Hunter

Boots on the road, packed earth with no echo. The hunter slipped into town. It was night, windows drawn fast, not a drip of light except the moons. His clothes were filthy, hair tied up under his hat. The only clean thing was his staff, three feet of bleached hazel wood. His eyes were dark and the Law burned in his stomach.

Like drops of rain, his feet fell on the path that led him to the man. It was almost always a man. The hunter could see him in front of him in the dark like a ghost, could smell him like sugar burning. The small house with pale blue fence, slats rotten and broken. The door. The hunter’s fingers spread wide on the door, moonlight, the smell. Yes, the man is on the other side of the door. His leg kicked out like a convulsion and the hunter was through and the man was there.

The man had been sitting in a chair, a bottle of fire on the table next to a candle. Smoke fumed from his lips as the branch fell, the man fumbled for his gun. The hunter was already moving, the smell, the ghost smashing into the man’s flesh, the hunter’s hands tight on the staff. The man’s gun went flying. The staff crushed next into the man’s ribs, the man coughed. The hunter sighed with relief. The hunter brought the staff down again on the man’s neck and the man fell to the ground and was still.

The hunter leaned on his staff and looked down at the man. The man was alive, the Law quivered and receded inside the hunter. Rope uncoiled and the hunter carefully bound the man at wrist and ankle.

The hunter felt heavy. He lay down next to the bound man, keeping his hazel staff between them. He pushed his hat down over his eyes and let the sweet earth reach up to hold him, dark hands clutching him tenderly as his muscles eased. The hunter fell into the empty night with no dreams but the road, the moons, and the Law piercing him like a silver spear.

story

Tell me a new story

But make sure it’s an old story

Give me the three thieves again,

Tell me again about the blade so bright,

Let the lady in white run her blood red fingers down the ash tree

Again

Tell me the old story again

The copper pennies shining in the water

And Penthisilea singing on the walls

Again

Tell me about the empty hat

The black rabbit and his red eyes

Tell me again the secret song

This time I will remember

I promise.

Trip over riddles

and forge the sky blue shield again.

Put the crimson key in my hand

And let me wake in the bow of the ship with salt and air in my teeth.

Tell me a new story but only an old story hiding among the vines.

lotham

Climbing up out of a dream, I felt this word in my hand.

It was a word of power there, a ritual, a stone. Here it has no meaning, just memory. Gossamer webbing hanging from it, broken and fading.

There I was on a bus, over and over, day after day. A school bus, but the passengers were older and so was I. They were strangers at first, but slowly we found each other’s eyes, the connections formed, and the center of the web was the word. The word was lotham.

They and I were allies, though the danger was unclear. The word between us beating like a heart. I loved them, I knew them, they were lotham.

When we left the bus each day, we walked together. Hands on weapons, backs together. And every day there were more of us, more of us were lotham.

Dreams like this are echoes of themselves, repeating again and again, the sand shifting but always the word. The word pounding in my head. The word that means don’t let go, hold onto me. Lotham. Lotham. Lotham.

I am suspicious of words that come without cost, that have no blood tax. But it sits in my hand and I have no where to put it but here.

Take it. I brought it for you.

Originally appeared on Substack – reposted here prior to deleting there.

boulevard coyote

to long quiet

wakes up in a riot

boulevard coyote

yipping at the client

harmless and charmless

the dog’s past due

chewing up the architect

and spitting out blue

claw on the glass

knife in its jaws

blackboard and grass

are made for its paws

X

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.