If I roamed in speech like Mark Twain, Making sure of my woods, river, sea, I'd wander in a circle, find an old goat, A grandfather, a porch, gold, river pirates. A wooden rocker and an audience, newsprint. Of innocents abroad, of jaded women here. If I enlisted like Mark Twain, casually, Caustic humor, avoiding combat, dinner. Serving for two, yes two, weeks And late for dinner. Tents and shovels. Tour of duty, the South, Rising late For breakfast, late home for dinner, Lectures from well meaning adult fools Who don't understand that war means blood. If I prayed like Mark Twain, for he did, It would be short, sweet, to the point, An argument of reason, intellect, An avoidance of familiarity, a face, questions. He prayed for salvation for his absurd truths. He never even got a letter in return. I am not Mark Twain, although I ramble in A concrete jungle, a zoo of originality, Of pauses and starts, hesitation, then Galloping on two feet with little hands. Children are my joy, his too. I enlisted, found a hole with my name, Foxlike I waited for the big dog, But all he wanted was sex. Sex, with me! Fraternizing with peers, I said no, and no, I found the door to file papers of abuse. Learned men are a grouping of Rotten apples, grapes on a vine. I have no time for old boys. Networks, bah. I don't pray. No, never got an answer, Not even a no. I figure God will Send me a postcard, or an email Asking for money, when God gets around. Everyone wants money. I have a hole in my pocket. Leaking. I am an emotional clamp, holding together A family of squirrels. Who knew? Mother always knew best, then I, Me, became the All Knowing Mother To mine own be true. Schools and crossbows Peeking from Concrete towers of sand. Sand stolen from the river. Free. Wait, there's a charge? Grumpy black bear, Moose Feet, It's something Twain saw, In the City of Gold at sunset In San Francisco, My dream city. Twain and I would have whiskey Talking politics, reading Dickens. Laughing at the words lost On a system of learning. Unlearning. Creeping, shadowing, loathing. We'd chat, sympathize, reconnoiter The political landscapes with Enough comedy for years of shows. Appalled that thinking people still hate. Appalled at the randomness of the bible Applied at a voting booth. Politics And religion rarely join joist to hinge. Mankind at its best, condemning sky, water, Others because they can, do, lust after. He'd shake his head, write a book, Find Adam in the park. Discuss with disdain, And I would listen, rapt, filing for later All of the similarities through time, A century of time, of things he thought Would mend, but haven't. So I write.
“Shh, old man,” Reggie mumbled to himself as he eyed the TV. “It’s not the end of the world yet.” He leaned closer to the television. “The end of the world hasn’t come yet, for we old soldiers still sit in purgatory uncalled. Surely that devil would call us if he knew we sat at ease.” The TV blared, for Reggie used the sound against the loneliness of his soul.
News reports troubled him: the president declaring war actions, kids dying, no one understanding why killing was so easy for the man, volunteers sent packing as democratic pigeon minders, told they got no business, old people dying and no one caring.
”Hush, Reggie, pray he doesn’t call you. You can barely keep time at a social dance with the old women down in the basement of the church. Not much of a social, all of us left by families that know our minds are going. Not much to be happy for, to care for, to do. Puzzles and number thingy squares. Old women knitting. Women ruminating like cows, no brains left. Young folks and nurses bugging folks to be active. Folks showing us computers, damned machines. Shh, damn it, man, don’t get so upset. Don’t call attention to your dark soul. You don’t want the attention of that type. They bury us with trumpets blowing and our service honored, but there is little honor in what we did. We killed, oh that we served as God willed. Oh, that peace was close, but it ain’t coming.”
The news flooded the room. Missiles launching from planes, children laying dead, yellow gas coating everything. Reggie looked down at his hands. His hands, beautiful hands, that had held a child when it was born, helped it learn to walk, paid with labor to send his child to school, and watched with pride at the start of the Great War III. Strong hands that had served him, that had held his wife as she sobbed at the telegram from the War Department, now sat idle in his lap. Sad hands that watched the news take his wife’s will to live, that buried her.
“Reggie, man, you have to keep quiet, man. Don’t say your thoughts too loudly, or they’ll have you out the door as a traitor. I’m you, you know, still you. I’m me. I was…I am, I get so confused these days.”
He moved the food on his plate around in circles. TV food, the folks next door brought TV food to him each night. They said it was okay he didn’t know them. He hated that. They told him names. They had no faces. The food was placed on his TV tray. One plate, one fork, one spoon, one glass of water. His teeth were worn and so his food was precut, mushed by him into the catsup. He took a bite, swallowed, and took another. Food had no real meaning, it just kept him alive. It all tasted the same.
“When’s it morning, old man, when’s morning coming? Not soon enough. Devils on the TV, devils in church, next it will be devils in my home.”
The door to the room he sat in opened and closed. Reggie didn’t bother looking around.
“What do you want now?” he asked. “You don’t normally come for the dishes. Got something for me?”
Whoever had entered the room hissed at him, “Good evening, Reggie.”
“Don’t know why you bother me every night. I’m an old man. Got a devil for president, a war to begin more wars, ain’t nothing going to ever be okay again.”
“Your pain, it seems worse tonight, Reggie. Shall I take it from you?” The stranger moved to the front of the couch. He pushed the plastic container of pills in front of Reggie.
“Pain means I’m alive. I’m an old man. Ain’t nothing going to matter ever again. Leave me alone. I don’t want nothing from you.” He watched the TV change to a game show. “See they roll that wheel and people guess words. Fools always take too long. You want to watch this show with me? I ain’t about to go out with all that fireworks on the news going on.”
“I can take your pain away, Reggie. I can ease the burden of your heart.” The stranger sat down and rested his hand on Reggie’s knee. “I’m worried about you, Reggie, you don’t do anything but watch that idiot tube. The news will make your heart stop, if you keep watching it.”
“Heart stopped years ago when the wife died.”
“Reggie, all you have to do is tell me that I can take your soul to a different plane. But you have to say it.”
“Hell, you think you’re the devil or something? Take my soul to a plane. A plane to a place where no-one gives a damn. Nah, you get out. I’m not going with no devil. I have my own devils inside me. I live my own hell, don’t need to go to one.”
“Heaven won’t come to you, Reggie, not ever. You’ll never find relief sitting here. Come with me, Reggie, you’ll be warm and with family.”
Reggie watched the wheel spin. “Hey, weirdo, you know that phrase right there? Daniel Webster said it.”
“Fine, Reggie, fine. What’s the phrase?”
Turning to the illusion beside him, Reggie laughed and said, “Get the hell out.” He leaned back in his couch and closed his eyes. “Devil wouldn’t want me, I’m too much of a grumpy old Gus. Close the door as you leave. Damn curmudgeon needs his rest.”
The devil stood and smiled. Reggie was one of his favorites. He could bide his time. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Reggie.”
Where are you now? With the audience silenced. Can you return? Can I find you? The critics miss Your beautiful voice speaking, drawing visions Of life and time, of vision and hope, a woman in yellow. Her hat as is held in place by a hand, a pin, A ribbon. Slipping on and off the bus. I miss you with the audience gone. Quiet air. Friends are far apart these days, Imaginary, real, internet friends, have life. All kept apart by electrons rotating, holding hands Turning in waltz time, 3/4 time, one, two, three Heard beyond time as planets revolve blending with each other Cosmos tracking galaxies, so the revolution Relies on you, a woman scorned, no, not you. You, a writer, spectator, talent, rider of buses But someone said, and someone did. Hurting, You left us, all alone, missing the train you Put before us to ride, taught to negotiate with our souls. I call you as your grandmother might, cheerfully Near the clothes line, over a fence, worried At tea with a friend. Where are you now? Traveling back and forth, seeing a desert, A plain, a woods. The Cat seeking your hand purrs. Comfort from warm sunny days on the porch swing. I read them over and over, your words, hoping that I'll see A sign of life, a breath, star dust, your smile. Are you coming back? Be brave. Words are only words. But they live for us, grow as infants, loved, Even when they scold, they love. Eyes smile, arms hug, Don't leave, don't run away, by bus, train.
Translate my pain into inspiration.
A grief that turns my heart to sterling,
A metal that will not leave me stranded,
A mourning that imbeds a jasper arrowhead.
He has gone, looping his words between
His memory and mine. Remaining.
Older brother of soul, teacher of order,
He had taken Valentines, paper cutouts,
Red hearts and Pink silliness,
Dark visions combating the light.
Wrapped them in cushions of unsweetened
Advice, given freely, powerful in their
Scent of citrus, their odor of sage.
Wholesome and forgiving. He listened.
Silence now that his breathing
Has erred on the side of quiet.
His heart filled with the love
A teacher has for student.
Transient as they grow, but his eternal.
I must write to find my heart again
Where I laid it out for him.
How many, many types of love there are.
So many ways taking the crystal bonds,
Which when broken remain
In our memory of precious laughter,
Honest criticism, layers upon layers of
Rebuilding. He gave these seeds to us
To plant in our inner gardens, to bloom.
Watered by tears of grief, blinked,
They will grow. Tiny green hopes, words,
Writer to writer. Clearing weeds
Nourishing plots of future dreams.
I hear his voice in the wind
Teasing me, scolding me, holding me close.
Calling me to finish what I had begun,
To love those he loved, to work, to stand
On two feet knowing he believed in us.
We must carry his gift to us,
The world’s visions, the expected literacy.
Must share our voices, must care, we must,
Even when the caring scares and scars us.
His footprints stay with us, his books,
His stories, his belief that the world
Must read, write, share and pass
The compassion of an old friend to a new.
We carry him now, heart to heart.
We will honor him by our words, soon.
But written as the storms come,
Rain beating the earth in a primal flood
As he flows away from us, following the flood
Of our sorrow. The transportation of our hearts,
Flooded and sitting now filled with salty tears.
Our memories are precious, sketch in words,
Written as the tears streak, but forming
Wary wry smiles, smiles that will not betray.
Oh the memory of those smiles, he loved us.
I will carry him with me in my pocket of life.
Filled with random pebbles, coins, a leaf,
An acorn or two, a magic ring, a fallen star.
This hole of sorrow, this well of loss,
Fill it with swords, shields, puppies
Pictures, mystery, letters, trials,
Hopes and dreams. Do not forget…
You see, I loved him.
I loved him as brother, father, friend,
Mentor, teacher, and confidant.
Bill Manville, of Sacramento, California died on Valentine’s Day 2017. He was a published author, a teacher, a traveler, radio host, copywriter, U.S. Army Veteran and dearly loved by Beverly. He ran a class on the internet called Writing to be Published. He was a well loved member of AA.
Volunteering at his local library, he ran a class on writing that was open to the public. He understood the need, the urge, to write and that writers need support at all levels of their ability. Being a gruff, loving, inspiring man, he passed the gift of what he had learned to others with an open heart. Whether the class succeeded of not, he urged them on. Revising, placing students in groups to evaluate each other, support each other, he gave us a rare gift of insight into ourselves.
He worked tirelessly in the pursuit of helping others escape the madness of addiction, remaining anonymous except for his first name. If a song represented his attitude towards others it might have been this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjhCEhWiKXk also know as Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are” He accepted people as they are. Truly a testament for human to be remembered as, Bill was “amazing” just the way he was. Of course you would have to change to words from girl to guy. Volunteering as a rehab clinic volunteer, he understood that by helping others he would help himself remain successful as a long-term sober recovering addict.
Celebrated as a Book of the Month author, he also worked as an editor for Cosmo, contributed columns to the Village Voice, Key West Solares Hill, The New York Daily Times and the Huffington Post. Magazine articles appear in The Fix, Cavalier Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. He published his books through MacMillan Publishers, Duel, Sloan and Pearce, Simon and Schuster, NAL, Delacorte, Dell/Random House, BSForge Press and Tor Publishing. His works include: Cool Hip and Sober, Goodbye, Saloon Society, The Man who Left his Wife and Had a Nifty Time, Writing to Be Published, and Breaking up. He was a contributor to the fourth edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (commonly called The Big Book at meetings.)
Bill also hosted a radio show, Addictions and Answers on KVML in Sonoma CA, which delved into real stories of the struggles faced by others dealing with alcohol addiction. With over forty years of research into the material he had available to him, he was able to paint a realistic picture of the process of becoming sober, something that was both a personal and social matter of importance. He believed in the process of sobering up as a lifelong purpose. One of the transcripts of a show he hosted with Dr. Dave More is available through the NYDailyNews.com, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/parents-cope-moms-dads-turn-kids-ambien-adderall-day-article-1.1092155.
He attended the University of Pennsylvania, but graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. His next stop was the University of the Mediterranean, Nice where he explored life in all of its fullness and color. As his works were being published, he was encouraged to begin teaching. So he did. He was a member of LinkedIn where he looked for aspiring authors to take his online course.
No one can summarize the character, love, production and history on a single page and with such short notice. I have done the best I can. So a final toast: To all who aspire to sobriety or writing, we have loved him, learned from him, and will never regret that opportunity he shared with us.
Wrong time, wrong man,
Spite, trial by fire,
Death by booze,
Small little hands held
Me back from suicide.
Small head, large needs,
They consumed me
From his indifference.
If I couldn’t be his wife,
I would be perfect.
I would be mother
Of his children.
Wrong time, right man,
Not who I would choose,
With his loud words.
With his lack of tact.
Meaning nothing to me.
I have boxed my heart.
But sometimes, …
Bad diagnosis, lost heart,
Right time, right man,
I spiraled down
He holds a fire extinguisher.
Has my story just begun
my sweet romance…
Ann WJ White @All rights reserved, January 2017
Yesterday was my fifty-ninth birthday. It was also my happiest birthday, besides being born (thanks MOM).
My children decided that the best way to celebrate my birthday was to spend it with me. What mother could resist that? They have such busy adult lives that normally we have a brief conversation over the phone, a sandwich brought by so I don’t have to cook, or a pat on my head. Their lives are so busy that in past years they haven’t had time to affirm that I was getting grayer, or whiter, or that time was ticking past at a tremendous pace. But this year we had the hospital scare which mobilized both of my dears to become more involved in my life again. It was a lovely outcome to a scary time.
My day yesterday started with a breakfast wakeup call. My daughter and her husband had arrived with pancakes, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and bacon. They set the table and giving a cheer to bring us down the stairs, presented me with this feast. It took another call up the stairs to bring my husband down. My daughter used the “Dad, he’s poking me again” line which has become a family joke. My son came in and announced that his sister has surprised even him with the early morning roll call. He encouraged us all to eat and then to dress warmly because the day had just begun.
“Just begun?” Could it be that the day was just beginning? Normally weekends are days spent cleaning house, grocery shopping, and organizing for the next week. Taking time away from those things was unusual. Did they mean a game day? We have days when we invade each other’s territory to spend the day with unusual games that call out to us to play them. My son in law Chris was the one to encourage days like that, but this time, it was not what was intended.
I was ushered into the car, and we sped off after my daughter and Chris, at a respectable 35 miles an hour, strictly following the speed limit. There is a vendor of trees, each Christmas season, at the end of our neighborhood behind the Wawa convenience store and overlooking Neabsco Creek. Every year we wander to the vendor a day or two before Christmas and pick a tree that we hope will last into January. This year we were suddenly ahead of schedule. My son had given us a new TV for Christmas this year at Thanksgiving. Now the two kids had delivered a tree, an eight foot all Frazier Fir, and let me pick it out. We were twenty days ahead of schedule. Maybe, as Merlin thought in White’s A Once and Future King, we were moving backwards in time. No, we were moving forwards. The tree was placed in Chris’s truck as Derek opened his wallet exposing the tree fund to light and U.S. currency and homeward we went.
At this moment, door number two opened. Yes, we got the contents of door number one and two at the same time. Derek began pulling out the lights, not just for the tree, but for the entire house. Since he moved home, there has been a sense of normalization that he’s brought. Halloweens must be celebrated with decorations, and so too with Christmases. But as he set out to do the lights, Chris and my husband Eric set the tree into water, and Genevieve ushered me inside.
We always spend Christmas eve cleaning the family room of a year’s worth of crafting and lack of energy on my part by cleaning and getting the area ready for a tree. It can be a daunting task. Once we lacked the funds for a tree, and my kids went out into the backyard and brought back a bough from a white pine, with the perfect curl to it that would have fit in Jack Skeleton’s setting or Charlie Brown’s Christmas. They wrapped the bottom of the tree with a blue Linus blanket, and set one ornament on the tree at the pointy end of the only branch the tree had. Our dear friend Ana arrived on Christmas Day and added one additional ornament to the tree, a Charlie Brown Christmas ornament celebrating the simplicity of the season which is often overwhelming for me. Another time, the cleaning was finished at midnight, and the tree remained undecorated, but well loved. Christmas always arrived expected, but never quite prepared for, just like babies.
So I was convinced that my duty was to let people help me. Chris, Eric, Genevieve and I sorted, moved furniture, ran up and down stairs (I only handed things that needed to be relocated) and we achieved a new landmark. We had a clean tidy organized Christmas room early. We also had a ficus in the corner that now bears handmade ornaments that look like the ones that Grandma Boonie had on her tree. (Just a sign perhaps, but this Thanksgiving Genevieve, my mother, Laura and I created the ornaments to help us celebrate her life. My mother had also created ornaments using the same techniques that had decorated my parent’s trees. We never lacked for a love of Christmas, even when there was no money to be found.) So we used the ornaments we had made at Thanksgiving to decorate the ficus.
Off went Genevieve, Chris and Eric they soon had the tree in the stand. Derek and Eric brought the tree in the house lifting it over all of the things that hop out into the way when you want to transport something, successfully missing all of the obstacles, and the tree was placed along the west wall of the family room. Then began a call for directions to straighten the tree, which was amazingly close this year to true from the beginning, and we ran a relay of water so that the tree wouldn’t dry out.
Then we fell over, and Derek arrived with the ingredients for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He had four types of cheese, including the American cheese that I get teased for my infatuation with, two types of sausages to be sliced and added to the cheese and Campbell’s Tomato soup. He whipped up dinner for us all, taking orders like the short order line cook at a good deli. By this time we had listened to Hamilton, the original soundtrack, Christmas swing music by the Glen Miller Orchestra, and we were ready for something to go with a quick meal. So out came The Grinch, which has my father in law in it, just check the section of the first singalong where the Who wearing the glasses and the trimmed beard is shown, followed by Charlie Brown’s Christmas. That gave us enough to time recover our blood sugar levels and the lights arrived for the tree.
Genevieve has taken over that job. Her dad used to do it, but with his schedule giving him less time to do it in, he had to pass that tradition on. Derek has done it several times, but he was still finishing the outside of the house. We run a string or two of lights up the middle of the tree, generally using the largest bulbs we can find, and cabling several light strings together until we have fully lighted strings to use. Then we swirl small lights around the tree. Each year we put together the leftovers of the years before until we arrive at the tree lights we think of as perfection. The pineapple ornament, the symbol of hospitality, goes on the very top, and this year has two 9 inch ornamental angels in full gold and white dress, holding candles (fake candles, the ones using electricity) are directly underneath the pineapple. It almost looks like the beginning of an angelic chorus. As we added ornaments, the tree opened up beautifully. I decorate the inside of the tree as much as the outside. It’s always amazing to me how many ornaments a tree can hold.
We put in twelve hours of getting ready for Christmas on my birthday. It’s not many people who can say they have been given Christmas as a birthday present, but I can say that. I was exhausted but really happy by evening. When my daughter and Chris had left for home, and Derek had gone to get ready for bed, Eric and I sat and watched the tree. He remarked that we “have some great kids”, and I added “and they are remarkable adults.” He asked if I was happy and I am. I’m also really proud that they recognize that time with them is the most important gift I could have been given. Christmas as a present gave them a way to show how much they cared and let us share a lot of memories. And, it’s not even Christmas yet.
Relax, but be vigilant. This is warmth in the sun, Cool in the water, Danger in the depths. Your mother warned You about days like this. Where the happiness in your Heart reaches out to others. You can't resist this moment. Relax, but be vigilant, Life is happening.