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I’ve been writing about this for ten years.

Every year, on the anniversary, I write something specific. Careful scholars may note there’s nothing two years ago – that’s not true, there is something I just didn’t share it.

I recalled today that I actually started writing about it just hours (minutes?) afterwards. The police handed me a form and I sat down backstage and I wrote down everything that I could remember. Occasionally I think about going to the police department and trying to find that file, that scrap of paper. That there’s an answer there waiting for me, that my fingers solved the riddle and it fell onto the page and it’s waiting for me. I feel like that about a lot of what I write.

I recall how then, sitting backstage, writing on that piece of paper, even then, just hours (minutes?) after I thought: no. I will not let this pass. I will hold this inside of me like a cannonball. I will not set it down, I will not pass it away. I have room inside me for this. This is mine and no one gets to tell me what to do with it.

There was the Week of Three Funerals. I spoke and laughed. There were gatherings for the survivors, mental health professionals to assist — I didn’t go. I worried my friends, drifted from my beloved. I went back to where it happened, I stepped over the ghosts. We painted ashes into the stage and I was embarrassed. Not like this, I thought. Not this way, not with others, not exposed and raw and pathetic. This is mine. I have learned that I can control nothing, but I will control my pain and I will control how I grieve.

I buried them on stage later, I held my funeral for them. The audience applauded and I was alone, the way that I wanted.

I began to write stories. Stories about a man with no home, changed forever by malice and love. My friends wrote with me, they chased the man. They fought him, hated him, hunted him across the land. When at last they had the villain at their mercy, they relented. They let him go. They let him go, even though they knew it would bring only ruin. I loved the freedom of the man and the kindness of my friends, my heroes.

My mother died. I wrote more stories. Stories about a girl to whom nothing was impossible except connection. I wrote alone now. I followed the girl and I gave her the thing she wanted least: a friend. I spun out demons and dragons for them to fight and prayed that the girl would win, prayed that she would defeat what I could not.

The cannonball. When I write, when I make– it levitates. When I stop it falls.

I wrote more stories, I wrote songs, I wrote secret limericks on the back of night. I look back at the scraps of paper and think maybe this one. This one will solve it, this one will atomize the weight in my chest. This story, this song – this is the secret, this is the riddle, waiting for me to solve.

I’ve been writing about this for ten years. I’ve taken a long look and I know the truth. I’m dying faster than the cannonball is rusting.

I wrote a new story. A story about a woman made empty by loss, frustrated by her fall from when the world was brighter. A friend wrote music, other friends sang, gave the story voices. I gave the woman the thing she wanted least: a reminder. A reminder that we are more than grief, we are more than our pain. Every day we choose our way, every day we can find a new beginning. I gave her a tiny push toward something like happiness – which, to be fair – was the absolute minimum I probably owe her.

It’s the first (sort of) happy ending I’ve written in a long time. It’s a step, a tiny step.

I’m not ready to put the cannonball down. I will hold it until I can’t. That is my way, that is my choice. This is not bravery. It is cowardice. The metal and my flesh are knit now, I don’t know who I’d be with it gone.

But I’m writing stories, I’m telling them to myself over and over. And slowly, scrap by scrap, I learn, I remember, I begin again. And I change.

This has been a time of leaving talismans behind, this year. I need to know I can survive without them. I’m leaving where it happened. I’m stepping back over the ghosts. I’m a story about a man who forgets but still finds his way. I’m a story about a leaky boat on a dark sea. I’m a story about a mask-maker. I’m a song about running away.

I’m writing about this and I’m writing about them and I’m writing about me and I don’t know where the edges are anymore, there never were any. Twenty years in the same room, ten years on the same page, five years on the same word. I’m almost the same age Tom was.

I write about this every year. I write about this every day. It is in the mortar of everything I make. I don’t want to feel so bound, so wrapped up in my own experience of the day, of the years. It feels crass, it feels pathetic and selfish.

But here. Another scrap of paper. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.

May it rain every April 25th from now until the end of the world.

I love you.

G. Derek Adams

the shore

it starts like this

moon on the waves

and you and the blade

i remember the way

i remembered to say

three times the demon king’s name

wound up and ground up with fortune and fame

it starts like this

but it doesn’t end

put your shoulder against the wave

and hold tight to your partizan

been singing black dog sermons

keeping melodies like a talisman

on and on the tides devour

i haven’t grown gills and i lost the key to the tower

it starts like this

broken hearts like this

but it doesn’t end

pocket full of sixpence, bindle full of rye

sand on the shore and the burdock ravens fly

hands made of thimbles, slice up the time

a spindle of riddle choking the silver rime

asking a question that has only one answer

counterfeit miracles like bones made of plaster

it starts like this

it breaks like this

the night like this

but it doesn’t end

Cold Case

there is no law but

the one we make

no cops and robbers

but the oaths we break

flipping open folders grown green like a phantom

mildew is the true revue of scenes we abandoned

startled awake hands deep in the overcoat

hat on my head smells like red creosote

steel in the right pocket, glass in the left

few swallows holler, piles of clocks have slept

and turned and wound to find me here

mutter in the gutter but the streetlight is devil-clear

detective elective corrective unsure and unkind

no badge left and cogs unclog a claptrap mind

but there on the wall, written in blue

killer’s left a riddle in the middle of a larger clue

painted on the wall, outline of a tower

shadows on the bricks, red line on the flower.

there is no way but

the one we choose

no monster in the mark

but the one we lose.

 

Say it Again

Is there a term for spiraling so slowly that it just looks like dancing? Only when the detective has the photos of the event up on the white board and they’re sipping their coffee and they look down then up then they realize. Their brow furrows, they should have seen it all along.  That’s the abyss in the center of the room not a throw rug! (though it does really pull the room together as they say)

I’m the detective in my own life. I’m the mastermind setting fires on the South Side. I’m the thug in the box sweating it out. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I’m waiting at the bottom of this.

I am emotionally dishonest, but not without flair.

All writers are detectives, all writers are defectives. Typing out our confessions that we got from ourselves, but tidying them up for the brass downtown. I file mine in the trash can and go back in for more, this perp knows the answer, this time I’ll crack it, even if I have to break a few eggs, break a few legs, break this kid against the side of the table.

The detective sits in bars late at night and drinks and talks to anyone who will listen about the case. The detective has a tab that is never brought current. The detective stares out at headlights as he drives, across the bar, across the room. Something burns in his gut that isn’t bourbon, something animal that knows he got it wrong, got it wrong again.

I flip through old work, I keep forgetting but there’s so much of it. Scribbles in pages and stages and rages of kings, my own words sound like someone else, sometimes they catch me by surprise, almost unravel the knot, like that was the purpose. I keep singing the same songs, changing the key – pushing the shapes and toys I have into battle with the throw rug in the center of the room. I understand but I don’t believe, the detective stares out at headlights and knows he got it wrong again.

Is pain a riddle to solve? I hide secrets and stories and swords made of silver in the air, in the wire, in the bath water. Hoping to find them when needed like December coat money, tossing them downstream in time.

The detective sleeps alone even when there is company.

I understand but I don’t believe. At least not enough.

There is some resentment. Do I really need to say it again? I say it over and over but no one puts the clues together. Never mind that I don’t really know what I’m saying and would resent more any attempt at vigilante justice. This is my town, let the police do their job. It’s too bad that they’re on the take. This is a city of law and the first law is: I choose what I see. The second law is: Let it burn.

The mastermind laughs in the streets and doesn’t even bother wearing his mask anymore.

I’m sweating in the box, my wrist handcuffed to the table. The detective comes in and folds his coat over the chair but doesn’t sit. The detective leans over and says, “Say it again.”

And I stutter. I moan. “Please don’t make me, you don’t understand. I’m in danger.”

The detective rolls up his sleeves and locks the door.

 

lines in the sand

lines in the sand

drawing them in circles around me

riddles and shapes of song

lines in the sand

can’t live in this invisible country

water’s rising, won’t be long

 

how can

I live

in just

a moment?

no one

will know.

waiting

to forget.

 

lines in the sand

promises are breaking like the waves

i speak and then i’m gone

time in my hand

books of me cry out from pages

i don’t trust any one

 

how can

i be

only

a moment?

you are

not me,

but wearing

my jacket.

 

lines in the sand

circles fading, draw them again

water and night will prove

lines in the sand

memory is a fool again

 

Tithe

6CAB549A-4AF2-4558-B704-16099245E831.jpegMarcus lived on an edge of town. Not the actual edge, not the city limits where light gives way to quiet dark – but an edge piece, a place where the neighborhood butted up against the rail road track and the ruins of old factories beyond. One could walk past it on either side in a couple minutes, drive past in a heartbeat – but it remained an edge, a cliff of the known.  A place where the railroad track felt like the shore of an ocean, the collapsed buildings a ship’s graveyard. Marcus had lived  in his house for only a few days the first time he heard the music, only two weeks when he saw the first stranger come down to the tracks to leave an offering.

The music only came at night. Too quiet to hear inside his house, but if Marcus was walking home late or getting something from his car or walking his dogs he could hear it plain – echoing from the dark beyond the train tracks. Sometimes it was guitar, sometimes it was a low trumpet, sometimes a flute – hollow and insistent.  The music did not come every night, but often enough. The melodies changed – always approaching familiar, but distorted by distance and wind. He asked his neighbors if they heard the music, but they only smiled and turned away from the question.

Then the first stranger came. They came at sundown, just drove to the end of the street in a black sedan. They got out, they wore a coat and slacks, work-day tie loosened. Marcus watched from his window as they walked across the tracks, something wrapped in red cloth in their hands. The stranger did not look left or right, they did not stay long – their shoulders seemed to carry a familiar errand. They came back to their car empty-handed. The stranger sat in the black sedan for a few minutes then drove away.

Marcus could not bear the curiosity and made his own way down to the tracks with a flashlight, but as long as he looked he could not find whatever had been wrapped in the red cloth. Whatever the stranger had left behind was gone – or beyond his ability to find.

Time passed and more strangers came. Young and old, rich and poor. They drove or they walked or they rode garish bicycles – always to the end of his street, always to the rail road tracks, always bringing something. Sometimes Marcus could see their offering – bowls of stones, a loaf of gray bread, red flowers in a green vase — all placed over the tracks among the ruined factories. All placed and left, but try as he might Marcus could never find them after the strangers departed.

And still at night, the music. Marcus found himself humming through his day, trying to remember the tune. He still could not place it, but was sure that it was sad.

He asked his neighbors again – about the music, about the strangers. They frowned and shook their heads and handed him back the question unopened.

At last, he could stand it no longer. He waited on his front porch at sundown for three days, until another stranger appeared. An older woman in a long blue dress walked down his street, her eyes already looking beyond the rail road tracks – Marcus had learned to recognize the gaze. She carried a small box under one arm. He rushed across his yard to move between her and the tracks and held up a hand in greeting.

“I am sorry to bother you, but – but I live here. And for weeks and weeks I’ve watched people like you come to the tracks, to the this place – and all of you leave something. Can you tell me what’s going on? Why you come here?”

She smiled politely, and said, “No.”

And to his surprise she walked past him.

She walked past him and continued on to the shore and beyond, with the box under her arm. Marcus followed.

The woman in the blue dress walked across the tracks and sat the box down on a collapsed brick wall.  She sighed, then turned and walked back the way she had come. She nodded to Markus but did not speak. He watched her go, wanting to call out again, to ask more questions – but he knew it was fruitless.

Then the music came – louder than he had heard before. He blinked and the sun jumped below the horizon, he blinked again and the street lights came on — not the customary yellow-white, but a pickle-green. He turned and the box was gone and the music was so loud and he was singing and he was singing and he was crying and crying and the fog, the fog was green the fog was green, green as cucumber and how could he ever forget the tune?

A few months later, a new family moved in next door to Marcus – a lawyer and her husband and three children who quickly became enamored of his dogs. One evening, after hot dogs and wine he was chatting with the lawyer while her husband and her children threw a blue disc around the yard. She stopped mid-sentence and leaned in close, ” Marcus – this is a weird question, I know – but the past couple of nights I’ve been hearing music outside at night. Do you know where it’s coming from?”

Marcus took a slow sip of wine and felt her question on his tongue. He gave as good an answer as he had.

“Over the tracks.”

“But there’s noting over there but ruined old buildings and trash? I saw a cop walking down there last night, I wonder if kids are sneaking in to hang out there?”

“The cop probably had something to give.”

“Something to give?”

“We all have something to give — we all owe something, eventually.”

“Marcus, what are you talking about? Am I missing something? Are you making fun of me?”

Marcus smiled politely, and said, “No.”