Chapter XXVI – Lillian Gets A Letter

Coal Dusters 

Chapter XXVI 

Lillian Gets A Letter

Lillian paced in the dining room as her uncle talked in the parlour with the Mother Superior of St. Margaret’s Convent in Sydney. Her bruise was still visible but not longer as vivid. She was dismayed to see how quickly it faded away but she resisted the temptation to pinch it in an attempt to make it last longer. She was grateful that she had not been confined to the rectory as she first feared. With the miner’s on strike her uncle had more pressing matters to attend to but made it clear she would be sent to the Convent as soon as it could be arranged.

As she paced she plotted. If he thought she would go into some cloistered life willingly he was mistaken. She would see to it that he regretted any further action to punish her in any way. She had hoped the sight of the bruise would result in his parishioners losing respect for him but other than being mildly surprised at it, they were mostly indifferent. No one had asked how it happened. 

The women had been more sympathetic but even they were not shocked. It was acceptable to them that a man would raise his hand to a woman if her behaviour called for it. Even if than man was a man of God. Even if her behaviour didn’t call for it.

“Lillian if you would care to join us?” her uncle said softly as he opened the door of the parlour.

She stepped resolutely into the room. The first thing that hit her was the smell. It was of something unwashed but wet at the same time. It made her think of dogs coming into her house in Boston after the rain. She had to restrain herself from sniffing. She kept he face as placid as possible.

The Mother Superior was larger than she expected. She was nearly as tall as her uncle but with a more ample figure. Clearly the nuns ate well. Lillian had the impression that nuns were small, thin women in big black cloaks.

“It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to Sister Claire. Sister Claire my niece Lillian McTavish.”

Sister Claire stood and took Lillian by the hand. Lillian shook the sister’s hand. The nun’s hand was as rough as hers. Nuns didn’t have soft dainty hands after all. The Mother’s nails were uneven, some broken along the edge. Her knuckles red, rough and the back of one was mottled purple.

“Happy to make your acquaintance, Lillian. The lilies of our community do both grow and toil. We spin not, mind you, but we make easy the lives of those around us. It is propitious that we finally have a Lillian join the lilies.”

The Mother gave a small laugh and pushed her wimple back. The dark habit framed her oval face. Her eyes were a clear blue nestled in creases. Lillian was used to wrinkles but these marks were deeper. The right eyelid was lower than the left.

“Thank you … Sister. Mother Superior?” As an adult Lillian had never been introduced to a nun before. 

“Sister will do nicely if I can call you Lily?”

“Yes. Sister.” She hadn’t been called Lily since she was a child. Insisting on having her full name used had been one of the first things she was adamant about when she turned sixteen.

“Your uncle has been telling me that adapting to life here has been difficult for you.”

“At first.” Lillian stepped back. Her hands, now hidden under her apron, were restlessly squeezing each other. Would her hands look like the Mother Superior’s in a couple of years. 

“Did you find it that easy, Father Patrick? When you first arrived at St. Agatha’s parish?”

“I was quick to adapt, Sister, but … well … after the seminary it was a bit … of a challenge to be amongst ordinary folks again.”

“It is so much easier for a man to adapt isn’t it Father. Particularly one who feels, as you have demonstrated, that it is a natural part of his calling. A sacred vocation.”

“Yes, but Sister Claire, we’re here to discuss Lillian’s future prospects.”

“I know that but I wanted to make it clear that we are all aware of the challenges any new life will present.” She smiled. “What is easy for one may not be as simple for another. Now I wish to speak with Lillian.”

“Of course.” Father Patrick sat in his usual chair.

“Alone.”

“Ah …” He stood.

Lillian looked from Sister Claire to her uncle. She was amused at his discomfort. She had seen no one disconcert him this way since she arrived.

“Surely, you, of all men, must understand there are some things that require privacy.”

“Yes … uh … I do have matters to deal with at the church office. If you’ll excuse me.” He shook hands with the Mother Superior and left the room.

Sister Claire went to the window and waved to Father Patrick as he went down the front path.

“I had to make sure he was actually going.” She said. “before we spoke. I’ve learned never to trust a man.” She tittered and sat heavily in the chair the father had vacated.

Lillian was once again struck by the smell as the Mother’s habit unfolded around her. The hem of the tunic was dusty and frayed. The sleeve cuffs had been mended and there were square patches of a nearly matching serge on the elbows.

“I see you looking at my habit.” The Mother Superior said. “I know it has seen better days but those days have so full of grace I have found it hard to … replace it with a newer one. As you see I wear the double veil that represents my consecration to God.”

“Yes, I know. We had visiting sisters come to our school to explain some of these things.” Lillian served tea.

“Please sit Lily. There is no reason to be uncomfortable with me. I do have your best interests at heart.”

“Yes, Sister.” She sat in one of the side chairs. 

“Father Patrick is most concerned about your position in life.” Sh reached over to take Lillian by the hand.

“I know that but …”

“Hear me then I’ll listen to your ‘buts.’ He wants to protect you from the temptations of the world that are around us all. You may feel this is unreasonable on his part but your past indiscretions make it clear you are not a girl who can be trusted to make the wisest decisions on her own behalf.”

“So he has told you about Mr. Dunham?” Lillian stood.

“Yes, but that is not most concerns him. It is the attentions of Mr. O’Dowell that causes him the most concern.”

“But …”

“I told you no ‘buts.’ I have also spoken with Anthea O’Dowell and am fully aware that you have not sought such attentions. It has always been unfair to me that the pretty are blamed for how others respond to their prettiness. Yes, it is clear that often men are the victims of their own longings and hungers and it is up to us women to protect them from acting in unwholesome carnal ways. Their longings can be even more crippling than the chains that bound Christ.”

“How can we control hungers that we have not caused? Women have to live in this world with these men.” Lillian sat.

“Not necessarily so Lily. Which is why your uncle has asked me to speak with you today. He is concerned with your very soul. If you are incapable or unwilling to armour yourself then action must be taken.”

“Is that why you are in the convent Sister. To hide yourself from the eyes of men.” Lillian asked.

“We are the Brides of Christ. Some, to be sure, have hidden themselves with us, but most of our order does not hide. We have decided to surrender our human desires to confirm our dedication to spiritual fulfillment. We seek our protection from Christ so that we may work among His children. Although we are female, men stop seeing us as such but come to recognize us as emissaries of grace. Our very garment signifies taking on a new life in Christ.”

The idea of being protected from the unsavoury, and unwelcome, attentions of men appealed to Lillian. “I understand that it would be a blessing not to have to worry about pleasing mean or living one’s life at their beck and call. But if the price is to remove myself from the world around me I don’t know if I am strong.”

“What is it you have missed most of your life in Boston since coming here?”

“My family.” Lillian didn’t hesitate. “Being able to see my mother or father when I wanted to. To be able to come and go from my house as I pleased. To listen to my brother talking about his business affairs.”

“But those are sacrifices all women must make as we get older. If you married you would have to leave your family home, right?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything you don’t miss.”

Lillian sipped her tea and thought for a minute. “Yes! Here I no longer have to concern myself so much with how I look. There is no need to prepare my hair in the morning to do my chores, to face my uncle. I don’t have to select the right dress to wear. Those were things I once enjoyed, looked forward to, but now that I don’t, my life is much easier.”

“Then perhaps you have already heeded part of your calling?” Sister Claire said.

“Calling?”

“To be a sister is a calling, an avocation. It is to be free of …. adornment. Father Patrick didn’t become a priest on a whim. He knew he was making certain sacrifices to serve Our Lord. Sacrifices he gladly made.”

“I understand that. Being here isn’t a sacrifice I wanted to make. How would he have reacted if the priesthood had been forced upon him?”

“What is that you want Lily? What do you see in your future?”

“I expect to return to Boston, of course. To return to my family. Their intent in sending me was to spare my father any embarrassment in his political career.”

“How long do think he expects to be spared?” She took an envelope out from a fold in her habit.

“I … I had hoped to be home before Christmas. For my bother’s wedding.”

“Father Patrick had two reasons he wanted me to talk with you. One was to get a sense of your willingness to consider our vocation. The other was this …” she handed Lillian the envelope.

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Jimi Hendrix

What can I say about Hendrix? Died too young period. I played the Are You Experienced? lp grey, replaced it twice. He was one of the first pop stars that I fantasized about when I was jacking off (the first was Jim Morrison). He was one of the few stars that all my friends liked. I once knew all the words to Purple Haze. All alone in my little basement room in Cape Breton I cried the day he died. 

In my collection I have as stand alone’s: Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, Electric Lady Land, Ultimate Experience, BBC Sessions, Isle of Wight 1970, Feeling Good, Sunshine of Your Love. An mp3 collection that includes Axis Outtakes, Rainbow Bridge, Band of Gypsies & tucked away in another mp3 collection Cry of Love. Plus a ‘is it Hendrix or not’ set of jams with member of Traffic. 

Wait there’s more: Hendrix at Woodstock. A dvd of his Monterey Pop break though. Not to mention Gil Evans’ jazz take on Hendrix. Plus biographies by Curtis Knight and one by Charles R. Cross. In a pic file I have a photo of the cast of his cock made by the Plaster Casters. A bough in San Francisco teeshirt of the Axis cover art & a lunch pail of the same.

I’m not going to name check every track or every lp. The Experience studio albums are still state of the art engineering. They are also state of the art psychedelic. Feeling Good, Sunshine of Your Love are weird odds & ends of live stuff that slipped under the radar of his label. Messy at times but fun. One track has a very drunk Jim Morrison bellowing away. 

It’s his Experience studio work I enjoy the most. He seemed to lose direction without the band. The Woodstock release isn’t true to the event, though, as the percussionists & horns playing with him on stage, have been nearly erased from the mix that has been released. But it is still worth having. His sense of fashion still inspires my selection of shirts. 

Craving

‘You want it? Don’t you? You want it bad? I can tell. I can see it in your eyes, in your flesh. The way sweat beads along your upper lip. You want it? Don’t you? You want it bad? I can tell.’

‘Are you talking to me?’ 

‘Yes. Of course who else would I be talking to.’

I glanced around the mall. It was thick with people scouring the stores for that ultimate bargain. 

‘Anyone of them?’

‘Oh no. You heard. It had to be you. You want it? Don’t you? You want it bad. I can tell.’

‘Excuse me?’ Another woman stopped. ‘Are you talking to me?’

‘No. He’s talking to me.’

‘Perhaps I mean both of you.’

‘What’s he going on about?’ the second woman asked me.

‘I don’t know. I heard him babbling like this and stopped. I thought he was a pan handler.’

‘Ladies! I am not a pan handler.’ He stood an inch taller. ‘I am here as a warning, as an oracle to your future.’

‘Oh please. Give me a break.’ I started to leave.

‘No. Wait. You can’t go. You know you can’t go. You both know I’m right. You both want it? Don’t you? You want it bad. I can tell.’

Another shopper stopped. ‘What’s he selling.’

‘The future.’ I told her.

‘Been there, done that.’ She started to walk away.

‘You cannot have been there,’’ he railed at her. ‘No one has seen  the future. No has done it.’

‘Look. I know what I’m talking about. In a moment I will be gone.’ she left.

‘I guess she didn’t want it that bad.’ I wanted to laugh. ‘So get on with it. What’s the spiel. What do we want?’

‘Yeah. Come on,’ the other woman added. ‘I haven’t got all day.’

‘You have a life time ladies. A life time. But you want it? Don’t you? You want it bad I can tell.’

‘We’ve heard that bit. Get on with it or we’ll be gone, too.’

‘No. You can never escape once it had sunk its insidious claws into you. Never escape.’

‘Look,’ The other woman stepped away. ‘I’m escaping now.’ She disappeared into the crowd.

‘What’s with you people these days? No depth. No real sense of value.’

‘You have to give people something of value. I’m sure you mean well. What ever it is you may think. But words aren’t enough.’

‘But don’t you feel it? Deep. In your bones. Feel that something, that need.’

‘The only need I’m beginning to feel is the need to take a …’ I stopped. I couldn’t tell him that. What was coming over me? Telling a stranger I had to go to the bathroom.

‘Ah. So I was right. You want it? Don’t you? You want it bad, I can tell. The ladies room is through the food court.’

‘Thank you.’

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October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

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I Feel Sexy

I’ve seen Rocky Horror a few times now – both on stage & of course the movie. I remember a photo of Tim Curry in Time magazine, when the film was being made. He was in the classic corset costume & I was amazed & aroused. I’ve never been fan of lingerie on a man except for this one. Panty Papi isn’t for me. 

I was working for Famous Players in Sydney, Cape Breton (not Australia) when the film was released & the opening lips mesmerized me. The plot had everything I was already into: spooky houses, crazed scientists, goth butlers, bisexuality, silly scifi plots & hilarious songs. Tim Curry was amazing too. The man could sing. His drag was not fem, a bit campy &  still remains cutting edge.

The stage productions I have seen have all been good fun but director Donna Feore’s Stratford take is the best I’ve seen. Dan Chameroy as Frank N. Furter is a powerhouse. He makes this role his own without initiating Curry at any point. Totally committed & he makes this imaginary character feel like a real person.

The show doesn’t let up for a minute from when one sits down to face the distressed velvet curtain to when that curtain reluctantly falls as the end after encores of Time Warp. The band was amazing & I love the sax playing of Ian Harper. The ensemble cast is like clockwork – they all sing & dance with energy plus it was clear that they really really loved these songs & the various bits of stage business they had to deal with.

Steve Ross as the narrator handled audience hecklers with aplomb without stepping of of character – plus his singing was excellent – too and he never got a song of his own. Sayer Roberts as Brad was great as well – it’s too easy to down play Brad as a minor player but Sayer holds his own, in undies for much of the play, & when he gets his song, Once in a While proves he can sing as well as looking good in fishnets & heels.

The women in the show are good but the sound mix resulted in them sounding like shrill Betty Boops. In fact the sound mix often made the lyrics indistinguishable to my friends who came to see the show with me. Regardless this is a dynamic production of a musical that remains edgy in its sexuality. Five out of five. It has been extended to the end of November so see it while you can.

My last show of the season will be Paradise Lost in October.

Other recent reviews:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: “a ghost haunting the past” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-30f 

Coriolanus: “My rage is gone” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31K 

The King and I: “The King and My Memories” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31Y

Julius Caesar: “Honourable Women” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-33T

The Hound of the Baskervilles: “Entertainment Afoot”  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-34I

The Tempest: “Brave Spirits Indeed” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-35S

Grand Hotel https://wp.me/p1RtxU-37e 

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http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

https://www.facebook.com/TorontoGratitudeRoundup/

October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

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Castle Rock Rocks

Hulu’s Castle Rock was satisfying & more fun to watch than I expected. It never became as bloody (or as silly) as American Horror Story, didn’t get as gloomy & relentless as Taboo or Handmaiden or as soapy as The Dome. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the cast & in particular the music.

Spoiler warning: there may be spoilers in this review but I’ll try not to give too much away either. Based on locations & characters out of the entire Stephen King oeuvre the writers do a great job of referencing without being slavish to King. Episode One started in Shawshank Prison and I was doubtful of enjoying the series. 

I have read King extensively but not recently so this opening made me fearful that I wouldn’t understand this world without an extensive knowledge of his work – but I didn’t. The plot & subplots are quite clear without knowing a word of King. The show is full of ‘Easter eggs’ small references to some of his writing i.e. there is a Claiborne’s Cafe in the background of some shots.

The plot hinges on the discovery of Bill Skarsgård as “The Kid” in an isolated cage in in an aboandoned part Shawshank Prison. Is he evil, good or merely in the wrong dimension? He asks for Henry Deaver (André Holland) who turns out to be a lawyer. In the course of the show we meet Sissy Spacek as Henry’s mother Ruth Deaver; Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn – character who appears in King’s novels & some short stories; & Noel Fisher as prison guard Dennis Zalewski.

The atmosphere is eerie as opposed to scary. The story telling is often done in flash-backs. The Dark Tower multiple universes concept is more a distraction than an explanation. The finale wrapped things in a tidy way – Henry gets the Kid released in the beginning & in the end Henry becomes the Kid’s new jailer. 

I loved the episode 7 “The Queen” & hated episode 8 “Past Perfect.” Episode 8 was great fun at the Dead & Breakfast in an American Horror Story way but was so deliberately clever I was disappointed. It showed that the only reason there was a Jackie Torrence character was for the punch line of her wielding an axe. One direct King reference  that didn’t advance or add to any plot line but merely existed for the witty Shining references.

What I enjoyed as much as the show was the Castle Rock Critical podcast with a fine set of hosts who explored each episode scene by scene, theorized what might be happening, pointed out the many King references & made it all fun. On their scale I’d give the season 4 out of 5 blueberries. It loses a berry for too many unresolved plot threads and for events that were only there for atmosphere i.e. the dog that takes the severed head. I’d give the podcast 5 blueberries.

The performances were all excellent. On line & on the podcast there was a lot of sexual ogling of Bill Skarsgård, who as an actor was excellent, but as a sex object I find to be a tall glass of tepid water. Give me André Holland, or even Noel Fisher any day (or night). Then again this Castle Rock takes place in a dimension with no LGBTQ people.

Elbow 

1

‘They found another elbow in the park.’

My mother was doing something to eggs on the stove. The scrape of the spatula dull on the frying pan as if she wasn’t fully playing attention to anything. 

‘I said they found … ’

‘I heard you dear. I’m afraid they have to be scrambled.’

I hated scrambled eggs. I could cook my own breakfast, but when I started she would hover, then take over as if she was doing me a favour. Saying something like ‘boys shouldn’t cook’

‘Left or right’ she asked.

‘Huh?’

‘The elbow, was it left or right?’

‘I didn’t hear.’

The eggs were a yellow clump with browned edges

‘That makes the fifth elbow this month.’

‘Soon they’ll have enough for a whole body’ my mother half laughed. ‘How are the eggs?’

‘Yummy.’

‘Can they tell left from right?’ She stirred her coffee. ‘It’s just an elbow joint.’

‘Yep. The eggs are fine. Severed clean. I suppose there’s enough for them to tell from the way the joint moves.’

‘Yuk.’ My mother shuddered. ‘Gives me the creeps to think of an elbow like that – of some csi guy manipulating it with their hands.’

She manipulated an invisible elbow in the air over her coffee cup.

‘Would it squeak like a rusty door?’ she made a weird squeak with her voice. ‘Creeeeeequee.’

We both laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.

2

‘Could you pass me that book?’ Mrs. Coude gestured with the stump of her right arm.

‘This one?’ I picked up the English text that had fallen off her desk.

She’d had two complete arms yesterday. In her sleeveless dress the stump was hard to miss. A complete left arm and nothing on the other side. As if it was trick of the light. My eyes were almost seeing what was once there. I didn’t want to stare too obviously. It wasn’t a red raw. The end was smooth, healed. The nub, just before where the elbow would be, was so natural, as if there had never been a limb beyond it. It seemed impossible to me that less that twenty-four hours ago she had a flesh and blood arm there and now her forearm was gone.

She was the first person I had met who had suffered the loss of an elbow. I had so many questions. I had to know how did it happen.  Did she feel anything when it happened. Did she wake up in this morning and her elbow was gone.

She went to the board and started to write with her left hand. The letters were childlike, less controlled, as she went along. At one point she rubbed some of it out with her right shoulder. She stopped abruptly, her back to us as she sobbed into her left hand.

A couple of students went to the office to get the vice-principle. It felt like we were telling on her, but something had to be done.

Mr. De Codo took her by the shoulders and gently lead her out of the room.

‘You boys behave. Someone will be with you directly.’

We sat still, silent, looking at the scattered smudge she had put on the blackboard. Then began to copy it as exactly as we could. One never knew what was going to be on the exams.

(Elbow to be continued next week)

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October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

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October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

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The Boy and the Book

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks. Who knew the simple life could be so complex. This another of the 92 pācittiyas.

The Boy and the Book

the dad admonishes

‘do not eat the book’

to the little boy

old enough to talk

but clearly pre-school

gnawing on the picture book

 

I wonder

is the paper digestible

is the ink toxic

what about the plastic

on the shiny cover

is it picture book of animals

does the boy expect

to find out what

a lion tastes like

 

can what nourishes his mind

also feed his body

will this taste haunt him

as he searches for it

in books  cookies  flesh

that bring back that memory

 

or will he realize

books are for reading

not for eating

that filling his head

will leave his stomach empty

that no matter

how many books he reads

his mind will never be satisfied

that it’s time to close books

and start to feed the world

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Taking Pictures

Taking Pictures

do I need another coffee mug

even from Mumbai

or another t-shirt

even one from Istanbul

do I want you buying me gifts

on your travels

 

it’s nice to be thought of

but you know

a photo of the mug would be enough

better yet

a photo of you naked

holding that mug

to your lips

because when you travel

that’s what I miss the most

or a picture of you

mugging in the mirror

in your hotel room

with the t-shirt pulled up

with one hand

the camera in the other

and your dick below

catching the glint of the summer sun

 

I don’t want your overtime work

that pays for the travel

to be turned into some souvenir 

that sits on my shelf

until I donate it to some garage sale

 

better yet

take me with you

so I can take pictures

This is based on real experience – both receiving & giving travel gifts. I have been given some of the most hideous t-shirts by various friends that they picked up just for me on their travels – bright colours aren’t going to sell me on a crappy graphic of eyes bulging out at a boobs on the beach. My thanks is usually on behalf of of the nearly clothing donation bin.

Now if they had texted me a photo of that tee still on the pile I would have even happier & more amused. My Mumbai buddy now asks if there’s anything I might like to have when he travels because he knows I don’t want anymore tee shirts, crockery is too hard to pack. This year he’ll bring me tea packaged for the local market. Something I will use & enjoy.

Some of my other travel friends know that face pics or beach sunset pics are enough for me. A few do take that extra step of showing me uh … their tan lines. A post card is sweet too. 

When I travel I do text pics to friends of things I see. No more than one a day though. Yes I do send more explicit selfies to those who merit them 🙂 I do buy tee’s for a couple of them as well. One once sent me a picture of himself while he was in Kenya, wearing the DC tee I gave him, so I know it was practical & appreciated & looks good on him (it looks best on the floor beside my bed.) He brought me back a box of tea (that tastes nearly as good as he does.) 

This piece was fun to write. It let my mind ramble away from social commentary, emotional interactions or childhood memories. The 222 Rules aren’t prompts that lead me to humour.

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Chapter XXV – Birk In The Mud

Coal Dusters 

Chapter XXV

Birk In The Mud

Birk and Clancy went into the back garden and Clancy sat on the bench, Birk sprawled on the ground leaning against it. He took off his work boots and socks.

“You see how she looked?” Clancy asked. “That weren’t no bump on anything.”

“Yep.” Birk knew Clancy meant Lillian. He had watched her on and off all night to see if there was some indication of who had struck her. “At the end there. When she come up into the light in front of all of us.”

“Oh yeah that look o’hers at the good man of the cloth, that uncle o’ her’s. I figure everyone there saw that and knew who she got beat by.”

Clancy began to push his boots off. Birk yanked them off for him and then his socks.

“Blue Lake smell still on’ em.” he laughed.

“It was good day fishin’?” Clancy said.

“Yeh. You pleased with what we caught?”

“I’m pretty happy with it, if you are?”

“Yeh. It’ll be a week or so ‘fore we can go up there again to there.” 

“Figured.” Clancy ruffling Birk’s hair. “It’s been a long day though. More tired now than when I raked behind you all day.”

“What’s that?” Birk stood. “Sounds like singin’.” He began to pull his boots and socks back on.

“Coming from the docks?” Clancy pulled his socks and boots back on. “Could it be those micks drunk and singing to the Holy Ghost?”

They walked to the lane that lead to the colliery and followed the singing to the dock. A group of the miners we’re sitting around a bonfire on the dirt road that lead to the pier.

“Join us lads?” Jim McKlusky came over to them with a bottle in his hand. “Someone has liberated some of the good father’s wine.”

Birk recognized some of the miners from the other collieries. They had just started a ragged verse of Rule Britannia with some of miners supplying their own words:

“Rule BritCan Co BritCan Co rules the coal

Miners ever ever ever shall be slaves

The miners not so blest with greed

Must take their turn in Hell

While you eat great meals for free

On the blood and sweat of all miners”

On the chorus all the miners joined in, adding their own bits to it. ‘Rule rule rule but never feed,’ ‘To Hell Hell Hell with their command.’ 

Different bottles made the rounds. Some with mild wine and others with potent home brews that sung Birk’s eyes and one that he spat out as fast as he could.

The miner with a squeeze box started in on Mademoiselle from Armenteires who you couldn’t kiss unless you’ve had forty beers. As they went through the verses and choruses locations changed, what the mademoiselle would do became more dirty and her body parts more detailed.

“You blushing?” Clancy grabbed Birk in a headlock and rubbed his hair. “Too much for your innocent ears?”

“Get off me!” Birk pushed him away and sent him reeling into a couple of miners swinging each other round in a step dance. This sent the dancers sprawling on the ground to great whoops and applause from the others. The shift signal whistle silenced them all.

“Well men,” the miner with his fiddle stopped. “Looks like its time to face the real music.”

 Birk helped Clancy up and dusted him off. 

Birk’s mother was sitting in her armchair by the stove when they went in. She took a deep breath as they splashed water on their faces at the sink.

“Someone’s been playing in the mud have they.” She said. “Mud and homemade by the stink.”

“I’m sorry Ma.” Birk couldn’t look her in the eyes.

“At’s okay son, your about a man now and it’s time you started to learn about some of those men things.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him Mrs. N.” Clancy said.

“So what’s the word on the strike boys?”

“Strike Mrs. N.” 

“Pa’s gone to check the boilers. He’ll be back soon.” Birk leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

Is was raining heavily in the morning. Birk couldn’t see past the back fence. The lane in front of the house was muddy.

“Better wait till we get to the main lane before you put yer boots and socks on Clancy. Yer about to find out why this is called Mudtown.” Birk said as they were getting ready to set out. “After a heavy rain last year Billy McLean lost a kid. Wanted to cross over to play with cousins across the way there. Got caught in the mud and couldn’t get out and got pulled under somehow.”
“Yer joking.”

“Not a bit of it. No matter how much of the slag gets dumped on the road it sinks to somewhere when the rains fall.”

The rain slickers they wore kept them dry but all the laneways had all become rivers of mud. Thick, cold mud. They sank up to their knees at some points as they struggled to the colliery gates. Even the main lane was pitted with bogs of mud.

There were several other miners there when they arrived. A couple of them had trimmed some thick branches they intended to use as weapons if need be.

“Ya think the company will try anything?”

“Maybbe not.” one of them said “But best be prepared. If we show them we mean business right off we already have the upper hand.”

The rain didn’t let up. At different times during the day other miners would show up, some would go home. The union rep visited with them for an hour or so bringing hot tea with him. Then Reverend Brown came by with a roast chicken for them to share.

The men were too cold and wet to joke amongst themselves or talk for long. They stood on either side of the gate glaring into the rain, looking into the mine yard to see who they might see. 

Two of the managers showed up. The miners crowded around the gate to impede them from going in but didn’t do anything to directly hold them back either.

“It’s all fer show these first couple of days.” Jake told them. 

It pointless to Birk. He’d rather have been going underground to work than wallow around in this cold wet muck. Although he knew that the unions helped make sure that the men had some benefits from their jobs – the wash-up rooms, a doctor, that sort of thing; he didn’t feel they did much for him in the long run. They got his dues right off his pay every week but never saw them active in the lives of the miners.

At least Father Pat or Reverend Brown came into their homes when they were sick or hurt, but they only saw the union rep when there was need for more money for the union.

The rep hadn’t even told them what the strike fund was going to do for them. They’d been paying something into for the last three years since the last strike. Was there going to be enough between him and Clancy to keep food on the table? Blackie would still get his full pay to tend the boilers but the most of that would go for the house and that wouldn’t leave enough for their needs.

Maybe they’d have to go fishing sooner than they planned. That idea pleased him. He hadn’t dwelt on what he and Clancy did sliding on each other. Now the memory made him happy.

“You got something to smile about?” one of the men asked him.

“Yeh getting home and into dry clothes.” He said.

“Sure it isn’t that priest’s gal.” Clancy asked.

“Not a bit.” He hoped they wouldn’t see his cheeks burning as they questioned him.

“Sure wish she’d come by with that tea trolly now.”

“She’s need a dory to get through to us here ya know.” Birk said.

“Maybbe she can walk on mud as Jesus did on the water.” One of them said.

“Time you two went home.” Jim McKlusky appeared out of the rain. “Before yer house gets washed away.”

“Right, Thanks Jim. See ya in the morning.” Clancy said.

“If we find a place to dock the house, that is.” Birk said.

They set off to the house and stopped at the rise at the top of the laneway, leaned against the fence, pulled off their boots and socks and slogged down the lane.

“You think much about what we did t’other day up at the lake?” Clancy asked. 

“When we was fishin’ ya mean?”

“Yeh then.”

“Not as if I forgot it b’y but there’s a lot goin’ on too. Why?”

“Just wondering. I didn’t mind it.”

“Me neither.” Birk shook rain off his shoulders.

“Ya think that Lillian might …”

“Get those evil thoughts outta yer head Clancy.”

“Only thing keeps me warm in this rain.” Clancy wiped the rain off his face.

“I’d warm the arse of whoever done that hurt to her.”

“Me too, but if’n I found out who did harm her and I did him a harm, she might be very grateful.”

“How many time’s do we have tell ya she’s not going look twice at some orange arse.”

“I’d convert.” Clancy laughed.

“No doubt you would. What would yer ma think though?”

“She wouldn’t care. She was a mick herself, you see. When she married me paw her family turned their back on her. When m’pa died they wouldn’t forgive her till she went to confession and the priest said she was penitent. She only did that so we’d have a place to live.”

“So you think this one would be different, eh? Not as if she’s your regular mick either. The priest’s niece. She’s almost a nun.”

“Never thought of her that way.” Clancy laughed tipping water out of his boots.

Clancy lost his footing the the muck and staggered into Birk and they both fell into one of the deeper ruts. Birk’s work boots went flying.

“So much for trying to spare them.” 

Clancy crawled over the mud and got the boots then pushed himself to his feet. He turned to help Birk up.

“What a pair we make!” Birk laughed. “Can’t even walk home in the rain.”

“Yeh. All we are is a couple of dirty, filthy Mudtown mine rats.”

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Jessie Mae Hemphill

Four or five years ago I watched a documentary on Christmas music – obscure Christmas music, not the mainstream albums pumped out by big pop stars. It focused on a couple of obsessive collectors – which I identify with – looking for lost treasures. One of the songs was ‘Merry Christmas, Pretty Baby’ by Jessie Mae Hemphill. The song was rollicking, sexy fun & the sound was sort of rustic & homemade – clanky tambourine, slide blues guitar with her vocals on top of it all.

I found her on iTunes & have Feelin’ Good; She-Wolf; Get Right Blues on this mp3 collection. The sound quality is excellent. Her guitar playing is strong. The material is a mix of originals, blues classics & some spirituals. Mostly uptempo & all fun. Levon Helm won grammies for Americana but Jessie Mae is an even more rootsy Americana.

One of the other Christmas songs “Christmas in Veitnam” by Private Charles Bowens & Gentlemen From Tigerland – lead me to the The Rojac Story. The only collection where I could get this track. “Founded in 1963 Rojac Records was Jack Taylor’s attempt to capture the musical pulse of Harlem. Throughout the 60s (and into the 80s) the imprint released a steady stream of releases. Whether they were hits or near hits they’re all exceptional in quality.”

The Rojac Story is some 44 tracks from their catalogue including cuts by Big Maybelle, Damn Sam The Miracle Man & The Soul Con’ & many more. Raunchy, funky music that I was never exposed to growing up on the east coast. Some it novelty or one-cut wonders like Private Charles Bowens. This is a compilation worth tracking down.

Clarence Reid is so well represented in this Rojac collection I picked up his Funky Party – the title alone tells you what to expect. A funky version of Otis Redding – Clarance has a fine voice, lots of fun & charm in his music. He may want ‘A Real Woman’ but is open to fun until she comes along. His ‘Winter Man’ deserves to be rediscovered. Love finding these hidden treasures – at least hidden from me – things that round out my musical knowledge. I never know where I’m going to find something new. 

That first time I watched Jingle Bell Rocks! twice just to jot down the names of songs & performers. Since 2014 it shows up on TV every year in December and I watch it every year.

Visionary 

What do I see for 2001 – the news will not change, different names and better coverage but the same events – senseless killing sprees, innocent people shot at their desks, fire bombed in jungles, cults of capitalist doom consuming the energies of people. 

Money made and lost on the stock market, more lost than made made, dives and dips that will send more people screaming in front of TV cameras with opinions but no solutions.

Bad movies about teenagers with no sense of value that will get rave reviews. Music that no one understands, not even the people who make it. Books of pointless dissections of lives, past recriminations of parents for being human and not gods when bringing up those children, with the microphones hidden in their heads, tape recorders for brains that will spew out entire dinner conversations to reveal just how human parents are.

TV shows about people losing their way in big cities where they don’t even speak the language. Sad American tourists blindfolded and taken by air to unknown destinations and just let free – no money, no guides, just that damn camera crew trailing behind their every step.

The American legal system with tear right down the middle with a nation more divided than ever. Greater civic unrest for minorities who are actually majorities. Whites will wake up to the fact that there are more Asians and blacks than anglos in the the land of the free and those people will demand to be free once and for all from the oppression of financial expectations, religious intolerance and body shame. They will rise slowly but surely before anyone realizes what is going on and the tide of change will not be controlled by any national guard or petty sex scandal.

Water will slowly disappear. People will wake up and find there isn’t enough to go around, not enough water, not enough power. Waste will become a crime. No watering of lawns, recycling of bath water, all controlled to eke out each last drop, but still there will not be enough for some. Only the rich will have lawns, the rest of us will have wild flowers (yeah).

The hungry will get more hungry, the homeless will increase as people lose the longing for home. 

The nature of family will continue to change. The Rockwell image will be replaced with the reality of today. Nostalgia will no longer rule and the those who wish we were back to yesterday will be sent there once and for all, leaving the rest of here to enjoy progress and appreciate and flexible future. For without flex there is no future.

The war between the sexes will continue as men stay stuck till they find the gal still stuck in that past. Men will marry each other, women will marry each other and God will smile while churches that perform such services will be burnt to the ground by worshippers of nostalgia.

2001 will be a year of great spiritual shifts in all who flex and one of deep fear and a distrust to those who refuse to open to the future. 

The future cannot be halted and it is my fault.

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Paul Simon

Paul Simon – one of my non-literary inspirations recently released ‘In the Blue Light’ a new recording to celebrate his 77th birthday. He’s taken some of his older songs & reimagined them as pop jazz. I would have liked him to go even further back to his Simon & Garfunkle work. It is a fine set of songs all the same. Listening to it made it clear to me that some of my influences weren’t the dead poets I was forced to study in high school or even the literary poets that ‘real’ poets cite as inspirations so that can sound educated.

 

Simon’s lyrics weren’t necessarily that complex. I Am A Rock spoke to my teenage sense of isolation. Little did I realize ‘I am an island’ was a John Donne reference, nor did I need to know in order to be drawn into the words. It had alliteration, evocative imagery – things that became a part of my own early writing style. It was so simple & direct that it made poetry accessible & seemly easy to write.

So I wrote endless poems in imitation of Sounds of Silence, Old Friends, For Emily. I actually still have some of those high school explorations somewhere. His longing for love was never dark – like, say, Jim Morrison; nor was his search as wordy or complex as Bob Dylan. His music itself was sunny. Even my sexually explicit poetry maintains, I hope, the sense of innocence than runs through his lyrics.

Later Simon became more personal to him yet never felt forced, overly bitter or oblique. He used humour to express some of the difficulties he was going through as he got older, as his fame became less rewarding or as his reputation stood in the way of his just being a guy who wrote and sang. It’s only looking back now as I think about my inspirations do I see how much I owe him.

Why I Want To Be A Clown

the clowns enjoy 

making babies cry 

the highlight of their day 

is when they get a good scream 

out of a baby 

elated when they scare a child

say around 9 or 10 years old

into crapping his pants

 

oh they can’t get enough 

of the shame on a kid’s face

as bowels let loose

because of their crazy 

smeary greasy faces

they would plunge surge

surround an innocent kid

huge mouths agape

with broken teeth 

speared with reds and greens

from the make up they ate 

to get them geared up 

to charge into the ring

 

stumbling bumbling drunk

pretending to vomit in a bucket

throw confetti at one child

then real puke on the next

to the hilarious roar of the audience 

 

when they found the one 

preferably a boy 

because girls were no challenge

the older that boy the better in fact 

one who acted uninterested 

invite him into the centre ring

mock him with garish faces 

bray till he ran out crying

made that little fucker 

shit shit shit his pants

they slap each other on the back 

as they exit the ring

 

sniggering 

at the the lion tamer

who relied on whips

not on wigs

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Every Man Wants

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Every Man Wants

when I said

I’d had enough

I meant I needed no more

not wanting more

isn’t a sign 

that I don’t like what you offer

so don’t take it personally

no I’m not trying to lose weight

why

do you think I’m fat

or that I’m afraid of putting

the pounds on

I’m happy with the way I look

sure

like everyone I know

I’d like to loose five pounds

okay maybe ten

when I look in the mirror

I like what I see

I’m content with my body

yeah sure

I’d like a six pack

every man wants a bigger dick

but you know

what I have is what I have

no one has complained

so no

I don’t need any more

no matter how tempting 

I may want it

but no thanks

there are others more hungry 

who need another helping

all I need

is to enjoy the empty plate

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