4-23-2018 - Agony Xvia ~philosophy~ – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner

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Absence of V

Absence of V - X

The voices of geese thrill me and goslings, I think, shrill pitches and barking parents.

Seated in a plastic chair on a tiny square of concrete surrounded by nine-foot fences, two story stucco walls, I’m excited, expectant as I stare into the sky.

Voices diminishing, no fly-over this morning, unreasonable, makes me sad in a way but glad to have been visited, blest by their song.

One goose honking, flying just above rooftops, winging fast, heading southwest. One, two, three, four; there flies another, filling that same space with voice and wing.

Geese seldom appear one at a time, if memory serves me right. An old bird hunter told me that. Hold your fire, never shoot the first goose. The flock won’t follow a leader down. You take your birds out back to front. He was a man who knew about such things.

I loaned him a tape recorder once. When he returned it, he forgot to retrieve his cassette. Satisfying curiosity can sting a bit sometimes. I switched the machine on and heard moaning and screeching interspersed with what sounded (though I’d never actually heard one do it) like rabbits crying.

“You got a sharp ear for a city boy,” he said when I returned his recording. “Most creatures will come to the aid of one of their own wounded and crying in pain.” He grinned at me with green teeth spaced like picket slats in his mouth. “This here tape’s the best I ever had. With that machine of yours, all I had to do is start ‘er up, hide out and kill the family when they showed up.”
© 2018 artwork, music & words
conceived by & property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2018 ©

via storybook – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner

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3-15-2018 - Change X

I spent my time in the desert,
a thousand days, a place called California,
crawling through the mess of me,
away from my people, searching for the rest of me,
scribbling on a steno pad.
The 981st day I was eating breakfast at Denny’s
and what’s the bum on the sidewalk,
face smooshed against the window got to do with it,
licking her lips, watching me eat, slobbering on herself.
I pushed my plate back, asked the waitress for a doggy bag,
emptied the table into it, a sprinkle of coins from your pocket.
Dropped the whole mess in a trash receptacle,
made the bum work for it like I did.


Air conditioning and traffic
lamentations of the damned
outside looking in
cardboard signs and weeping
sailors on the tarmac
gimme, gimme
I’m homeless, gimme
a dollar
an oar
they’re going around
in circles and dimes
© 2018 artwork, music & words
conceived by & property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2018 ©

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3-12-2018 - Coffle - T

Midnight, Alexandria Virginia, May 23, 1861

A line of chained men, eighteen in all, struggle to establish a rhythm in their leg irons which are chained to their waists to their manacled hands. Each man wears a steel collar. A chain connects these so the men are forced to march in a line. They make a coffle. A fat unkempt white man and his young assistant lead the way, their whips dragging in the dust. The coffle is black and will offer no resistance on the march to the slave pens. They are the midnight parade giddy white folks won’t be bothered to witness.

The overseer hands his assistant a coin and the key to the pen. “Jus lock ‘em in a cell. We’ll separate ‘em and spray ‘em down tomorrow ‘fore the buyers come. Write this down and take it over to Mister Birch: ‘I got me a dozen an’ a half stone breakers. They is long limbed and hard muscled. You wanna beat the sale, come see ‘fore ten tomorra mornin.’

The youngster pulled a pad from his pocket and wrote furiously. He stuffed the pad back in his pocket, fumbled the key into the lock. The door to the cells opened with a complaining screech. The old man laughed and scratched his groin. “Ya all boys get on in there. That bolt cannot be lifted from the inside.”

The black men, eyes on the ground before them, shuffled into the dark stinking quarters of the slave pen. Here they would sleep and try to hold their water until morning came. Before the door closed behind them, one began to sing. His voice was low and syrupy, cracked like muddy water. He sang:

Mister, set your whip down
you done cut this body ‘way
if I never lift that hammer
oh-oh livelong day

The younger white man banged the door with his whip. “You want I go whup ‘em quiet?”

The fat man laughed. “I like your brass, boy. You go give Birch that note. Come on back an’ if they’s still singin’, I want you write down them words. I heard tell they’s some kinda unnerground railroad an’ them songs is signals to ol’ Abe Lincoln hisself. You bring me them darky’s words an’ I’ll tip a pint or two with ya. You go on now!” He gave the padlock a pull to reassure himself and turned to go to his quarters. A voice darker than prison followed him down.

Mister overseer
you done sold my children ‘way
got me chained here to this hammer
oh-oh livelong day

Lord as my witness
turn this body back to clay
I will bury that old hammer
oh-oh livelong day

Momma, tell your children
it don’t do no good to pray
with your hands born to that hammer
oh-oh livelong day

“Man, it’s so dark in here, I can’t even see your eyes. Why you keep singin’ that ol’ song anyway? Ain’t nobody listenin’, ain’t nobody give a care ‘bout us.”

The syrupy voice stopped. Chains rattled a bit and the singing man spoke. “You hear that fat man talkin’ to us? Well, I got a bolt in me, that’s what I got and it cannot be lifted from the outside. It gets rusty, just like that one on the door. If I want to oil it all I have to do is sing. If you listened, you would know. There’s a tall man in a dark hat. He’s comin’ to break these chains and, when he does, I’m gonna fight in that man’s army. That’s my dream. I may never find my people but I can offer myself up. Wherever they are, they gon’ be free.”

“You crazy, man. How’s that song go? Mind if I sing with ya? Maybe I could go fight in that army with you. They really let a black man shoot and fight?”

But the singer was singing:

Take a word to Mister Lincoln
if he breaks these chains away
I will fight them with this hammer
oh-oh livelong day

Next day the Union army surprised Confederates and captured the slave pen. It was empty except for one old man chained to the middle of the floor by the leg and he was singing:

Four score and seven
if a man is what he say
he gon’ free me from this hammer
oh-oh livelong day

Mister, I’m the digger
and that hole I made today
is the last one; you can lay me
oh-oh livelong day
© 2018 artwork, music & words
conceived by & property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2018 ©

via storybook – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner

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Christopher Early

2-5-2018 - Christopher Early

Eight-year-old Christopher faces his terrible illness and parents who cannot deal with the awful truth. His friends, the birds, carry him away. What a child may teach adults ready and willing to learn.

Christopher Early

Christopher likes to wake up early. He presses the red button on the coffee maker so Mommy’s coffee will be ready when she gets out of bed. He goes to the cupboard and gets his favorite bowl. It has a smiley face in the bottom and ‘Christopher’ written in cursive on the side. It’s kinda crooked cause he made it himself last year in the second grade. His teacher, Mrs. Garcia, said it slipped when she fired it. Still, it’s a good bowl. He likes the way it makes him feel.

There’s a special box Mommy keeps with her sewing things just for Christopher. It has a spool of thread and a large sewing needle in it. On special early mornings, he gets it and sets it next to his bowl on the table. He climbs up on a chair and takes a box of Froot Loops from the high shelf. He puts the chair away and fills his bowl with his favorite cereal, smiling at the goofy bird on the box.

Finally, he sits down. He opens the tin sewing box and takes out the spool of thread. He rolls out a length of it, just right, then breaks it off. Christopher licks the end of the thread, twists it between his fingers, guides it carefully through the eye of the needle. He threads the needle through the holes of the Froot Loops in his bowl, then holds it up and releases them, watching them wiggle down the string. When there is only about six inches of string showing, he holds the ends together and makes a knot. He slips the circle of thread over his head and hums a little song his Daddy made for him. He repeats this procedure thirteen more times, except the new circles hold only five Froot Loops each.

Christopher carries the thirteen tiny necklaces in his cupped hands to the window of his bedroom. He sets them of the sill, then slides the window open. He arranges the necklaces in a nice neat row, then proceeds to wait for his winter friends. They always come, first one, then two, then all the rest. They hop and twist their tiny heads, wild eyes and Christopher flies.

He used to play outside. Daddy and Mommy held his hands and swung him, one two three, up in the air. Mommy pushed him in the swing and sometimes, when Daddy went, he would grip the back of Christopher’s swing and run all the way under him, flinging Christopher high into the air. Christopher begged for these ‘cannon balls’ until Mommy finally gave him and Daddy one of her ‘serious’ looks and said, “Just one!”

That’s how Christopher’s leg got broken. When Daddy went under him, Christopher felt a whoosh of air between his bottom and the swing. Then he hung there for a while, suspended in the air. Sometimes he can still feel himself there, floating, before falling to the ground. His leg was twisted and it hurt real bad so Mommy and Daddy bundled him up and rushed him to the hospital. Sure enough, his leg was broken. The doctor set it and put it in a cast but that wasn’t the worst of the problem. Christopher was a bleeder, a hemophiliac. So they kept him in the hospital for a couple of days, helping his blood and monitoring him.

No more ‘cannon balls’. A year later, when Christopher began to feel very sick, no park either. He had a big grown-up disease and people were afraid of and for him. That’s when he began to make necklaces and fly away with his new friends. Mommy and Daddy weren’t happy anymore. They wore sad smiles and talked and wept late into the night. Christopher heard them but pretended he didn’t. They took him to lots of doctors and hospitals and sometimes, when they returned home and Christopher felt a little better, it almost seemed as if they could all be happy again. Until the next time.

One morning Christopher’s legs hurt so bad he had to use the walker-thing to make it from the bedroom to the kitchen. He climbed painfully onto the chair and almost fell while getting his Froot Loops from the high shelf. He made it though. The pain tried to make him cry but he wouldn’t let it. The house was already full of tears. He started the coffee and made his necklaces. This time, only this time, he forced his stiff aching fingers to make two extra big ones. He put them in a circle around Mommy and Daddy’s coffee cups.

He put the thirteen tiny necklaces on his fingers, wearing them like happy delicious rings. He gripped the walker-thing, careful not to damage the gifts he had made for his friends. Christopher knelt on his bed, arms resting on the window sill, small hands palm up and reaching out the window. He was too tired to take the rings off but it didn’t matter. This time, only this time, his friends flew to him, their wings fluttering kisses against his face, their tiny mouths careful not to injure him as they walked his palms, then flew away with the gifts he had made. And this time, only this time, Christopher flew away with them.

Christopher’s Mommy is mad. She drives her car with tears in her eyes, her face a tortured reflection through a window of pain. There are seven directions to go, she knows, East and West, North and South, Up into the Heavens, Down into Mother Earth, finally into Self. She ignores all six of the former and swims her tears into the latter. Mommy, what’s the matter? She drives to the car park and walks in her trance to the place with the marble stone.

Out of her bag comes a crooked little bowl, a tiny tin box and a colorful carton of breakfast cereal with a cartoon caricature of a goofy bird on the front. She sets the bowl on the stone and sits herself down in the snow. Her dress is old and her legs are cold as she makes a necklace for Christopher, then one for herself. She drops hers over her head, then makes a circle around the bowl with the other. She proceeds then to make the small ones, how many, how many, she wonders. She is mad for the answer as if it might fly Christopher back into her starving arms.

Christopher’s Daddy is sad. He drives his truck with fear in his eyes. He drives North and South, East and West, but never ventures into the haunted worlds of the remaining three directions. He always finds her there, after all, at the far ends of the path of those four, physically anyway.

He tries to talk to her, to make her wear a blanket against the dark early morning chill. He loves her too much and forever and she pulls him down and down to sit next to her in the cold snow. She takes his face in her hands and asks him, “How many, how many?” He sits with her, joins the forlorn ache of her agony. They weep in their winter hearts like two mad and lost, unhappy children, beseeching the gods.

They lay down as the sun comes low and flat, out of the East, one on each side of the stone. These are the places they have made for themselves, hands reaching, fingers touching, over the mouth of the smiling bowl. The sun brings his tiny messengers, with their sweet songs of the crisp winter morning, wings smooth and fast against the silence of the dawn.

Their bodies are numb and that is good. The dumb pain of their mutual loving and hating, lost in the freezing sorrow of endless waiting. Dear god, forever is here.

Christopher likes to wake up early.
© 2018 artwork, music & words
conceived by & property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2018 ©

~Christopher Early was first published in Writers Room Magazine~

via Tom (WordWulf) Sterner – Tom WordWulf Sterner

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1-5-2018 - Abandoned Xvia ~philosophy~ – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner

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2-31-2017 - Poised Xvia ~philosophy~ – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner

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