16 February, 2018

2 Poems: of journeys and nightmares (draft)

Mick Parsons, poetry, journey, prayer, peace, grace, love

Everything feels more

Better men than me have walked this way.

If there is forgiveness to be had
first I must drop this old, bloody dagger.

Late winter bird songs 
no longer hold any secrets for me,

and the dog refuses to translate.

Erase the ash from your forehead
and be made whole.

There is no room for your squeamish social mores here.
These visions are not prophetic,

and the cat playing at your feet
is not a sign of contrition.

The dog interrupts my prayers to go outside
and chase down starlings

because dogs know instinctively
that grace does not come from over-thinking.

It makes each step a pain, like dancing on broken glass

I never thought I deserved it.

Even now, in the light of a day like this,
the first whisper of Spring,
it is difficult to accept 
the inherent grace of this hour.

There are mornings –most mornings, still –
I open my eyes and marvel I am not dead
(though my dreams would tell me different)

and I reach for you, amazed in my desperation,
that my mind simply didn’t conjure you
as a defense against this bottomless hole in my chest.

Sweet mirage, warm and soft,
let me drink deep from your waters
as you wipe away these tears.

Let me pray as you breathe life back into me
from your own sacred lips.

This journey wears on me.
The clay packed in my heels is ageless
and makes each step a pain, like dancing on broken glass.

Take your hands, remove these shards
and I shall be healed.

Soothe my nightmares and remind me
one more time
I am allowed to embrace the grace
that has placed me in your arms.

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26 January, 2018

New Fiction: Thus the congregation says

Mick Parsons, fiction, Kentucky
I knew something was wrong when Twila gave me the stink eye outside the student union. Divorces are difficult enough. Being young – too young, I remember my grandmother saying – made it that much more difficult. Having a three-month-old daughter made it even more so. Getting divorced while being married with a three-month-old daughter on a small college campus in Eastern Kentucky pretty much guaranteed that only Sisyphus had a more difficult load to bear.

Perverting common wisdom, a divorce has more than two sides to the story. There’s the usual… what one partner says and what the other partner says. Then there’s what really happened, which tends to be somewhere in the middle. And then there’s what everyone else says. And depending on who it is, where their loyalties lie, what their predilections are, and what their own (inevitably skewed) views on marriage are, there are any number of stories, all of which sound true enough to pass the gossip test regardless of how close to the truth it happens to be.

The usual unofficial morning kaffeklatsch of what was then called the Non-traditional Student Union was congregated in it usual corner spot in the upstairs student cafeteria. Woody, Shyla, Tammy, Jack, Ernie, Barb, Babs, and Shane were all in their usual spots drinking their usual coffee and having the usual conversations – all of which can be boiled down to how most college students have it easy. Marie and I gained entry to this group not so much because of our age, as our ages fell within what is (still) considered the traditional age, but because of our marital and parental status. Young marriages were increasingly less common in the 90’s, even in Eastern Kentucky with its sometimes self-proclaimed penchant for the traditional and the morally unambiguous. Both Barb and Babs, both of whom were products of failed marriages forced by cultural shotgun, applauded our decision not to resort to sin by partaking of marital fruits outside the sanctity of the marriage bed. Tammy, Shyla, and Twila didn’t say that in so many words, but Twila – who was a grandmother with granddaughters who hadn’t headed the words of Jesus since being baptized Old Regular Baptist style in a coal sludge dirty creek at the age of seven – demonstrated her clear approval by speaking often about how she wished her Becky and Sue had inherited some stiffer moral fiber like me and Marie.

Ernie, Shane, and Jack had no opinions on the topic. Or at any rate they didn’t express any openly. Woody asked me once when none of the others were within earshot – with no small amount of incredulity, I might add – how I could saddle myself so young when there was a campus full of beautiful young girls to occupy my time. Jack kept his own counsel about anything that didn’t involve the NCAA and Ernie, who was trying to be a writer, mostly talked politics.

Shane never said anything at all. But since I knew he was the guy Marie was currently fucking, I felt like I knew what his opinion was on the subject of marriage.

The group fell silent when I approached. When I sat down everyone but Ernie and Jack moved their chairs back a little… not like they were making more room but like they were afraid that whatever was wrong with me might rub off.

Ernie eyeballed the women carefully before uttering a neutral welcome.

What’s going on, he asked.

Not a thing. Just waiting between class.

Barb made a harrumphing sound and Babs just shook her head. Jack nodded at me, the way men sometimes do to show solidarity right before the bombs fall and its every man for himself.

I tried making conversation, though I didn’t much feel like it. I wasn’t sleeping and even the copious amount of drinking I was doing wasn’t helping.  Going to class was more an exercise of habit than purpose at that point and my professors treated me with increasing levels of shock, annoyance, or unsympathetic pity. I wasn’t doing anything. But I still made it to class. I was still working, if for no other reason so I could give money to Marie for Rhea. After we split up she moved out of the trailer we shared and in with a friend to help defray expenses. I was staying with friends who would ensure that, if nothing else, there would be beer and tater tots to eat and who could give me a ride to campus.

Barb made another harrumphing sound. You don’t need to be here drinking coffee like you have friends here, she said. You need to go and take care of your daughter.

Babs, Tammy, and Shyla all nodded and vocalized their agreement with Barb. Ernie and Woody shrank back into their chairs. Jack shook his head and kept his eyes on his coffee. Shane sat there rubbernecking and waiting for the actual carnage. It didn’t take long.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Barb went on, thoroughly encouraged by the congregation present. Your wife and daughter are living up in some shack with no electricity because you threw them away. And here you sit like you deserve to be around civilized people.

That wasn’t what happened. I knew that. Marie knew that. I’m pretty sure Shane, as amused as he was with the show, knew, too. The only thing that was true was that I left. The arguments and accusations, the yelling and recriminations by both Marie and me weren’t anyone’s business. The misery we’d inflicted on another wasn’t anyone’s business. And it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether Marie or I were screwing anyone else. I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t change the fact that the marriage was over, that my daughter would grow up never knowing her parents as being a married couple. It didn’t matter that nothing in my experience had prepared me for that level of failure – not that anything does, really. But I didn’t even know any kids with divorced parents when I was a kid. My parents were happy. My friends’ parents seemed happy. That was what I expected when I got married, for all of the right reasons. And in spite of what Twila thought, it wasn’t to stave of immoral carnal lust. I was in love… or I thought I was, anyway.

But none of that mattered. Just like it didn’t matter that I had just seen Marie and given her money and asked if she needed anything. No, she said, like I insulted her dignity. We don’t need anything from you.

If there was any real justice in this evil world, Barb intoned, someone would take you out to a deserted holler and show you how we treat men that abandon their babies.

The congregation was silent. So was the entire cafeteria. Ernie and Woody refused to look at me. Jack met my eyes briefly and I knew he knew what was what. But he also knew, like I did, that no amount of words would change anything. Sometimes you take your beatings whether you think you deserve it or not.

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24 January, 2018

New Fiction: The Duke of Donuts

Mick Parsons, fiction
Drunks love chocolate. That’s one of the things they don’t tell you before you show up to a meeting. No one told me I should show up early if I wanted to get one of the limited number of chocolate donuts sitting next to the bottom burned coffee on a rickety folding table. Why it is that the people who run those meetings don’t just buy ALL chocolate donuts instead of that those boxes of a dozen mixed that’s always heavy on plain cake ones that taste like stale ass – or worse, the powdered donuts no eats because they don’t want to leave an AA meeting looking like a throwaway extra from an unaired episode of Miami Vice. Like those rolls of Lifesavers candies that are supposed to be a rainbow of flavors but always mysteriously end up being mostly yellow or green.

The first one to talk to me took the last chocolate donut. He also put enough sugar and non-dairy creamer in his coffee to cover any suggestion that it may have once been coffee at all. He smelled like menthol cigarettes and was wearing a hat that identified him as THE PUSSY PATROL. He told me his name was David W. Just like that. Not all of them talk like that. The drunks who have been in recovery for a long time – a decade or more – will just use their full name. It’s not that they’re bragging as much as they’ve been living in the world of recovery for so long that they don’t care who knows. David welcomed me and asked where I’d heard about the Sword of the Ever-Loving Spoonful of Soul AA group.

On the website, I said. It lists all the groups in the city and this one was closest.

That wasn’t strictly true. I intentionally found a meeting on the opposite end of town from my neighborhood in case the language of recovery didn’t stick, and I ended up going to the bar after. At least, I hadn’t ruled it out as a possibility.

David W. talked a little about his sobriety.  75 days and counting, he said. 75 days THIS TIME, he added. Before that, he’d been on the wagon 9 months. No sponsor. No step work. Just white knuckling his way to sobriety until one day, for no particular reason, he just decided to go to his favorite watering hole. He was just going to pay off his tab, which was outstanding and which he decided was part of his recovery. Walk away clean with no debts or grudges, he said, hand to God, that was ALL I had in mind.

And then, he said, it happened. I ran into one of my old buddies and he bought me shot of Jack before I could say no.

I understood. It would have been rude to turn it down. Right?

David W. told me all of this while eating on the last chocolate donut to be had and drinking his over doctored coffee. Whenever I see another guy drinking coffee like that, I think about this old friend of mine from Phoenix who drank his coffee black because, according to whatever font of wisdom he bowed to, that was how John Wayne drank it. By his logic, if that was how John Wayne did it, then by God that was the only to do it. I remember asking him once if it was true that John Wayne died with 22 pounds of undigested steak in his colon. Do you suppose, I asked, if The Duke had been a vegetarian that he wouldn’t have died from not being able shit properly?

I was going to ask David W. about his hat, but they meeting was called to order and everyone took a seat. He hadn’t managed to finish the donut before it was time for the meeting, but rather than sit down and eat the rest of it, he tossed two bites worth in the trash before sitting down.

Somewhere in the literature of AA, it talks about how, when you go to a meeting, that you’ll inevitably hear your own story. I don’t know if that’s strictly true – it wasn’t in my case – but AA meetings, like Catholic Mass, run on a pretty strict time clock. An hour of testimonials and tribulations and out the door. Of course, if you’re new to the meeting they ask you to identify yourself so people can talk to you after the meeting and get to know you better. I identified myself anyway, though I didn’t plan on sticking around to talk to more people.

I spent half the meeting thinking about David W. and the unfinished chocolate donut in the garbage. And while his story seemed alright enough… it’s no new thing for a drunk to fall off the wagon… it didn’t seem right to me that he didn’t finish the damn donut.

The chocolate donut.

The LAST damn chocolate donut.

When the meeting was over and we all held hands and said the Our Father, David W. found me and asked what I thought.

I told him I wondered what The Duke would do. He told me that the Duke might have lived longer and made more movies if he’d found his sobriety.
That may be true, I said. But he would have never liked the coffee.

On my way out I ran into a guy that recognized me from the bar I used to go to. He called himself Larry G in the meeting, though I’d only ever heard him answer to Squiggy.

People were wondering where you’ve been, he said.

What people?

Oh you know. People. Jack and Tom and Sal and Big Sue. Katie thought for sure your old lady killed you.

Does she strike you as the homicidal type?

He laughed uncomfortably and said Well, you know. Not really to ME, exactly. But you know how people talk.

I told him I did.

How long have you been coming to these meetings, I asked.
Oh, about a month.

Does it work?

Larry G. shrugged. I dunno. It gives me stuff to think about.

Well there’s that.

Larry G who usually answered to Squiggy told me to find him at the bar sometime and he’d buy me a beer. Beer don’t count, he said. It’s like in that John Wayne movie. The one where Robert Mitchum played the town drunk. They gave him beer and it weren’t nothing.

Say, I said. Have you heard John Wayne died with 21 pounds of undigested steak in his colon?
Larry G blinked. Then he blinked twice. No, I never heard that. I never heard that at all.

After a few cursory words Larry G wandered off into the darkness. Then I left. On the way home I stopped off at Dunkin Donut and ordered a chocolate donut.

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