Empowerment”. Formo combined his work in Social Services with his talent of passing on his skills to others. His pupils have found themselves in a tough position through homelessness, substance abuse, sex work, or incarceration. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Sam about his work and his wardrobe.
Mimi: “How would you describe your personal style?”
Sam Formo: “I have roots in the punk scene, I have some edge. I like to have one little thing to stand apart from the rest. I’m obsessed with shoes, my closet is full of them.”
M: “How would you describe San Francisco’s style, and would you say it’s unique to other major cities?”
SF:”San Francisco has a very laid-back style. It’s gotten a lot better. I’ve lived in New York City where there is more style, not just fashion. Here everyone looks homogeneous, hipster.”
M: “How do you feel about menswear getting more attention recently?”
SF: ” It’s great! It’s about time- it needs it.”
M: “Do you have a favorite designer?”
SF: “I like Margiela. My favorite pair of shoes is by Dries Van Norton. They last so long, I love them!”
M: ” What are you really excited about wearing this fall?”
SF: ” I don’t follow trends so much!”
M:”Do you have a routine when you get dressed in the morning?”
SF: “I start with the shoes. I decide what shoe to wear for the day and the rest falls into place.”
M: “Tell me about D-SINE.”
SF: “It’s a twelve week incremental program with an end goal of generating income through making one’s own line of clothing.”
M:”What is a typical meeting like?”
SF: “Well, we meet up once a week for three hours. We check-in, get to work, conceptualize ideas, inspiration, mood boards, and translate it into design.”
M: “Why do you care about helping down and out people?”
SF: “I have experience from hardship and have overcome a lot of adversity. I want to help them make better decisions, reduce the harm in their lives. This inspires me. It’s my favorite day of the week. It comes from a very personal space, and I am learning a lot about myself.”
M: “Do you have advice for someone who wants to start a non-profit, or something similar to what you are doing?”
SF: “Get help! Have a solid idea and a plan. Make a business plan, find funding. You have to love it.”
D-SINE meets once a week at the St. James Infirmary. If you would like to help with donating a sewing machine, muslin, tools, or your own time, please feel free to contact Sam through the group’s Facebook page!
Mimi Sylte is a fashion student in San Francisco, currently working at nonprofit runway shows in Seattle and serving as a staff writer for Synchronized Chaos. She may be reached at and appreciates tips and thoughts for further columns! 

Woman with hat, also by George Hodan

Poetry by Christopher Bernard


 Drone pilots in training



Citizen Taxpayer

By Christopher Bernard


Every April he paid his taxes

(by mail, years ago—today, by the ’net –

he was law-abiding, innocent,

responsible, dutiful, no slacker, not lax, is

our upstanding taxpayer)—

and a penny went


into the hand of a homeland spy

who collected his emails,

tapped his phone,

followed his clicks on the worldwide web,

and saved them forever on servers in a mountain

in the gut of the Rockies, to make him (he said)

safer from the enemies of the United States,

“even if they’re me” (faunlike, nerdlike, he grinned).


The taxpayer, uneasy, returned his grin.


He didn’t mind, no, he got it, the need

in a warlike time

for deeds like these:

security required less liberty.

He had nothing to hide—

oh no, not he!

He wasn’t guilty,

though he felt mildly terrified.

Then he thought, “But that’s what

they want us to be!

The terrorists, that is.

They want us to be horrified, scarified, terrified!”

And he felt properly edified, dutified, mollified.


A penny went

to a caterer in Livermore,

and another to a weapons maker’s part-time chauffeur,

a penny to a Homeland Security clerk,

another to a therapist of a faceless veteran

(his face had been blown off on a road near Najaf),

a penny sequestered

the winter before.


And the taxpayer nodded

shrugged, grunted, and sighed.

He grumbled, “There’s a war on,

it’s not played like canasta.

They want to kill us,

so let’s first kill them.

What would you do, huh?”


A penny went

into the pocket of a drone jockey

who showed his mojo in the snowy state

better than at the local bar,

where he was known to play none too shabby or shoddy darts,

by crashing wedding parties in the Yemen hills

8,000 miles away into a thousand body parts.


A penny went

to the pension of an enhanced interrogator

who, under W., tortured Khalid,

and persons of interest in Waziristan and Kut,

and lives, under Obama,

anonymous, retired,

on the farthest flung of the Florida Keys.

A penny went

to the SEAL who killed bin Laden,

a penny to his boss, his ace buddy, his driver,

to the helicopter pilot who dropped him at Abbottabad’s savage gate,


a penny to a special op at Lahore,

a turned jihadist in Somalia,

a janitor at a black site in Iraq.


A penny went

to a recruiter in Davenport,

Tracy, Laramie, Charlotte,

Peoria, Duluth,

Boise, Stockton, Detroit,

to collect young men and women

“to teach them to kill for me.


Because I pay them.

I pay them all.

I am their paymaster, their leader, their boss.

They do what I pay them to do.

I am Taxpayer.

And what I pay them to do is to kill.”


And he bravely clicked Send My Tax, next April.




Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist, and essayist living in San Francisco. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins ( and co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector (


Poetry from George Sparling



                                     The Ventriloquists’ Terrorist





    There was a clear distinction between my subvocal, or, silent speech, and the words the


National Security Agency laid inside my brain. I wasn’t myself anymore. That’s not a


ridiculous assumption. Now, I hate to unload my mind. I’ve managed to shut up for a


few hours- reading, listening to jazz on Spotify on my headphones, but, sooner than


later, the NSA’s words must speak. They’re in control of my lips, my voice box, my tongue, my glottal


stop, my teeth, and my palate. It’s painful and I hope it’ll go away.


    If I put faith in my subvocal, silent speech, I can break the chokehold of the NSA. I


am not unlike other Americans- Americans who will not kiss the bloody flag. Digging


beneath the superficial, so many citizens have the power within them to alter the regime’s


power. Depressed and repressed for what seemed like epochs, we owe it to our sense of


decency to clobber the digital dictators. But not without a fight. 


       “What’s with the frown, Marty? It doesn’t do justice to your handsome self,” Pam


said. She was concerned, exactly the reason why I liked her. I hadn’t wanted her to become


embroiled in my internal affairs department–that region in the brain’s left hemisphere, the areas of


Broca’s and Wernicke’s, regions from where speech production stem.      


    I sealed my lips, clamped my teeth, but still, my tongue moved within. They’re


not my lips and tongue anymore, but they belong to the National Security Agency. My own words

have spieled out ever since I was two years of age. That’s what I did–I talked, and the NSA


stole my words like its agents were Hermes, the thief. I won’t bow down to


mythological hubris. Pam might have other ideas about how false my words sound,


streaming as if from a stranger- a foreign entity- You -the NSA.


    But the ventriloquists wanted to snatch me from Pam, who had so far stood by my side,


who hadn’t crossed enemy lines, and who mistook them for me. I had to speak sham-speech, but it was the


enemy within who had dictated it:


    “The National Security Agency has embedded words into me that are not my own, right now, as I speak, Pam. It’s an


operation to try to make random persons say they’ll commit terrorist violence.”


    Pseudo-speak compelled me to say that. Pam massaged my chest. She pressed her


hand on my heart and ran her fingers up and down my legs. She kissed my lips and touched


them delicately. She imparted familiarity, and allowed her sensuality to detect my fraudulent


words. At least now she knew the difference.


    “You’re talking paranoia,” she said, though speaking without condemnation, her voice strong


and sympathetic. I touched her throat, feeling the vibrations of her voice, as she uttered those three


words. Then I released my hand and watched her, a non-drinker, toss back a cup of vodka.


    Her face always looked kinder among persons, though unhinged in some way, like persons


with classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. I hadn’t a serious mental condition,


but just a minor breakdown. The NSA could have engineered it, noodling around my brain. Testing,


one- two- three, we made penetration. Perhaps I was pliable, allowing a soft touch to affect my entire 


life like a fontanelle- soft and porous, easy to probe, and then control. 


    She worked for a spell in a mental hospital, where she met me-  then a patient. There was


little gap between her mode of thought and her mode of speech and that of mine. After hospitalization, 


we began living together. 


    She played along, saying, “I thought the NSA protected us from attack by terrorists.”


    “This is an experiment, I responded, “and I’m the test subject to verify whether they can terrify an


entire nation into submission. They can manipulate our minds into thinking we’re


terrorists, and not just ordinary citizens.”


    I’d better stop conversational exchanges, or, out of helplessness, she might

get a


psychiatrist to commit me to the same mental care unit as the one in which she fell


for me. That possibility could happen. If the NSA persists in making me parrot their words,


she might even leave. Every time I speak, she hears their words, and not mine, transmitted


from Fort Meade, Maryland, the location of the NSA headquarters. I cherish having freed myself from


inhibitions. Now a ventriloquists’ dummy, stuffed with words not my own, the rush


of imminent death of who-ness swept down and lodged in my mind. It was like a


sore- that, if untreated, would never heal.  


     Outside agitators obstructed my liberated spirit, usurping ownership of my speech.


Don’t I own the copyright for my words? I seek no wider territory except my mouth.


When I said, “stop mouthing off”, that meant you, National Security Agency. I hear you


as I brush my teeth: “We’re the floss between your teeth as you slide it back and forth.


We’re the teeth, we’re your ‘ahh’ after you finish,” I said, as Pam came out of the shower.


    “What’s with the teeth talk?” she said, toweling off.


    “The NSA flosses and talks to the morsels and gristle it removes,” I said. “They like


demonstrating omnipotence in mundane, psychotic ways.”


    “You’re imagining that. Why not see a shrink?” Pam said.


    Shrink-talk was a dirty word, but what could I do? I couldn’t place quotation marks around


these concocted words.


    “Surveillance has taken over, and we’re in control,” they said angrily. I spewed a


half-digested sunflower seed out my mouth. It landed between her breasts.


    “I wish I could help, but please, keep your mouth shut when we’re both in the


bathroom,” she said. Pam drew a line which I crossed. I licked the seed off and she laughed.      


    “I’m not paranoid”, I thought, “but wouldn’t an invasion, using my mouth as Nazi


Quislings, as their collaborating mouthpieces had during World War II, make one


approximate paranoia? You’re foreign, NSA; You have no passport or Visa; You’ve


employed high tech surveillance, and it hampered me to speak my own mind. If only


guerrillas could hit you where you’re the most vulnerable, when NSA employees are getting into their


cars after their shifts. But that’s hardware, and I’ve got to think software, I’ve got to go digital just as they


have. Catastrophes brought out opportunities, the insurgency builded like plaque on my


teeth, but not your plaque.”


    I thought, “Russia lost its Soviet Republics, and you also will surrender territories you once


had. You may move lips now, but for how much longer? When you told the world that I


had violent thoughts, you were an accomplice to murder. It’s not I who had to serve time in


a Super Max, but you. Today, when I introduce a fake stutter your mouth isn’t


prepared for, you creep in through my nostrils, not unlike a prisoner force-fed by a


feeding tube, which amounts to torture.”


   This morning, I gagged. I coughed. I couldn’t breathe. I had an asthma attack, and I


nearly choked to death- a morsel of food had jammed down my throat. Pam administered


the Heimlich maneuver, reaching from behind, and pulling hard on my stomach. The


obstruction flew out.


   “I could’ve poisoned that drink.” Those were words from the NSA, not mine. Pam was the last person I’d want


dead. The NSA had played around with lives, and made Pam think I was psychotic. She grabbed the


bottle and poured herself another cup of vodka.


    “Don’t try to be someone else.” Pam twisted her hair around her fingers, and her face


turned ugly. “What’ll happen to you if you don’t stop being somebody else?”


    “I have big plans,” I said. “But I don’t know what they’ll make me say next”.


    Pam’s eyes were red-rimmed. “What kind?”


    “Helpers will strap explosives around my body, so I can detonate the Statue of Liberty.”


    “Are you telling me the truth?” Pam asked. “Why would the NSA let you get away with murder?”


    “They foment terror, they don’t stop it. In two days, ka-boom.” My subvocal words began to


be retrievable. I added, “Do you hear trucks outside? The people who will strap on the suicide


vests are getting out.” I never heard anything, just used words on point- military lingo.


    “No, I don’t hear them. I hear birds, I hear wind blowing through trees, I hear you asking the


question, I hear you saying, ‘Read alternative media, even mainstream media. People will rise up


against digital totalitarianism’,” Pam said.


    “Yes, Pam, I said those words.”


    A small university such as this one gathers ten thousand protesters against the NSA.


    I don’t hear NSA-Speak anymore, and in a speech on the speakers’ platform, I said,


   “These are my words today, and not those packaged into my mind by the NSA.”   


    Another speaker took the mic. I gazed at the crowd, and thought, “You’d better be


certain they’re your words when you talk.”


George Sparling is a writer from Arcata, CA and can be reached at


Prose piece from Shelby Stephenson





Violence seems snug over time.  And I can’t say how much depends on GUNS.

In what he called “the old days,” my father would hunt lizards.  His grandpa Manly, my

greatgrandfather, would make arrows from reeds out in the reedmash.  My father would drive a

nail or steel spike into the end of the arrow and stick it with gum he got off a pine tree.  He’d

twine all that, and then take a Dominecker Chicken’s feathers and wing the arrows.  He made the

bow from scalybark hickory.  Gray lizards would run the rails and he would hunt them.  He

called the streaked lizards “racehorses”, they filled the hedges.  He said cats cleaned them out

of this country.  Those blue-tailed scorpions – cats got them too.

Guns meant “hunting,” when I was growing up.  The old people worried more about a cat

doubling up in the dirt (this was before lawns) than a gun going off.

There is a stanza in Leon Payne’s song, “The Selfishness in Man”:

          “Little children painting pictures of the birds and apple trees –

           Oh, why can’t the grown-up people have the faith of one of these?

           And to think those tiny fingers might become a killer’s hand!

           Oh, there’s nothing that stands out more than the selfishness in man.”


I think about how I grew up, following the hunters, becoming one myself, my Uncle Reuben

(he married my father’s sister Mary) lending me $16.00 to buy a full-choke, 12-gauge Iver

Johnson at Farmer’s Hardware in Smithfield, North Carolina.  Uncle Reuben knew I was ready to

hunt with the men and my father did too.

I learned as the years went along that killing anything was not my thing and that I went

along to be part of The Story; yet I always took pride in my Iver Johnson.  Maybe it represented

and still does, a big part of my childhood.

I don’t know.  Hunters enjoyed having me around.  On dove-hunts they would let me shoot

their Browning Automatics.  My single barrel was my way.  And I learned that I would much

rather be alone, sitting on the ridge of just-cut tobacco stalks.  I even felt comfortable in my way,

since I knew I was the only “hunter” who might have eaten squirrel-brains or pickled pigs-feet or

barbecued possum or the soft feet of pullets my mother stewed for me to eat, because I was the

“baby” in the family, my older brothers and sister and parents having first takes on the meaty


I don’t know.  It’s  just as though Leon, the ex-marine (this really happened) stops his

“Dove Wagon”  – that long hearse-like Pontiac – one more time and I really do see the four

plastic doves wired to the rack on top.  He asks me, “Beer-stop – want one?”  It’s Saturday

afternoon, hot in September’s throes −  and I am invited to join the hunt, what with Uncle John

asleep on his upturned bucket in the ironweeds in this ten-acre field surrounded by hunters, some

of them with radios tuned to the football game in Chapel Hill.  Leon (in charge of the

“Beer-wagon,” too) makes his rounds.

The dentist has already killed a pigeon − this after he put his first-killed dove in a sack

stamped Southern Pines Dove Club − and he places the bag on the ground next to a cornstalk

and there is a rattle and that bird gets its second wind and flies off into the blue, the paper-sack

thrashing to remove itself.


Uncle John wakes up.


“Shot any today, Uncle John?”


“Yeah, I crippled one up pretty bad.  Running him down I was losing weight

and that bird was gaining strength − took me four chocolate bars to get back here to my seat.”

The ex-marine has already put me in my place.  Wearing an orange shirt, I appeared

in the A & P parking lot to go on the hunt.  “I see we got a deer-hunter with us today!  Don’t

make any low shots and don’t shoot any more pigeons.”

That was the day Harold Brady packed with home-made shot my single-barrel Iver

Johnson squirrel gun and stationed me among the sunflowers (a baited field).  He got where he

could see me shoot, the stock of my gun flying off and my left shoulder turning bluer every time

I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger.  I stayed awake, thoroughly, never letting on I knew.

Eating dove’s another thing.  Seems like they taste better when you don’t go with The

Club − about twenty men − the latest weapons in their arms, plus, attire perfect for an ad in

Eddie Bauer.

Could my mama Maytle evermore fry dove!  That’s my preference.  Smothered in a wine-

sauce they smell like the inside of a paratrooper’s boot.  To think what muscles fly as beaks coo.

O mourning dove!  Are you a gentle love?  Hovering around the house, do you presage death?

A dove can dive with the conciseness of the purple martin.  Maybe not as fast.   Some of

the old-people used to say “Turkle-dove.”  Oh to symbolize such harmlessness and innocence

and to be hunted and shot for the table!  To be so well-contented as the dove!

Check this sauce it will lie in:


¼ lb dried prunes

1 onion (sliced)

1 bay leaf

6 pepper corns

½ pint (1 ¼ cups) red wine

4 onions (quartered)

2 ½ tbs flour

1 pint chicken broth

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Tbs red currant-jelly (optional)

Some Kitchen Bouquet (for browning)

Rosemary, basil, oregano

Put doves in pan:  boil; let cool

Marinate:  put all this in fridge overnight

Put oil, butter, and doves in pan

Fry quickly to brown.

Remove doves:  add onions

Finish frying:  put doves in sauce

Cover for 25 minutes

Add some chicken stock



Have you noticed the doves the second day of Dove Season?  They fly higher − like

smoking sun-streakers.  They know what it’s like to be shot at.

I feed them now.   I want to say this again:  my 12-gauge’s in the corner of my closet.

I primed sandlugs (tobacco) to pay back that $16.00 loan from Uncle Reuben to buy that gun.

Even at sixteen, I could feel the atmosphere in my blood, as if it were always hunting

season, right there in that hardware store – men’s chairs, the sacks of seeds.  I had been in there

before; so I knew the regulars.  They would shift their matchsticks.  I knew the conversation

would be about loss and ambiguity, crops and guns, too, divorce or wars, and some untouched

area memory fails to get ready for answers.

I can still feel the wind flapping the sign outside Farmer’s Hardware.  Maybe that is the

answer I keep looking for – among the rivets, the squeaks, tools, laughter.

Come to think of it, I thought all the men I knew were hunters.  Refrain:  my father’s

gun is a 12-gauge hammerless Fox Sterlingworth.  It’s leaning in the same corner of my closet.

His voice starts a story of wild turkeys he shot  – oh those stories he told – how he never got shot

himself, a miracle, he said – I picked many a shot out of the back of my coat.

          In memory I am troubled by the warm blood lightening the carcasses of dead animals, fur

and feather bending, where my hand touches hides stiffening – pulling over the eyes.

I love to see the doves relax around my feeders.

And I cannot forget Leon Payne’s words.  They give a context to my childhood.  And to

think that clematis still climbs the basketball post, leaning now, the vines clinging around a nail

where my father and I cleaned small game, hamstrung, the dogs yelping for the hides, my father,

grinning  wider, pulling skin over bodies, little shot-holes inflamed in tender meat, the cats

behind the hounds – meowing.  My father takes and stores his gun on the rack above his bed.

Now he lies among some lilies.  My mind outruns fyces and foxhounds and the farthest

wild woodscapes, trying to find him, adrift in tales curling from his cigar.

The wind ditches him for simple statements I come up with:   point your gun and fix your

bead.  What draws the people in your head?  Is it something the moon camouflages in shrillest

rune?  A dove flies right into your sight.  Does its grace pull you near its flight to urge you to

shoot what it beckons with your automatic weapon?  Consider the hare returning to its squat.

You have pressed your face against your gun-stock.  In school-class children paint birds and

apples.  Could little pupils be the cottontail, fruit, and trees?

I think about our basset, Oliver that never heard a gun.  I got him for hunting in places

Memory counts for nostalgia – those guns and dogs − part of my past.  Oliver!  Hunting dog and

house pet!  In the house he would nip my mother’s heels, as she walked by his bean-bag.  A

territorial basset-hound?  The vet said, “How odd for a basset − they usually lounge like

molasses.”  Oliver wanted to be head of the pack.  I’m not sure he ever heard a gun.  He would

not have been afraid, I can tell you that.  His allegiance to me was his lasting concern.

What I am trying to say is this:  On Paul’s Hill − where I was born at home in a

three-room shanty of a plankhouse I have restored and where my wife Nin and I have lived since

1996 in a “modern” brick-ranch home my parents  built in 1952 − the romance of the hunt is

dead and gone.

In some ways, however, I took after my father.  I am basically a storyteller.  I never really

loved to play checkers, though.  He was a champion player – he played in tournaments. He  loved

to play by himself, playing himself, talking to his “men.”  His checkerboard is on a table in the

plankhouse.  The checkers hold dust inside a Three Nun’s tin.  When I was a boy – is that his

voice?  Or mine?

          I’d make every shell count.  I’ve killed more squirrels since I was sixty. They are

multiplying in our yard now that you’re gone.  I mean, your backyard, or Grandpa Manly’s or

Pap George’s, or David’s before George.  The sign at the driveway still reads:  North Carolina

Century Farm.  I know every foot of this land.

I’d go slow, not pop any sticks and I’d hunt when the wind was blowing, if I could.  When I

was seventy-nine, I felt invisible.   If you don’t make a racket the squirrels will come to you.

Creek’s so open they can see you.  They stir around early in the morning about light and in the

evening about an hour before dark.  When you see one, don’t raise your gun.  If you do he’ll see

you?  I have me a piece of old tractor inner-tube I sit on.  I saw one within a foot of his hole one

time.  I took thirty minutes, slipped up on him.  One way to do is stagger the trees. Get a thick

place on him.  If you rake the trees, you’ll be heard.  And work the branch. 

Go down it?

           Ease along and watch the ground and trees. When you catch them not looking, that’s the

time.  In the Beaver Dam one day I saw five in one blackgum.  One turned and headed to Bob’s

Field.  They didn’t know what was happening?  I shot four out.  The fifth come back and I shot

him out.  Another day I got in the run of the branch with my boots so I wouldn’t make any fuss.

One squatted on a limb.  I scraped his head and he fell in a mud-hole and went around and

around.  I saw another one on the ground.  I shot him:  I know I hit him.  He went down on the

ground to die.  He was hurting so bad up there in the nest.  I sat there an hour and that squirrel

fell out of the tree kerrchoog.

Shotguns revisited?  The scene: my father looks up from his board − Crown me, Son, and

then he drifts:  When I was a boy, guns were mostly made by United Arms – Knickerbockers and

Bay States, Big Columbias with old-mountain barrels.  I got my Bay State from Mink Coats.

We’d shoot spots:  I put as many holes in the paper as the Columbia.  I’d take eggs Maytle

would gather and trade them for shells, got paid 50 cents a box for 25 eggs.  Then I traded my

Elgin watch for an old Remington, hammerless. And I owned an Iver Johnson one time,

the sorriest thing I ever toted in my hands.  

          Grandpa Manly bought me a Muzzleloader from Old Man Bill Turner Holland.

It cost $4.00.  One tube was busted.  Old Man Holland made me a new one.   That gun would

kick the tar out of you if you packed it with too much powder. One time Oscar Poole carried it off

and filled it up – I didn’t know he’d done that.  I shot a fox-squirrel. The boom knocked me clean

back in a clayroot.  I liked that gun, though, had me a shotgourd, with a corkstopper in the end.

          I’d buy black powder; keep the powder and paper in the gourd.  When I was grown

 Ma made me a shotbag from oilcloth that got worn at the edges where it fell over

the eatin-table.

          I’d dose − he’d shift his blackgum twig, set the checkerboard on the coffee-table.

Your greatgrandfather, my grandpa Manly, let me hunt with his musket.  He served in the

War Between the States. He learned me a sense of history.

          Was the musket heavy?

Heavy?  I couldn’t tote it all the way.

How did you carry, what’s it called − ammunition?

Oh – steer horns capped with wooden stoppers kept the powder dry – my gourd held

Number-6 shot and I carried a sling hunting sack at my side:  one time I leaned into the musket,

fired, and the tied paper-wadding set the woods ablaze.  Grandpa Manly beat it out with his

hat. It was a black felt I glanced as I was backpedaling into a clump of sow-thistle.  One time I

saw a turkey gobbler drag his wings, sweeping frost off the ground. Grandpa throwed his self

out straight as a stick below the reedmash, hiding behind that hat, pillowing his chest; he

triggered his double-barreled Bay State packed full of powder; feathers thrashed the ground; he

was over that bird with one booted foot on the neck, another astride him and he shouldered him

home. Did you hunt in cotton-chopping time?

           I’d leave my hoe in the field, get my gun and go down by the rock-quarry.  I saw a turkey

puff and strut his wings, stick his neck up beside a red oak. I couldn’t see his head – he saw me

and left:  I come back home, went back, he was in Finch’s Mash; I moved along the lowground

fence, holding my yelper of thin maple; I could mock a turkey exactly, clucking twice on my

caller.  I could hear him coming; I planted myself at the Simmon Tree Hole along a fence near

an open space.  I could almost smell him – hammer cocked and ready, I heard him again.  Like a

lark he flipped back across Middle Creek.  I went home, thinking of steak-gobbler breast. 

Maytle cooked me some fatback. With molasses it was out of this world.

           Consider my father’s world − his thirty-five hunting dogs named mostly for movie-stars

of the 1950’s − with the Newtown “comforting dogs.”   These are the dogs that

soothe the fallen ones with Love which lifts Comforting to a Vow − Love being the soul of

golden Chloe, and of the little children, parents – hours dedicated to families:  those dogs are

more than dogs – Addie, Prince, JoJo, Kye, Ladel, Luther, Moses, Ruthie, Shami, Isaiah –

Barnabas, Chewie, Addie, Hannah, Abbi − plus the pup, Isaiah, a child’s rave, as beauty begets

the Golden Retriever, first a gundog:  trained to love, its brave and tender disposition’s

Obedience. And consider Isaiah.  This Golden Retriever pup wowed Newtown.  And the adult

Goldens acted at ease to set the scene. Comfort makes sense possible.  These animals bring some

closure to horror.  Isaiah − the “helper” − learns from his companions – after a shooter goes crazy

with guns and weapons and and kills elementary school-kids and the ones who teach.

Somewhere in Memory, the K-9 Parrish Comfort Dogs visit all children.  They do not

wonder if dying’s final.  Hearing the call of Sandy Hook’s doggies-in-training, the boys and girls

pet and hug Isaiah.  They salvage embraces and kisses from brothers and sisters and friends who

feel better in that atmosphere.  Their grief is not in vain.

My father never grieved for animals he killed.  He never wore red either, or rode

nobly-looking on horse or mare.  He wore mustard-colored pants no briar could tear, thick

ones – turned him into a stop to wobble and deaden the way, excepting the hounds, a rabblement

ahead of the game; instinct served him like a potion the minute the hunting season opened.

When the cottontail returned to its lair my father was waiting there to fire. Our eatin-table

swelled my mother’s head.  He drank a toddy of pure apple brandy and his face turned red.

Every day now I get up and walk out to the plankhouse I was born in.  I can see clearly

Beaver Dam Swamp and Cow Mire from the high porch.  I take in the health and sickness of the

past and turn my meditation over to the mouse scrambling toward the crack in the window-sash.

Peace, I believe, comes and sits down for a long spell on the porch where my father’s

hunter-stool sits, empty, his gun in the modern house, well in its slip-on cover in the

corner-closet, silent among the clock-ticks.  I stand on that porch under the tin-roof in the

mizzling rain which makes me see farther than I can see into sacrifices my ancestors made for

the road, their low way through and around the clanking chain-traces, the mules (Black and

Gray), the tractors (Farmall), the land – and oh the faces on the wall of the living room of my

plankhouse – voices – of my tongue’s load.

I make up a song for my father; call it “The Song of Father Paul, S R,” as he loved to

call himself:


The old man, my dad, Paul, S R

Was a farmer who fished

And he hunted, too, for the table,

Always wanting to smell the steaming dish.


The needle-nose, sloughing, he hulled

And ate like it was salmon.

I mean, if he hooked a gar in Middle Creek,

He kept it – a trophy of memory.


He put that catch in wet burlap

To make sure not a one flopped back

Into the creek (my brother Paul

Lost a three-pound bass that flapped –


And bounced the bank into the creek,

Paul grunting and stomping all the way down

To the water − bubbling gone, gone, gone)

And Father Paul, S R, a swan,


Waving his arms all of a sudden,

A feathery drool his White Owl cigar.

Lord, I was laughing too!

The scene was really bizarre.


Oh my solemn Paul, S R

I knew from the time I was born,

Almost:  those years I can’t recall

I make up from others whose torn


Memories stick in my mind as my own,

The guns, I mean, hunting guns

(The word resounds real bad today)  –

It’s hard to write Newtown and come


Out clean, for the exploitation of arms,

More than any farewell can say

In words what currents grief

When children, shot, die in disarray.


Paul, S R never talked about “protection.”

Why the plankhouse I was born in?

We never locked, as I remember,

And few would dare shoot people – pure sin.


My song breaks into a swoon,

And bends lament for us humans

Whose actions might bother the NRA

More than the local Shooting Range.


And I am dislocated again;

Yet, as if you could see my father

In his hunting-pants, holding game

He would clean − or fish he would lather


To scale and prepare, no matter for someone

Else who might say – trash −

Hear me:  those days are gone:  his guns in the corner

Of my closet sunlight touches from a window-sash.


And so I end my lament.  My father leans back and tells again how it was – the dogs

and guns and men:

“Shoog had a bitch named Lemon and a Walker called Fancy.  I had Dinah, Blue, Bob,

Cora and Sing.  Sing was a beagle for the briars and thickets and Pa gave me Smoky, a redtick,

his voice thick as greased syrup.  Waylon Parrish had one he called Old Lawyer.  He’d figure out

the track; Waylon would holler – Hoiiiicckkkkk.  Hunter Bethune’s Judd had a mummer’s voice,

prettiest music I ever heard – choice.  And there was Rock – snow-white – sounded like a horn

on a duck.”

           Hair would rise on our heads while the Houstons moiled around the truck.

I’d close my eyes and he’d start again.  I could hear my voice in his – the bell-voices

coming back to me through sweetgums.  Suzie, short, blue-speckled, brought up the rear –

torsos of dogs gracing logs.  There was Black-With-The-Lion’s Voice swimming up Black Creek

where the fox took a turn, his space close to the posh fences of settlements, all wired; Jeams

grabbed one, it just sizzling, his jumping fists holding on, Holt Lassiter, hollering, “Dogs can’t

catch that Red!”  Hair would rise on our heads while the Houstons moiled around the truck.

Cora comes out of the woods near a nursery.  Bob holds the red fur in his mouth, dangling

like a sock he nurses, his jaws running over the South, the little bones never making it to the hole

the fox tried to take, the pack pushing him tight for eight solid hours.

It starts to rain and my father blows his horn and calls the dogs.  Slobber Mouth (my father

said he could outrun the Word of God with the Bible tied to His tail) and Wildgoose come along

fresh and sour at once, trying to jump another in the mash.  Hair would rise on our heads while

some dogs moiled around the truck all morning.  My father’s forgotten his hearing aid again.

He loved to get up before light to hear the dogs run.

I’d barely get into my breeches, as I heard − or sensed I heard − that red running in a

pattern around Paul’s Hill – absurd I thought; yet there he was – loping – moving his head, right

slow, left and right.  He looked just like a bird a new pack was raising to a height to behold, the

fresh dogs unable to hold their eyes on his tail, a bright red blur bearing down – and he could not

find his hole.  The hair would rise on our heads while a few dogs moiled all morning.

           In my head I hear my father everywhere.  Now he’s hiding in the lap of a footlog.  A little

snow has fallen and I see a turkey track; a man named B. Ryals thinks my father’s a turkey and

he pulls down both barrels and another man appears in the shape of my grandfather.  My father

calls him Pa; the story gets all mixed up in innocence and tall tale.  Dr. McClemore gives the

shot-man a pocket of pills.  By now the hair on my head stays in place. 

Turkey-wings appear among the yelpers my great-grandpa Manly makes out of wings.

The little bone he sticks in a cork, working well the end of a coffee-pot spout.  A gobbler sits up

in a wing-backed chair in a dream.  Feathers spread among my mother’s

fingers.  She’s sewing cloth around the butt-end of the turkey-wings.  Finch’s Mash gushes with

gobblers flipping lark-like across Middle Creek.  My hair stays in place all through

Thanksgiving and cotton-picking time.

No more the fox jumped in the rain.  The Fox-man slumbers among his pack.  No more the

run to the hole mid-morning.  The vision of his victories is shown to him.  No more the calling of

the hounds.  It seems to him they appear in human forms. No more Slobber Mouth and

Wildgoose and Bob and Bing and Ginger and Bette and Sing and Atlas and Butler and Tony

heading back to Finch’s Mash to jump another.  The sky seems a hue brighter than any he’s seen 

in the mash. No more the prettiest music in the world − forgetting his hearing-aid battery,

wishing he could be knocked in the head.  Covered with his Stetson, he startles from sleep.  No

more surprises of mustard-colored dogs lying alone, and Rufus Jones saying, “Back broke.”

He hears a call from heaven, he thinks, “Paul, the shades of night vanish days.”

No more stories of putting the invalid dog on a guano-sack and then in the cab of his

truck – wait –!

            Name was Spot.  At home I kept him separate from others.  He’d drag around, actually 

got to where he could walk.  After a month or so he could move pretty good.  His hind-end was 

warped up but he could run!  He put him in the kennel with the other dogs, took him hunting

with the boys and that was when he learned Spot was a cutter.  Spot wouldn’t bark unless he was

in front of the pack and when he got there he would blow that bugle.  It won’t long before the 

other dogs were following Spot.  One time they run a red for four days.  That fox’s ass was 

cherry red – I saw it twice.  And Spot solid put the heat on him.  I had to get some sleep during 

that race; so I went home, started to pull off my clothes, but the music was so pretty I got me a 

five-gallon bucket, took some coals outen the heater and put them in the bucket and I sot on my 

front porch, warming my hands, listening to Spot lead the pack to the fox.  When I got up about 

light I heard the dogs still singing.

          Said he put his breeches on and ran out on the porch:  That red was running in the same

pattern, circling my plantation:  I saw him!  He was loping, moving his head, right slow, to left

and right.  He looked like a bird.  I didn’t want to run my dogs and Spot to death.  Funny:  he

said the fresh dogs couldn’t keep that fox.  He run in a hole, and as far as I know, he ain’t come 

out yet; because, if he had, Spot would be burning his tail.

          And soon he said I’ve about wed my row − keep my grave clean at Rehoboth.

His 16-gauge single-barreled Harrington-Richardson (said he bought it from Lon Byrd)

I gave to his grandson Andy (my father’s wish).  His 12-guage double-barreled Fox

Sterlingworth, his nephew Jut said was an antique, I got here in my closet on Paul’s Hill.  I can

hear my father say, “Jut said he wants it back” – all these decades after he bought it from Jut.

Jut’s gone, my father, too, though I keep looking around for him.

          Somebody needs my guns.  I’d give them to you but you can’t hit nothing.  I give Andy

my  .22 Winchester rifle I used to shoot bullet after bullet through a co-cola lid nailed to a post.

          Survey the land when I die.  The line goes up the middle of the path to Reuben’s.   There’s

a stake in the corner of Roach Branch where Hector’s hogfeeding ground was.  Divide the land

up.  Include enough with the house to get the lower drainage.  Don’t forget to keep my plot

cleaned at Rehoboth. 


Short Bio:  Shelby Stephenson’s Maytle’s World is forthcoming from Evening Street Press.