Direction Can this moment be a fruit, a moist secret, picked and juiced? Can I follow through with my leap of faith and leap into the coal fires of survival’s uncertainty, be selfish as the hunter who conserves nature so he can have enough nature to kill and make into wall trophies? Am I a dead mouse on the porch who made it as far as the first freeze, forgot to build a nest and suffered the consequences? Am I fortunate as the found street dog, given kibble, a warm place to lay, a pack to call her own? Am I here maimed but alive, like all things living, crippled by the weight of time? Why is everything half-formed? Only young things leap and frolic, free because of their dependency on maternal sustenance and protection. My endurance is threadbare. If I wash and wear it one more time it will disintegrate and not hold form. I know nothing but I do know Jesus - the bridge and the tunnel below. I know one way, one path all else is phantom blood, phantom fulfilment, just renderings humming ‘yes yes - take my false face as truth, count my money, my grand accomplishments, my soft seats, my high seats, my triple thaw and my double freeze.’ The butcher is a psychopath. The liars are in charge. Steady now, the hand, the moon dangling on a string, say your necessary farewells. Jesus is walking, walk with him, eyes forward, summoned. Cure Joy is but a minstrel’s flower, lightening under the thumbnails. Preach of mud around the eyes, myself a centipede, fast but fragile. I gaze and I know the way is a path is a dream of a hawk landing and inside that dream anguish quickens to gold, despair into overcoming. Inside that dream, Jesus stands insistent in a child’s purity, burdenless, fresh as the sun always is and always burning. A small stone that cannot break, a love so graced it welcomes the flooding tide. But I am broken, eaten in tiny increments by the changing mirror - around the evenings, around the first day’s light, blind to all but the persistent churning. Jesus’ great love has left me weeping, has opened my heart, brought forth the healing, suffering mended, miracles under a white desert sky. Be mine. Let me be yours, travel with you, bend fully into your mystery. The joy you give is small, unassuming, but is an opening like a lifting, where all grief and savagery invert into its opposite, separated from lasting damage. Someone other Someone said - “Be sensible, a song is essential only if it can be traded.” Someone squandered decades of rich meaning then died on the rafters of an abandoned ballpark. “Pack up your consciousness,” someone else said “Be out of character and draw the short straw with glee.” Intellectual dreams have no limitations, strong in complexity, strong without drama or the heartache of disappointment. I will dream intellectual, taste desire as an idea, be friends with the professional and marry into a profession. How much time does it take to fashion an identity, keep it with solid sides and a resistant core? Someone said - “Don’t bother nothing is for keeps, ideals exist until they inevitably become soiled and then start reeking of their opposite intent.” Many years seized you up in spasms, aching and making a mockery of such lofty extremes. This planet is overstrained, never a gentle day of just sitting. Someone said - “Learn mediocrity if you want happiness. Bark at the impossible squirrel in the impossible tree.” Faith must be fought for, in every choice, in the mid-days of winter and when love has gone astray. Everyday I own nothing but this day. Someone said - “Deal with the collapse of what you hold as true - contemplate it like a cloud that shifts form and wisps away.” I heard that someone, but the joy of love is real even when it lies flattened. Hope is not for the faint-hearted, but for the persistent, the reformers of gravity, the warriors against inertia. I say - Hope void of illusions draws its first breath as faith only in the purity of complete darkness. Casual Garden I keep a casual garden burnt in places, lush by the climbing trees. When in despair, I examine the corners of that garden, pluck the dangerous weeds and re-set the overturned steppingstones. I scrub the birdbath and fill it with fresh cold water placing stones as platforms for the bees and small birds. This garden is my favourite place to walk, small, but with hidden nooks and a seat for solitude. It took years of tending to get to this place. A once-thought cursed corner is now deep green with violet hues and the prefect shade. Still there is more to tend as it is ever changing. Birds come, leave their droppings and kill what can be restored. Squirrels explore, dig holes, preparing for winter. Raccoons work their nocturnal havoc - birdbath on its side, flipped steppingstones - evidence of their hunting for grubs. God gave me this garden as a living meditation, help when all other help is gone. Before this, I never had a garden. For twenty years, I had a backyard. My children enjoyed it, my husband took care of it. Now this garden is my sacred duty, an extension of my wonderous home, mine to walk in as we all take in its bright varied living tones - all four people, cats and even the guinea pigs have an exclusive window to view its glory. The sounds when the neighbours are sleeping or away are best. The smells are perfect of marigolds on the deck and the rain. My mother says this garden is beautiful and she would know. I rejoice in its poetry. Everything wants to live, expand, overflow in this garden. I don’t even know how this love affair started or how over time it has grown into a beautiful marriage. There is an animal graveyard in my garden - a place in front of two tall trees, the same place we buried silver coins, the best place of ease where the white dove first arrived, before walking around the whole garden, blessing every inch before it took flight never to return. When I forget God loves me, I look at my garden, I step onto its bumpy terrain and know I am one - joined to its hallowed ground. Revived Sideways into the thicket prickly roar, eyelids closed and then a decade later, a sunbeam latches to your arm and pulls you out, renews your skin, the tone of your hair. A decade lost without a voice, without connection to your core. Here you stand, stride, hardly limping, a queen, tall, sure of your kinship, sometimes still weakened by past sentimentality, but mostly preparing for a sacred adventure, remembering the promise to you that was made on the swing when you swung high as the swing could carry you - your childhood legs gleefully kicking, your long hair behind you, and a smile that was more glorious than the first spotted spring flower. Whole again, set right, upright, shedding the last of your apprehension, growing deeper into maturity, letting the shadows go, as the sweet nectar wraps around you you start to sing - Hosanna! finally accepting love is everything. Creature Out of step, filled with a flame that ignites a windfall and dreams upward reaching, past the umbrella and the cherished flight of the cardinal. One step, dancing, then tomorrow comes and there is no dancing to be seen. Maimed and fearful - the setting sun coils its rays around an unhappy future and feeds the roots with sewage. Preferring the hope of a soft landing, I count the pillars and a make a roof, a home. I fall asleep with this glorious creature at my side. I wake and it is the first thing I see. It takes me out into a land of picnics by the water, out of the stark slam of poverty and ancient debts that must be repaid. It takes me to a greener land where I can walk, turn corners and run. Where I can do my rituals, relieved of desperation, at one with the hand that opens, at peace with the hand that holds. Bridle Tear and rip and proclaim a path you cannot follow but can taste its every nuance. Bend into its horizon as though it were yours, there on glorious display. When change does not come, and it sleeps like a long clouded-over moon, and spirits are bones sucked of their marrow - the most vital of these eaten by mechanical doom - metal teeth and the turning, turning of grinding eventuality, wait and watch the images come and go. The windows are stained and there is no way to clean them. Through them I see growth. I see days I long for that may not come for another decade, where I will be free. What is a day? But this thing done, this thing not done. What is a life? Stealing wakefulness violently from slumber, pressing into joy despite the chains and another book is read. All dreams are singular. Know the in-breath counts. The out-breath is simply exhalation. I Need My Blood I need my blood. I need the mornings sightless of dark duties and encumbering failures that rise like a high wave teaming with unseen predators. I need a house without deep mud at its doorstep and a fire menacingly burning in the furthest backyard tree. I need to wake up like I used to, energized, a life to look forward to, bow to, and say yes, I can do that, I am full. I need God’s blowing kiss, a dream that is more than a dead seed or grand illusion, to step here and there solid in authenticity, shed the dread and the pounding trip and fall. I need my blood not horror-cold professionalism, being polite while vital body fibres ricochet against each other, bawling inside, ripped and rolling like a fish on a hook, heartlessly pulled from my home and element, amazed by how long I am still breathing, here, without oxygen or the salty waters of my belonging. I need a bridge to walk across, a landscape of freedom and prosperity, away from this decaying island I sit upon where massive reptiles wrap their spiked bodies around, many creeping on the shore. I need my blood, to keep my blood, flowing, be a voice at full strength, no longer a sigh or a held-back moan. I need this now to carry on. My branches are all but broken. My spirit is hardening, tight, tighter than a heavy stone. Building a Temple I held the hand when the body lay sleeping, ready to erupt, erode but it never did. These words are a goodbye to the dust-bowl chaos, a vision to act by, pick up pebbles and throw across a field, over a fence, almost to the other side. The angels make a wall protecting, bending their bodies of light like shields over my beautiful children, as they find their way through uncertainties, undercurrents of terror and the moon’s dropping glare. Addiction in the ice. Organs enflamed and removed. But God’s love is merciful, takes us to the threshold, but not beyond. Secrets are exposed, talked about without shame, and then are burnt like charred large balls in a sacred flame, rising into a steady shimmering golden canopy peace. Sometimes the storm creates a treasure, a blooming happiness after its destructive force, its taking away. Sometimes after the emptiness, there is finally a conscious letting go, letting in the zig-zag flight of finches. There is love spoken without conditions, love heroic. There are ghosts silenced, pathways rushing forward, hearts so broken, now repaired, thundering forward, redeemed. Allison Grayhurst is a member of the League of Canadian Poets. Five times nominated for “Best of the Net,” she has over 1300 poems published in over 500 international journals. She has 25 published books of poetry and six chapbooks. She lives in Toronto with her family. She also sculpts, working with clay; www.allisongrayhurst.com
But, Sadly It Never Will The middle of the night, and here I am half drunk. Feeling the urge to write, but not knowing quite what to do. I'm not sure what I want to say. I feel like I'm halfway on the way to somewhere. I'm not totally depressed, but I'm not O.K. either. I'm not happy, though, no way ! Far from it ! Earlier today, I met a woman, an old friend of mine, who's partner died a couple of years ago. I hadn't seen her for nearly a year, or so. So she didn't know that my wife and father had died within two months of each other. When I told her, she got upset, which made me feel guilty. But, what can I do ? If someone asks, " How is your partner? ", I can't lie, and say " Fine." Can I ? I wouldn't want to, anyway. It's a very strange thing, but I've noticed it before ; When someone who you love, really love dies, for a month or two you feel like grabbing by the lapels everyone you pass in the street, screaming " Don't you fucking get it ? My grandfather/ girlfriend/ wife/Dad has died ? " You want it to mean as much to the rest of the world, as it does to you. But, sadly, it never will.
The Long and Mischievous Life of Love, Hatred and Fear By Steven Hill (dedicated to the memory of George Floyd) “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." ― Immanuel Kant Now the streets are quiet again, peaceably quiet, but it is the pause of the reloading, the stillness of a graveyard; it is the morning after for those without a future, viewing the hulk of strip malls charred to steel frame, shuffling through the shattered glass of the fragile consensus, and the melted smell of tear gas, weeping over broken dreams. It is the same twisted today that looks like the yesterday of a hundred or thousand years ago, for those without a language whose hopes were turned to ash, and swept by the aproned shopkeep into the ceaseless star-stream. The damage is done when the prospect of progress vanishes with the dust re-settling, when we cease plumbing the depths of the human soul to find that broad territory in common. And as the clash of flesh exhausts its insanities, as the Us vs Them smashes together like dialectic atoms, the frantic synthesis arrives in time for the new tumult, the pieces pick themselves up and recompose, sneak past the debris to find a way forward again, arresting the black hole collapse to the backward, leading the escape of runaways in search of a refuge from this most un-civil war. But the silenced ones know, oh yes don’t they, that the interregnum always ends and the relentless assault on meaning begins again, leading once more to another round of tweeted reprisals; across the broken landscape, the tectonic plates crack and separate kin from kin, ethnic from ethnic, accord from conversation, we watch helplessly as words tap the algorithm and sentences juice the emotion, foreboding the passage of night swallowing the day. History the bloody obituary written by the last of the last survivors, language a vehicle for unconditional surrender, signed at the Court House adjacent to the ghastly battlefield, bearded General to bearded General, victorious to vanquished, chainreacting all over the weaponized volksgeist, there are no winners here, only those who lose less. But what if we re-launched the invention of the feeling? What if we sought where the tenderness may lie? What if we weren’t beset by something so sad that it paralyzed? Or if we listened harder to those who had to bite their own tongues until they bled, to those who ended with the short end of the loaf of bread, those buried beneath the missing tombstones of the mass graves. What if the pure decision of the Good Samaritan replaced the pursuit of the Master Race deal, or if our human desires were not entwined, like a crown of thorns, inside the political economy of our times? Here, at the apogee of our history, the latest Great Leap Forward turns out to be a backward fall into more backwardness. The return to MAGA plantation greatness is exposed as another fake story of white bwanas sipping lemonade on the porch, attended by obedient Dark Continent subservience, such a human thing to do, to love fantasies that never were, as they disappear in the rearview mirror. But the past survivals never stay buried, do they? They ooze from the muck of the weeping mass graves, the Rosewood’s and Tulsa’s and Thibodaux’s and 1919 arise from the cruel crypt of Hate’s harsh oblivion, white-world memory tries to delete from the hard drive the silenced evidence of ethno-cide, and the un-banality of evil and the sin of looking away, every soul guilty of all the good you did not do, leaving us still groping toward a recognition of our real lives, our real history, the stipulated record of who really built this country, planted its fields, erected its towns and schools and cities, and laid the rail tracks to the future, as the Four Horsemen howled their overwhelming questions: Are we here? Is this real? Are we sure? Am I real? Does here connect to anywhere? If E = mc2, then how am I still here? How do I find a reason to put one foot in front of the other? When will I uncover the words, consonants and vowels needed to arrive at the source of Something true, instead of circling the lonely perimeter with longing, for what I cannot have, for what I cannot taste and cannot kiss, and cannot see except in fleeting glimpses of Beauty, that elusive Something that vanishes into Nothing. Yes, I see it in your eyes, my love, all the disappeared lives that mattered, reflected a thousand by thousand times, the ones who looked after the system, previous and present, blown like dead pollen across the centuries; I see it in my eyes, reflected in your eyes, my love, the present is everything and nothing, utterly reusable in the Grand Mortar and Pestle, nothing lives forever, nothing ever will, not even you and I, my love, pawing through the leftovers to hoard what we can, to return and return as the dust of the double helix, amidst the un-raveling of the un-civilization and— You don’t believe me, you say? You don’t believe this is slithering thru our DNA? Then why, in the realization that we are everywhere and nowhere, why have all roads led from the many pasts to here? Why, for each History’s moment, does the crossroad fork yet again, to anywhere but here? How do we find it within ourselves to arise from the breakfast cereal into the urgency of each tangled day? And why then do we fall down, we millions and billions, hearts beating fast like the Ninth in D minor, contesting the birthright of where we were born, as the Fear and Confusion plant their jeering flags amidst a fireworks of scorn? No, the streets are calm now, passably calm, it’s dead quiet out there, beneath the noise; despite the rumblings of marchings from those who demand a future, despite the huddled masses barred at the border by the rusted Iron Lady, despite the divided “e pluribus unum” of this violent mammal trajectory, we thought if we plugged our ears it would leave, we thought if we clutched our bellies without malice, we thought if we arranged the words and paragraphs just so that we could pacify our death-fear locked inside. But what if the most feared thing is that which we refuse to confess: that Love is the strangest notion of Civilization, proven to regularly run amok, kneeling at the altar of heartless entropy, until one day we run out of luck; Yet Love is also the molecular force that can bind, and what’s bound gives the World its arrow-direction, in broken search for that more perfect Union, you and I, a chance for resurrection, for in the end, in the very very end, we are here, within the limits of our language, within the space between our opposable thumbs, stumbling toward governance within the parliament of hysterics, straining toward common ground, resisting the Hate that tries to overrun all representation, standing in defiance of the Trumped up charge and the profanity of evil exposed. And then, as the streets re-explode in their un-poetry of un-justice, as we gasp over our brutal re-acquaintance with the imperfection of it all, we discover that something still lives above that purple bruise behind the stars, and below the crooked tree limbs, swinging heavy with that strangest of fruit, our prayers re-locate the ACTG helix, replicating with mercy and haloed in pearls, until finally, we remember, just before we extinguish: “Our kiss is for the whole world.”
 The Great Leap Forward of Chinese leader Mao Zedong was a disastrous economic policy from 1958 to 1962 to reconstruct China’s agrarian and industrial economies thru forced collectivization that led to mass starvation for tens of millions of Chinese.
 A 19th century colonial and racist term for the continent of Africa. Sigmund Freud also compared adult women’s sexual life to a “dark continent.”
 Racial massacres: in Rosewood, Florida, New Year’s Day, 1923, a white mob of 300 men murdered dozens of black men, women and children, and completely torched the town into oblivion, wiping it forever off the map; in Tulsa in June 1921, whites burned to the ground the prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood, murdering hundreds and burying them in forgotten mass graves; and in Thibodaux, Louisiana , November 1887, white plantation owners, politicians and their paramilitaries murdered hundreds of black sugar cane workers and their families for going on strike, the most violent labor dispute in US history; in 1919, white massacres and lynchings of blacks took place in more than three dozen US cities, including Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore and Omaha, after black military veterans returning from World War I asserted their labor rights, resulting in the murder of hundreds of black Americans.
 The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death, Famine, War, and Conquest, that arrive in the biblical Book of Revelations as harbingers of the Last Judgment and the end of the world.  Albert Einstein’s equation of special relativity. Energy (E) produced equals the mass (m) of a body destroyed times the speed of light (c) squared. That means mass and energy are the same physical entity, and can be changed into each other.
 Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, popularly known as the 9th Symphony, or “Ode to Joy.”
 The Statue of Liberty is the figure of Libertas, robed Roman goddess of liberty, inscribed with the words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”, first words of the U.S. Constitution.
 Singer Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit. “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”  ACGT is an acronym for the four fundamental units of the genetic code found in a DNA double-helix molecule: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). They comprise the molecular foundation for all organic life.
The Making of My Story Paddling the canoe, I have always wanted to be a doctor. But I am faced with the difficulty of navigating the canoe to its bank where I could board a taxi to school. It has always been the first thing that comes to mind when I wake from sleep. My parents are poor. My mother is a fish monger while my dad is a taxi driver whose lifestyle of incessant drinking and smoking would not permit him to discharge his fatherly responsibilities. By the way, I am the only child of my parents. Going to school late has always been my hobby. Despite that, I have always had the mindset of being the person I have always wanted to be...A qualified medical doctor. My mother has always been supportive. She works tooth and nail to see that all school fee and related expenses are met. Though she falls sick due to stress and burdens my father pose on her, she takes it as her duty to ensure I am hale and hearty. On a Saturday afternoon, my mother calls my attention by engaging me in what I call The Motivation. She begins: ' Be that person you have always wanted to be. You can't be limited by the circumstance I am facing. I am your mother, Jude. I will ensure within my powers and to my last breath that you get to study to the university. I won't fail you, as long as I live, God willing. Jude, you will reach the height of your dream and surpass it' 'Amen' I reply.' Jesus will make a way for us all' I believe in you. Never give up! Amen to your declaration!' 'Yes mother. I won't give up. My passion has always been to be a medical doctor. And that I shall become' 'Yes, that's the spirit!' She encourages. I can feel that positive vibe rubbing off on me from her. 'Don't mind your father. He can do what he likes. It was my choice I married him. But that's not important, compared to what we are presently facing.' 'But why is father behaving this way?' I ask in interruption. She sees the ugly face of anger in me. 'Don't get me upset' She warns, looking at me sternly. 'I am all out for you, and nothing less. I put my life on the line to ensure you become a better you. What you just asked is none of your business, but mine!' Noticing her countenance, I had to show remorse. 'I'm sorry' 'No problem. Can I continue uninterrupted?' 'Of course, mother' 'Good!' She continues: 'But I believe we will live this place and I will leave this business. You know it has not been any easier for me, even your father.' With tears rolling down my eyes, I hugged her. 'Mother, you're always my sunshine and will never have that light dimmed, even for a split second! You've been my support and pillar. I promise you, I will get us out of this bad situation' 'Of course, my lovely son' She agrees. Unmoved by my tears, she encourage me to 'Be yourself no matter what they say' She has to go back to her place of trading, a riverine location, not up to a nautical mile to our place. 'Jude, I have to attend to my fishes' She laughs, parting me on the back. 'See you later' 'OK' I smile. What they great time to be inspired. Since then, as I paddle the canoe to as part of my side hustle, making some money to support the home and in some way, my education, I am always optimistic that my faith will make me paddle away the challenges I am facing as I climb through the rigors of life tests to become what my dream has always been... A qualified medical doctor. That has been the making of my story...
The Red Ribbon Braid My hidden love lies in your red ribbon braid The scented dewy morning wind flows from the fringe of your sari The sun plays in my sky every moment The rejuvenated, illuminated star I feel like twinkling in the dark The light in hand I'm standing on your land -the alluring flute from far-reaching path A piece of my dream lies in your red ribbon bun shinning in the bright morning sun. Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 14/01//2021 A Floating Piece of Cloud I'm a piece of cloud floating in the sun of rain Wakeful on your eyes in time or out of time In this play of rain and sun No sooner had I closed my eyes the cloud went out of sight Paying no heed I pray for staying some more time Where does it take place and how it works? Before my sleep I recollect the scene repeatedly All I lost in the world of sleep Possibly the cloud flies like that of egrets or doves Setting me up to the play of light and love. Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 15/01//2021 The Envoy of Peace You are a drop of my eye's envoy of peace Flying and flying around you sit on the green field On the bank of the river, the lake, or the pond All on a sudden to the branch of the tree Eyes fixed at to the unknown far-reaching way That aiming snatches me away from myself Vibrates the imagination to the distant vatical path O the migratory flock of birds You are exposed to the winter light - a heavenly glory Soothing my eyes all the way I come back with a light In my hand at the evening or night. Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 15/01//2021 Classification Why is this acute classification in humanity? Why is this different social status? Why can't we flow like the waves of the ocean? The sun rays can't reach the depth of the forest Yet the heart or conscience shines in humanity Darkness may be removed for every single hand The blind eye can find the light The hungry can have a lump of food The sick can get treatment Why people die before eyes in season or out of season? And the others run through on the dead bodies Though we all stand in the same line in all prayer houses Then why is this condition outside? Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 16/01//2021 Turning Back Whenever I take step out of the door Come back again and my eyes fix to the deep well of yours Hold your hands, cry so loud You pull me up and I weighed down on your rosy wings You keep me so tight in your breast We can't go away so far leaving each other In this sweetness of bond A spring of love feathering from this sight to the limitless unknown The joy shimmering in the eyes I come back again and again Dive into the deep well of your eyes. Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 16/01//2021
Give Me Love (Please): A Review of Lakewood by William Walsh In 1973 the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords ending the Vietnam War, the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, OPEC drastically decreased oil production, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, and, in the new novel Lakewood (TouchPoint Press, 2022) by William Walsh, Robert English began "The Summer Journal of Robert English" on May 14th. In this journal Robert English will be a close observer of American politics and culture, but his goal is to be an even closer observer of himself. Robert's reaction to emotional bombshells is to flee -- perhaps learned from his parents -- and at nineteen Robert has recently fled: from Atlanta, GA, to Lakewood, NY, (on Chatauqua Lake) where he is attending college. This summer is an attempt to ground himself and live more deliberately as he focuses on his life and what he hopes to make of it. Another diarist once installed himself by a pond for a similar reason, but Thoreau was fittingly called a "hermit saint," and Robert English will prove to be neither, so, except for a Thoreau-like proclivity for making lists, this comparison works only for Robert's diaristic beginning. As the novel begins Robert is housesitting in the lakeside home of his history professor, Dr. Laighles, who has gone with his wife Emily to Europe for the summer to research a book on Ireland during WWII. We learn on the second page of the diary that Robert has a specific reason for taking this house-sitting job that is crucially important to him: "Terrace Avenue—this was my childhood home, before Kimberly died. Once Emily and Dr. Laighles left, I walked the halls of my old house to explore, opening every door...". Eleven years ago his twin sister died at the house in a freak accident, and his parents chose to sell the house and everything in it and move far away. They don't know Robert is house-sitting, and he leads his mother to believe he is working an internship at the college for the summer and living in a hotel. We begin to see Robert is prone to misdemeanor ethical lapses if they will get him what he really wants; earlier, Robert writes, when Dr. Laighles asked in class in an off-hand way if anyone would be interested in staying in his house for the summer, Robert went to his office to find Dr. Laighles gone and a note in his box from Mary Cox accepting the job -- Robert steals her note, replacing it with his own acceptance. He tells us his parents, who never want to see the house again, would be extremely upset if they knew he was there. I think of a line from Harold Brodkey's short story "The State of Grace": "And mothers and fathers were dim and far away -- too far away ever to reach in and touch the sore place and make it heal...". Robert, unable to let go of the trauma of his sister's death, can no longer follow his parents' plan of avoidance and has come back to the very place of sorrow. As Robert settles into the home, which includes taking care of the Laighles' two Saint Bernards, Harry and Bess, he finds evidence of his sister's presence everywhere. Both their names carved with Popsicle sticks into a concrete walkway his father poured. Her name signed with crayon on a column in the attic, signed again in the crawl space below the stairs which he finds while playing a hide-and-seek game with the dogs. I think it is significant for this important element of Walsh's storyline that the word nostalgia is a derived composite of the Greek words for "return home" and "pain." With free reign, like a lone visitor in a museum, Robert spends days, weeks, carefully exploring every space in the house. In his family's old piano room, he finds Dr. Laighles "has a real cool Motorola Stereo cabinet" with a jazz album and a Del-Tones album left out on it: "Using my skills of deduction and logic, I conclude Dr. Laighles likes the jazz, while Emily likes the surfer music. I have no proof, but based on their personalities, I'm making a hypothesis." Robert then makes a list -- one of numerous lists in the diary -- of his favorite songs on the albums. We learn "Kimberly's old bedroom is locked," and that in the TV room there is "a 1962 World Series pinball machine...a baseball game with a bat instead of flippers." Also, as he tells us of these investigative discoveries, the temporal compression of each day is expanded by more and more memories of the past he adds into the diary. We learn he dropped the idea of attending the University of Georgia when he found out his best friend had sex with Robert's girlfriend on the night of their high school graduation, after Robert had refused her sexual advances because they did not have protection, and gone home. He tells us he has received seven letters from Ashley so far which he refuses to open and read. In a short time, though, these solitary musings will be interrupted by the appearance at the Laighles' house of a character who will stand third in order of emotional importance to Robert in the novel, Mike, who sits down uninvited on the front steps to pet the dogs, asking in a kind of mumble-mouthed confusion if Steven is home: "'No, it’s just me and the dogs. Who’s Steven?'....His name is Michael Forest, Mike. Something is wrong with him. He’s retarded but doesn’t look retarded. He’s slow and has a hard time getting his words out." Mike tells Robert Steven is Dr. Laighles's son, and in his first phone call from Dr. Laighles from Europe, the professor mentions: "'A friend of ours might stop by if he hasn’t already.' / 'Yeah, I’ve met him. Mike, right?' / 'Great. Great. About Mike,' he paused, 'he wasn’t born retarded. He was injured in an accident several years ago and has irreversible brain damage.'" Soon, Robert looks up Steven Laighles on the college library's new, and unique, IBM computer with a search function (reminding us the 1970s was the age of early modern computers) and is directed to an obituary among the stacks in the archived college newspaper: Steven drowned in 1968 at Kinzua Dam in Allegheny State Park on Labor Day, just a year after the lake was at full capacity....the Chautauqua University Eagle showed his picture. He had blonde hair. It also mentioned Mike and how he tried to rescue Steven but was pulled under by the current. It did not provide any details into his injury other than saying that Edward Proudfoot, a Seneca Indian, drove by the scene and pulled Mike from the water. As Mike returns to the house daily asking if Steven is home yet, Robert and Mike begin a friendship, playing World Series pinball -- which Mike is surprisingly good at -- and other games like chess which Mike is less skilled at in the beginning, but becomes amazingly good at later in the summer as he works at it. They go on long trips with Mike on the back of Robert's motorcycle. So far, we have gleaned a lot of things about Robert from his diary: he is a data nerd, analyzing all the national news, e.g., giving us the vicissitudes of Nixon's burgeoning troubles from the Watergate break-in, liking and analyzing sports, particularly baseball, but also letting us know he lacks physical confidence: at the drug store Robert buys five packs of baseball cards, and the pharmacist asks, "'You must like baseball?' / 'Yes, sir, but I can’t throw it straight to save my life.'" Robert absorbs popular culture of all kinds, e.g., listens to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 and makes lists of his favorite songs -- which he then narrows to his very favorites, like George Harrison's "Give Me Love" and The Carpenter's "Yesterday Once More," begins reading what he considers serious books, like Gravity's Rainbow, starts to teach himself to paint watercolor. If the definition of a nerd is someone overly intellectual and socially unsure, Robert probably qualifies. It is when he shows kind, if initially reluctant patience with Mike, that Robert wins the reader over to really liking him. Despite his demurral of first-time sex with his high school sweetheart, like all young men Robert is obsessed with sex. Walsh the author showing us the precociously intellectual and analytical are just as vulnerable to its vital pulse of wanting, wanting, wanting. Running into a female student named Caroline DeBauché (whom Robert had disparagingly described to a male classmate at the beginning of Lakewood as "The Ice Queen") at the college post office, he asks her out on a date, which he quickly, and slyly, shifts to a non-date. She is back in town briefly to take a make-up exam to satisfy a previous year's "Incomplete.": "'Are you doing anything tonight?' / 'Yeah, studying. My test’s on Friday. I have two days to prepare.' / 'Let’s go see Paper Moon. It’s playing at The Lakewood Drive-In.' / 'I’m not going to the drive-in with you.' / 'Just come over for dinner. I’ll cook something up and I’ll quiz you. Bring your books.'" And later at the Laighles' house in front of the fireplace: "After studying, that’s when I made a move and kissed her. We started making out a little, but she stopped only after a minute of kissing. / 'Show me the house.'" One of the things they find on their tour is Dr. Laighles' 1961 Corvette in the garage, and Robert says, "'Want to go for a spin?' And with those six words, my world, my life, has been completely destroyed." They drive around the lake making several casual stops, one to make out by the dock at Bemus Point: "Near the dock, we kissed under the moonlight, and for a moment, I imagined that more might happen later." They continue on their drive while listening to the entirety of a brand-new album, Tubular Bells, on WJTN Radio. And then the most spirited and memorable action in the book begins, with the sudden stochastic horror of the visitation in Hitchcock's movie The Birds: "Once the music finished, Caroline randomly yelled, 'Don’t touch me. Ever!' / 'What are you talking about? I’m driving the car. I didn’t touch you.' / 'Don’t touch me!' / 'Hey, hey, stop screaming.' / 'I’ll scream my Goddamn head off if I want to. Don’t touch me.'" Caroline physically assaults Robert with flailing arms, until, yelling at him, "'You tried raping me!'...she caught me in the upper jawbone with a closed fist. At the corner of Cowing and Winch Road, I lost control...". Both are physically shaken up, bruised and bloodied as the car swerves off the road into a cornfield, which takes an hour for Robert to drive out of. For me, metaphorically, it is like Robert is destined to hit the rocks Odysseus avoided by strapping himself to the mast, and I think of the short story "Escapes" by Joy Williams where a mother and daughter drive to a magician's show in their convertible, to have the mother suddenly and strangely crawl onto stage begging the magician preparing to cut his assistant in half with a chainsaw to cut her in half instead: "Her lipstick gone. Did she think she was in disguise, I wondered. 'But why not,' my mother said, 'to go and come back, that's what we want, that's why we're here and why we can't expect something to be done you can't expect us every day we get tired of showing up every day you can't get away with this forever....'" This scene in Lakewood has that kind of iconic literary resonance -- and though not mentioned by Robert who would not know this, Walsh surely knows that Tubular Bells would become the signature music for the movie The Exorcist later that year. Once Robert gets Caroline back to her hotel in the car that is now a rattletrap, Caroline screams from her bloodied face that she is not going to the hospital, Robert still saying, "I’m taking you to the hospital.” And her replying “I’m not going anywhere, except to the hotel to call my brother. You’re going to wish you’d never touched me." This incident will hang over the novel's plot and Robert like an invisible trap door, until finally coming down on him later, after the coming weeks of almost pastoral bliss for him, with a vengeance. Robert hides the Corvette under a tarp, and worry over it will nag at him, but two weeks after the accident a very consequential event occurs that will push worry away as Robert's is mesmerized by a new and consuming focus: visiting the public library with Mike, he sees Annie for the first time and it is like the vision of a seraph: "Her hair slinking down her shoulders like a sheet of gold....'Mike, look at that girl', I said. 'Look. Look.' / 'I see her.' / 'God she's pretty. She's absolutely gorgeous.'...I watched as she moved around the library without a clue in the world that she is a goddess, floating from place to place like an angel." And Mike replies, "'That’s Annie.' / 'You know her?' / 'She’s a friend of mine.'" Right away Mike introduces Robert to Annie, and soon brings her over to the Laighles' house: "9:50 p.m. Mike and Annie just left. Mike brought Annie over to the house unexpectedly. My nerves are still shaking because the woman I have fallen in love with has asked me over to her apartment tomorrow for dinner. Lord, what wonderful fate has come my way?" The friendly dating that begins the relationship grows into something much more over the course of the summer. Annie is free-spirited, confident, and intelligent -- older than Robert, she will start a PhD in psychology in the fall. On the night of their first dinner together, Annie shows Robert a portfolio of nude photos of herself she paid a photographer to take. Viewing them, Robert -- who manages to keep to himself a titillation reminiscent of Eugene Jerome's at the end of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs -- says, "'Aren't you worried about people seeing you?'" And Annie replies: "'You're only the fifth person who's seen them. My sister and her friend have seen them, the photographer who took them, and my best friend in high school, who lives in New York City. And now, you.'" She goes on to assure Robert she is not so liberal-minded as having these photos taken might suggest: "'That's just not the case. I'm not like that at all.' / 'I wouldn't think that.' / 'I don't believe in fooling around until you're married.' / 'I've never thought about it too much,' I lied." Also at this point in the novel, Robert takes a job at Chautauqua Indoor Advertising to help pay for the repair of the corvette, lucking into a job where he is paid to read recently published novels and write reports to be used as a means of influencing marketing. His easy-going boss, Roy, challenges him to chess during work -- both are avid chess buffs -- and Roy even becomes a father-surrogate dispensing advice on life and women (which will become weirdly ironic late in the novel) over their chess board during long games. Early in his journal, Robert wrote: I fear being alone as I get older....I have no one else. Kimberly is gone. Ashley is out of my life. If my parents were gone, I wouldn't have anyone to spend Christmas with....Yes, even when I was younger, I always wanted to start a family early....I want a wife to love and who loves me...I want to be surrounded by people who love me. Now, suddenly Robert is in the middle of a circle of friends that includes Annie, Mike, and eventually Roy and his family. Picnics, camping, an idyllic outdoor Glen Campbell concert they all attend on the Fourth of July -- at the center of his new sense of contentment is Annie who slowly ameliorates the pain of Kimberly's death, which drew Robert back to Lakewood, with what is obviously love. Will the idyll of Robert's summer carry into the fall? All summer he has given us daily empirical explanations of himself, writing, diligently working to perceive his personal truth, seeking to find his center in order to become aware of his ultimate goals. All the while, there has been no "fourth wall": he anticipates the diary being read when he concludes it, even imagines the kind of person he would like to read it. In his life he has been inclined to a self-serving soft ethics at times to get what he wants, but his diary is in part a confessional and a place where he is always as honest as he can be. The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur called his famous "hermeneutic" structural analysis of written texts a “hermeneutics of suspicion” because discourse, he believed, both reveals and conceals something; and that, in interpreting a text, an analyst must move "from what is said to what is really talked about," i.e. to a more enlightened an intuitive understanding that goes beyond what is said. It may be that we as readers will gain a more enlightened and intuitive understanding of what Robert really wants than he does? Will the relationship between Robert and Annie progress easily into something long-lasting? I will just say that this a serious novel and Walsh's primary intent is character study. By the end of the novel the characters are connected by fate in a way reminiscent of Dickens. When the nightmare date with Caroline DeBauché reenters the story -- like the birds in Hitchcock's movie -- Mike will heroically save Robert from being killed, something he was unable to do for his best friend Steven. When Robert finally finds the key to Kimberly's room as he continues to search the house for her memory, he discovers that it became Steven Laighles' room and is full of pictures of Annie and Steven together. Annie -- at least we as readers can perceive -- is allowing herself to love again, and when she initiates making her relationship with Robert a sexual one, it means something deeply serious for her. Lakewood is a good story, is a serious story, and is an illuminating period story of the early 1970s like Huckleberry Finn is of the late 1830s. And its story does not end here. In the press release for the novel, Walsh's publisher tells us this is the first book of a trilogy. At the end of reading, I am very eager, as I think anyone who reads the novel will be, for the second book, very eager to see where the story goes next. I recommend Lakewood. Steven Croft ...
William Walsh is Director of Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. He is a known poet and a very well-known interviewer of famous writers. Here is one of my favorite interviews
he did with Rita Dove.
A US Army combat veteran, Steven Croft lives happily on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia on a property lush with vegetation and home to various species of birds and animals. His poems have appeared in Liquid Imagination, The Five-Two, Ariel Chart, Eunoia Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Synchronized Chaos, and other places, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
thoughts on recognizing images in my art by: Norman J. Olson the way I make art is that I start making marks on a surface and try to let my mind, eye and hand put the artwork together without thinking about it a lot or wondering what it means… when people ask me what an artwork of mine means, my stock answer is, “it is an oil painting (or a watercolor, or a drawing), it is up to you (the viewer), to figure out what it means…” my art is made up of images and patterns… the images are traditionally rendered in standard art mediums like pen and ink, watercolor and oil paint… and sometimes in ballpoint pen… and the images are often separated from each other by cell like boxes, like a comic artist would use… except, of course, the images are not generally continuations of each other… sometimes when I am finishing a piece, I will recognize images… the images in my mind, are of course, based on things I see every day… landscape elements, faces and bodies of people… also, I think some images come from secondary sources like movies I see or television… but the images are usually more or less distorted… I often carry a small sketchbook in which I record quick sketches of people who interest me... I sometimes copy these sketches directly into a drawing I am working on or, more often, use the memories gleaned from the drawing of the face or figure to inform an imaginative face or figure I am working on.... anyway, I have had a few experiences where I felt like I recognized a person who was important to me in an image as I was making it… that happened recently with a ballpoint pen drawing I was making… as I was finishing up the drawing I realized it was a portrait of my late friend Les Barany… it is not a realistic representation or hyper realist rendering of his face but rather an image based on my memory of his face that seems to me to have captured something of the man I remember… another example, is a painting that I made shortly after my dear friend Glen Blomgren died… as I was finishing the painting, I realized that it was a portrait of Glen, although, again, not a realistic representation of his face… more a portrait of my memory of him and my sadness at his passing… I lived until age 11, on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin, about 40 miles due east of St. Paul, Minnesota… my memories of the way things looked on this farm have seeped into my paintings many times, the old red barn, the lopsided silo, and even the Wisconsin landscape… in fact, whenever I drive along I-94 east from the twin cities when I get to the exits around Baldwin, Wisconsin, I have a visceral reaction to those rolling hills, woodlands, farmsteads and fields… it feels like home… so, I have included images of some of my artworks that use images from the old farm… I have also included some sketches of random strangers from my sketchbook and some pieces that seem to me to be actual portraits of people in my life, including one memoir/self portrait of myself as a youth... for anyone interested in more information about me and my art, here are two links… an interview with the Wilzig Erotic Art Museum and my website.