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The Messenger

An olive green car with a white star on the door pulls up to the curb, and right away she knows. Everyone on her street knows. It is a time of war and it is his job to tell her that the man she loves is gone. He will walk up to her door, each measured step more painful than the one before. He has done this ninety seven times so far. He feels the weight of each one as though it was his own father or husband or son. He will read the letter. He will take her hand. He will convey the sadness and gratitude of a nation. Then he will walk away from the house, smiling wanly at the young boys in the yard as they chase one another with their cap guns and argue over who is dead and who is not. July 4, 2021 Brian Kenneth ...

The Mark of Cain

Am I my brother’s keeper? Well, let’s have a think about that. Yeah, so we had a disagreement. But how are we supposed to sort things like that out? It’s not as if any rules have been handed down, or voted on, or whatever. After all, it’s still pretty early days for humanity, what with there being just the four of us at this point. And so, I suppose you could argue that I killed a quarter of humanity. But it’s not like we have any laws or government yet. Hell, we won’t even have ten commandments to go by until Deuteronomy or whatever. Where are the guardrails, you know? You run around handing out free will and then get pissed when people use it. What’s that about?   So what’s a guy to do? Did I overreact? Okay, ...

Eternity

God says we will spend eternity reaping the rewards of our life. That could be a problem. Only then the astronomer says that time began at the start of the universe, and will inexorably end with the universe’s demise. So that there’s no such thing as eternity. God bless astronomers. And then one day, to muddy things up a bit more, Einstein tells us that time itself is nothing but an illusion. So why all the fuss about eternity anyway? All of which leaves us pondering just what to believe. No time. No eternity. No nothing. They have a word for that. Something ism. Damn it. I’ll be forever remembering that. April 27, 2021 Brian Kenneth ...

Where Does the Sun Go at Night ...

Does life have to stop because our half of the earth is dark? Don DeLillo (White Noise)   I imagine that, like all of us, it needs a break now and then. It’s a big job, after all, lighting and warming us all, growing the veggies and flowers. And with a family of nine to look after, not to mention two hundred-fourteen grandkids. It’s a lot. So I don’t begrudge the sun its respite. It is a thoughtful guardian, leaving behind in its absence a soothing nightlight and a promise of return the same time each morning. I do, though, hope that it’s not all work and sleep. I hope that once the working day is done it goes out at least once in a while to grab a drink with friends, maybe take in a movie. It’s important to mix it up from ...

Back in the Saddle Again

In a time of cars and planes, cell phones and internet, how to explain to someone under fifty the wonder of the singing cowboy?   But sing they did, Gene and Roy sitting tall in the saddle resplendent in suits of white, strumming their guitars, as they sauntered off into the sunset.   My dad had all Gene’s 78’s, with their pops and crackles, the hiss of the needle dragging heavy over old vinyl. I found an old Victrola— the kind you wind up— to play his records on.   And though dad rode off long ago in his own blaze of glory, his records live on, Gene’s voice ringing through the hiss and static of years, reminder of a time when the good guy won every gunfight, always got the girl, and never missed a ...

Ending in Need of a Poem

Hey, I think that was our turn back there.   This line has languished in the unseen recesses of my poetry working folder for over a decade. It does not want for company in that literary hospice. Yet I cannot but feel the cold resentment of a fragment of potential as it wastes away, unfulfilled, unloved. I keep it around because of a promise I made through the simple act of noting the line in the first place, writing it down, giving it its own document, with a name and a date. I take it out every few months to stare at the words, and they back at me, neither of us certain how this will all end. Only then, it’s back into the folder, perhaps to couple inadvertently with another unused phrase or idea, but probably doomed to just linger ...

Perception

While it is not truly me, it is the way you like to think of me.  Ernest Hemingway   Perception, consciousness, awareness, the stuff of life to hear philosophers tell it. Descartes believed his thoughts made him real, gave him existence. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? Because we are all certain that we think. And we all aspire to be real. Yet sometimes, when I’m alone, I can’t help but wonder. Could I prove that I’m real if called upon to do so? Real in a strict mathematical sense. So real that no objective observer could deny it. I can be seen, but sight Is nothing but electrical signals. I can be heard, but sound is just waves wiggling about. I can be felt, but can you really trust your fingertips?   As we approach ...

Was It Me?

I lunched at the feet of Robert E. Lee in New Orleans, his bronze likeness proudly perched astride Traveler. Not a thought crossed my mind, even as those he fought so ardently to enslave walked before me through the courtyard.   In Biloxi I leaned comfortably back against Beauregard’s polished boot, sipping a Coke in the midday sun. Finishing it off with an insouciant sigh and a friendly wave to the old black man on a nearby bench.   In Charleston I arranged to meet a friend at the park in which Jeff Davis stands proudly gazing out across the harbor where slave ships came and went. We chatted amiably, in no way inconvenienced by history’s embrace.   And it was Richmond, I think, where I sought coolness from the noon ...

Perekladin’s Nightmare

The grammar gods begrudge us only the tiniest quiver of punctuation marks to assert our meaning. To stop, or pause, to set off one word against another.   But of all the weapons in this thinnest of armories, there is just one that admits of emotion, allows the writer to enthuse, to leap up, cry out, exclaim with a loud voice.   And though this humble mark pervades the speech of everyday— the shout of each playing child, and each hovering parent— it is this same modest mark that, appearing upon the page, evokes only contempt and derision, condemns the aspiring scribe to the ranks of amateur, mocked by copy editor and reader alike.   And yet, from time to time, despite the risk of cajole and mockery, I let one sneak in, if ...

The Web

The natural world goes about its business in ways that humankind, with its boundless lack of wisdom, struggles to even label, much less comprehend.   Through the centuries we have used words like organismic, systemic, holistic, even vitalistic. All attempts to capture the very simple idea, that everything exists in an endlessly interconnected web of life. Every tree, flower, blade of grass animal, human being, and the very water and air itself, all joined in one rapturous orgy of interdependency.   So that when one strand of the web fails, we all feel the blow, suffer the injury. And yet we still cut and burn and drill and consume, as though the future is the concern of others. Which of course it is. Others who aren’t here ...