Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Nail in the Coffin

Sorry, but this will be the last post on the North Papers Blog.

I've relocated my short fiction and songwriting over to Ghost Town Revival. I share this blog with a few friends, and there will be music and pictures in addition to the writing.

My opinions, adventures, and day-to-day happenings will be detailed over at Refugee Arts.

We had a good run, didn't we?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alien Kingdom

I’ve seen your glory in the gutters
I’ve seen you shiver in the street
I’ve seen your hand upon the widow
And your fire upon the meek

And the aliens though strangers
Hold your kingdom on their tongues
And the children when we shush them
Hold your cries within their lungs

Oh redeemer, can you help me
To believe that you can keep
Your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these?

My love, I’m prone to sell it
To the gods of Babylon
My heart and my frail body
Will be broken and soon gone

And the aliens though strangers
Hold your kingdom on their tongues
And the children when we shush them
Hold your cries within their lungs

Oh redeemer, can you help me
To believe that you can keep
Your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these?

And when your crow comes
And life rattles from my bones
And my flesh falls from my spirit
May your kingdom take me home

For as an alien and a stranger
You walked upon this earth
A child born in a manger
Took my life and gave it worth

Oh redeemer can you help me
To believe that you can keep
Your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When I find the Strength to Stand

Writer's Note: Unlike most of my lyrics, the musical context of this piece is important. It was written while I was thinking about gypsy music. I wanted to do something that was unabashedly romantic, free from the cynicism or self-awareness that subdues most of my writing. So imagine accordion or a brass band or whatever you see as grand and romantic.

When I find the Strength to Stand

My poor heart is like a rose
Your spirit like the wind
Petals flutter in the meadow
Leaving me bare again

My poor heart is like branches
Your love the icy blast
Splinters upon the sidewalk
When you travel past

So long, my dear
I’ll see you in the meadow
When I find the strength to stand

So long, my dear
I’ll stand upon the sidewalk
And I’ll wait upon your hand

Your sweet lips are like razors
My own a child’s hand
Though my blood bubbles like candy
I will kiss them when I can

Your sweet lips are like lovers
And I a spying man
But it’s cold outside your window
I will join you when I can

So long, my dear
I’ll bring my lips to the blade
When I find the strength to stand

So long, my dear
I’ll stand outside your window
And I’ll wait upon your hand

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Poor Wives (A Cautionary Drinking Song)

Martha bore me six children
Susan had three more
Martha died in the kitchen
Sue left through the door

Oh my oh my poor wives
They all leave or die
My poor wives

Leticia was a fighter
Samantha was a whore
Leticia went down swinging
Sam left through the door

Oh my oh my poor wives
They all leave or die
My poor wives

Sandra’s father was a lawyer
Margie’s was dirt poor
Sandra sued and broke me
Margie snuck out the door

Oh my oh my poor wives
They all leave or die
My poor wives

Six lifetimes I promised
And six I did abhor
Two of them in heaven
Four left through the door

Oh my oh my poor wives
They all leave or die
My poor wives

To one love was I faithful
I had but one love more
To the bottle I was faithful
Then left alone once more

Oh my oh my poor wives
They all leave or die
My poor wives

Monday, April 13, 2009

Remember the Other One? Well, How about Another One?

To those interested in my day-to-day journal-type writing, I say that you are in the wrong place. This blog is for my more arty pieces, and only gets updated about once a month, on average(actually, it's usually more like nothing for three months, then a spurt of four, then nothing again).

For a more-or-less daily account of Ruthie's and my activities, along with dramatic commentary when the fancy strikes us, hop over to

Monday, February 23, 2009

Raccoon in Repose

Image one: raccoon at rest
Off two eighty five
On its back in the sun
No blood or guts or life

Image two: raccoon at rest
Now Monday, on its side
Long nap on concrete
No screams, at peace, no life

The writer drives and his love she rides
And he tries to find a common thread

Image three: refugee in suit
Pinstriped, with bloodshot eyes
Saying he lost
Nine Children and two wives

Image four: computer on floor
Of bedroom almost bare
Refugee pounding keys
Twenty six windows open there

The writer shifts his sleeping feet
And he tries to find a common thread

Five through one fourty six:
Bodies on the screen
Restless, torched, locked in screams
No nap, no rest, no theme

Raccoon in repose, at peace in death
Children of men twisted and scorched
In rings of ash by charcoal trees
And the refugee’s reports

The writer trembles and turns in bed
He cannot find a common thread

The writer he weeps for those now dead
But tears won’t take them from his head

The writer trembles and turns in bed
He cannot find a common thread

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shooting Range

We leave Mr. Bob’s house in his 1979 Ford pickup in the early afternoon. I call him Mr. Bob at his request. He is my father in law, and feels that this prefix adds an appropriate amount of respect to the shortened version of his first name, Robert. The truck itself is a big white thing, spotted with rust and beautiful in the way that many things down here are beautiful. Its appearance suggests a storied history. The bed has stubborn patches of paint fused to its surface, buried in half-filled paint cans, pine needles, and broken glass. I will ask about the glass later, if I remember to.

I carry with me a book of essays and arguments by David Foster Wallace. I have a stupid way of trying to share the things that I care about in circumstances where they do not fit. This is not a day for David Foster Wallace readings, apart from the fact that Mr. Bob is into mathematics and David Foster Wallace weaves mathematics into his descriptions of the Midwest. I tell Mr. Bob this, thinking that it is a way to start.

The truck tops a hill at the edge of Lawrenceville. This town used to be in the sticks, remote from its mother city, Atlanta, like an apple that fell away from a tree before the tree grew five times in size due to the Olympics being held in the analogous tree. It is now populated by the leaves of its pregnant mother tree, and somehow the tree keeps dropping strip malls upon it. Admittedly, the analogy is spotty, but I hold it in my mind as trees, one and then another and then a whole forest, take Lawrenceville in their arms and usher it beyond the sight of our rearview mirrors.

“Mathematics is like a language,” Mr. Bob tells me, “it’s a way of describing things, but if you don’t know it, it doesn’t make much sense.”

He pauses. He continues, “I sure wish I knew more about math.”

“Yeah, me too,” I say. This is the truth. An understanding of mathematics may have raised my high school GPA to a competitive level, and I may have gone to a real school somewhere instead of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, but that story is one that distracts and angers me, so I drop it from my mind and pretend that I mean it the same way that he means it, although my understanding of math is so poor that I don’t even understand why I would want to understand it.

We discuss a host of topics like this between his house and the first QT, where we stop, fill up the truck, and pick up our snacks. QT stands for Quick Trip, and it is the king of all gas stations. It is the Jupiter to the Pluto of your regular BP or shell station. The people there greet you in a friendly manner, chat with you, and wish you a good day as they ring up your chili cheese dog or ham sandwich or you name it. I go for a chili cheese dog, pay on the credit card, which is the only way I can eat until I start work next week, and follow Mr. Bob back to the truck.

It is beautiful in February in Atlanta. The nights are chilly enough to see your breath and freeze maybe the smallest puddles, but if you park your car in morning sunshot, you will not need to wait for the heat, because the vehicle will be at a comfortable seventy degrees, and you can get a pretty good tan from the front seat. As the day moves on, you can take your coat off, and as your truck or you father in law’s truck mounts and descends hills, you feel a need to crack your window. You do so, and take off your coat, and you think for a moment as the mountains appear from the mist in the distance, that you could make a home here.

This is a hard notion to hold on to as you arrive at your destination. If yours is the same as mine, at least, and you have never fired a gun in your life. According to my father-in-law, this was going to be a hunting and fishing and backpacking and camping store. I see now why he paused before adding the final two. There is not a backpack or tent in sight. In fact, if you were a deer in a forest, there would not be much in sight at all except maybe the fishing poles and a wall of handguns in the back. Camouflage obscures everything from view, and deep Georgian accents obscure me from the warm southern embrace I felt before walking through the double glass doors.

As we round an aisle and arrive at the sinkers, I hear a loud greeting behind me.

“How you doing today, sir? You find everything you need?”

Thankfully, he is not speaking to me. I am staring at a wall of objects which I do not understand.

“Everything I need, and lots more I want!” booms another young voice from somewhere over my left shoulder.

“I hear ya, man!”

Both of these voices erupt in laughter.

Being a Yankee in a store like this is probably a bit like being a deer with a fake moustache in a store like this. I feel that if these people knew what I was, and I was in the woods with them within range, I’d be shot quicker than it takes to get a chili cheese dog at the QT.

Mr. Bob gets his rifle fixed, and we examine the wall of handguns at the back. I recently landed a job with some security risks, and I will carry a sidearm while at work. For this reason, I am interested in these little instruments of godlike power. They are beautiful in their way. They are crafted well. They feel balanced and substantial. I hold them, and I suddenly understand why southern boys want to go to war so badly. It is hard to hold these things without wondering what it would be like to kill someone.

At the toilet in the restroom of the grill next door, I stand and look at the poster next to me. It is a picture of Jesus and it has some of the facts about his life that suggests he was just like the hardworking people in this area. He was born in a small town. His family was of humble means. He worked in a wood shop. He spent his years before 30 mastering a trade. It occurs to me, somewhat profanely, that although I feel a long way off from my destiny, I am getting into ministry five years before Jesus did. I’m way ahead of the curve.

We leave this town and head for another with a free shooting range off in the woods. We pass antique shops, junk shops, and a massive “Country Living Expo.” Finally, back in the woods, we find the range. The parking lot is composed of hard dirt and gravel and the tires of nothing but pickup trucks. I make a mental note to never bring my Honda station wagon here as we pop the doors open and find the ground with our feet.

Mr. Bob grabs one of his rifles, then another, then hands me a KRAK! bag of Pop! Pop! Pop! ammo to carry. KA-THUK! KA-THUK! I jerk impulsively, my shoulders twitching together, my feet bolting briefly from the stones. The bullets jingle in their canvas bag. There is no way to hide my response to the PTCHOO! sound of rounds exploding in chambers, and CHUNG! I flinch visibly.

A man in blue jeans and a pullover stands smoking near us. Beyond him stands a cage like the head of a driving range, with a line of tables holding all shapes of rifles and handguns. I walk casually from the truck to the corner of the cage, where I see a row of men, most of whom look like cops or heavy metal guitarists, hold their weapons and fire KRAK! Pop! PTCHOO! CHUNG! Pop! They go right down the line, and by the time the volley is over, I have my twitch under control.

The secret, I find as I settle into a chair behind Mr. Bob’s table, is to watch the loudest gun and expect it to fire. Then the noise loses its surprise, regardless of where it comes from. My eyelids still twitch shut, but I’m no longer doing jumping jacks every time a shooter pulls the trigger. I want to be holding one right now, squeezing off a few rounds, but I’d be one of those guys who falls over backward or twitches and shoots a hole in the roof because he had no idea how much kick these things had.

Suddenly, a sound like the crack of lightning strikes me and I feel a shockwave wash over me. The source is an assault rifle, and the first shot is followed by several in succession. I watch the quick sputter of flame, follow the line to the clouds of clay halfway down the range, and look at the shooter. He is an average-looking country guy. His baseball cap covers a round head which sits on a thick neck which sits on a plump torso. I muse that I could tear him apart in a hand-to-hand fight.

I have been doing too much comparing these days. Young, disciplined men running their fathers’ businesses draw my thoughts to the rich creative life I enjoy. Worship leaders, who strut their licks in front of massive congregations every week, lead me to think about the songs that I have written with Greg and Jonathan. I need these balances to remind myself that I am worth my continued existence. Most of the time, I have trouble believing it.

Little bursts of flame emerge from gun after gun. The guy next to Mr. Bob shatters the PVC frame holding his target up, and several of his neighbors train their guns on the remaining pipes. Bits of white plastic splinter and explode. They chuckle. I laugh too from my seat behind everyone.

Later, when the shooting is done, I use the small bathroom to the side of the range. The glass has five big bullet holes in it, and the metal siding has been punctured all around me. I try not to think about this as I pee. Instead, I think about The Big Lebowski, and the fact that “mictorate” is a great word. Instead of the marks left by passing bullets, I think of Jeffrey Lebowski in his wheelchair, saying, “Every time a rug is mictorated upon in this fair city…”

That does the trick. Back in a familiar scene from a movie I love, my mind loosens its grip and everything naturally runs its course. As I zip up and leave the death trap, I think that maybe this analogy will be a good closing image if I decide to write about all of this. I build the story in my mind to distance myself from the gunfire and alienation, and I walk back to the truck. In the familiar place where I am nowhere near here, I feel comfortable and this whole story seems like a fascinating oddity.

As I open the door and climb into the passenger seat, a final gunshot KA-CHUCK! startles me out of my funk and echoes through my head for the duration of the two-hour ride back to Atlanta.