The sun comes in the window and I am drunk for now and I am here and the wind is rising.
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
Tell me the old story again
The copper pennies shining in the water
And Penthisilea singing on the walls
Tell me about the empty hat
The black rabbit and his red eyes
Tell me again the secret song
This time I will remember
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.
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.
to long quiet
wakes up in a riot
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
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
i am alone
i am lonely
i am not what you see
i am already changing
i am already not the one who said
i am alone
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
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.
Marcus 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.”
1 the comet came
2 the comet came
and i was back in my brain
3 the comet again
this time like a friend
the globe reprimanding
not sure what it meant
but the sparrows are landing
4 the comet
jaws like a sonnet
circle of singers in the crest of a wave
praying and laying the heart of knave
i made me a man of lightning and air
someone i thought could take me to where
the stink and stammer of the stardust corruption
was something that my wit could wrap with eruption
i made me a man who made only pain
because villains are willing to howl in the rain
lessons i carved but erased every morning
my ironside doggerel is whippoorwill warning
5 the comet
still think I’m on it
ship made of stories and stolen bluebonnet
6 the comet, nothing this year
creeping down alleys and clutching my spear
7 the comet, harder and harder
running out of rambles kept safe in my larder
rhythms are ramshackle and fable for fools
the weaver won’t last if even his loom unspools
8 the comet, the comet, the comet
it’s not hard it’s only hard when it’s only the comet
comet the blood comet the time
comet the singer puking up rhyme
9 times the comet
9 times the gauntlet
unsteady remainder i wait for the sun
i am a container for days on the run