Blues in See Major

What does it mean to share a history that never became a relationship?

How many different kinds of relationship do I have? Can I have? Will I accept?

What does it mean to share a history that once may have been a relationship that then came to an end? Does it live on somewhere in the universe, without sight or touch or sound? Does it dissipate like a dying star?

There really is no common core, as it were, to the experience of growing into adulthood (functional, cellular) with those other people, beyond the shared experience of circumstance and incidence in our bewildered youth. As to ask, whose am I? Who loves me? And how?

There is no common core beyond the absolute certainty of materialism in the vacuum of anything else of soul, the perceived artifice of greeting cards that said to our eyes what was never said to our ears. We never heard that song. Not once.

She gave me a crafter’s photo gram consisting more of décor than of photo, of a history that belongs to her but not to me. They just aren’t my people, cellular pathways notwithstanding. Her way of seeing it and mine do not harmonize.

Function, function. Must all be reduced to function? What is enacted and spoken and accomplished? A clear-running brook may be a pretty thing to a dying man in the desert, but a pretty thing will not save him.

Function is not enough for me checking out groceries at the market. There is a human being there, deeper wider higher and unknown who plays a function for me, whom I must look in the eye and acknowledge. Function, function. Must all be reduced to function?

If the children sense I don’t like them, each one – heed them, each one – then all my knowledge and skill is for naught.

I ask again: am I a brother if no one found me as a brother? One whom they saw, and claimed, and knew? Is a chair a chair if no one is sitting there?

No, we never found each other, did not know how, now do not care to. This is how it is: sometimes, if you never did, you never will.

I am not a brother except to those to whom I am one, who choose me as one. I would, if I could, make a brother and sister out of everyone I see.

Because no one in my youth made one of me.

And sing them all to sleep in tears of heartbroken gratitude.


Kyle sat in the waiting area feeling understandably anxious. He wasn’t alone, of course. The room was probably full of anxious people. It was a clinic, after all. Not a place you go if everything’s fine and dandy.

But he’d never felt like this before. So it was a different sort of anxiety for him – almost a creeping dread that threatened to undo him at times. The pain had been in his head for two weeks now, launched by a horrific attack of vertigo after getting out of bed one morning. He’d come close to throwing up.

He’d put it down to too much screen time. He’d had that habit for months, if not years. He was usually feeling the pressure behind his eyes if he stayed awake too late, playing on his phone. He liked anagrams, trying to see how many words he could find on a timer.

But this was different. After that initial attack, the pain had set in and not gone away. He’d already swallowed enough Advil to ruin his stomach lining forever.

“Kyle?” called a nurse. He stood up and followed her through. “Hello,’ she said. “My name’s Felicity.”

She took his vitals and made some notes about a sudden onslought of severe disorientation followed by chronic head pain and left him to wait some more. He stared at the poster on the wall ahead of him: “The time is NOW. Schedule your status update today!” Accompanying this text was a cute cartoon physician in a white lab coat holding an oversized timepiece swinging from a fob.

The doctor knocked and opened the door. “Hello, I’m Dr. Kim. How are you today?”

“Oh, I’m okay, I guess,” Kyle heard himself say. The irony wasn’t lost on either of them, but there’s no putting off social proprieties.

“So, you’ve been having some problems with vertigo and chronic head pain?” asked the doc.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Is your head hurting you now?”

“Yes. It pretty much hurts all the time.”

“On a scale of ten?”

“Oh, about a four or five, I guess,” Kyle said. “Sometimes a six or seven.”

“Have you taken anything for it?”

“Yeah, Advil.”

“How much?”

“Hehe, too much. I stopped, through, before I called in.”

“When do you notice the dizzyness? Mostly in the morning?”

“No, anytime I turn my head real quick,” Kyle said.

“Let me listen,” said Dr. Kim. She positioned the ear pieces and placed the steth over Kyle’s heart, listened for a moment, then replaced the scope around her neck and looked at Kyle.

“Our bodies contain clocks,” she said. “Timers, really, with preset countdowns we have no way of discerning. They come with alarms, both soft and loud. Loud ones are for tornadoes, cancer diagnoses, pandemics, and such. Soft ones are for things like this,” she finished, waiving a hand casually in Kye’s direction.

“So, you’re saying I’ve got a soft alarm going off?” Kyle asked with a silly grin.

“I don’t see any tornadoes,” Dr. Kim said, poker-faced. “You’re not struggling to breathe. How many fingers am I holding up?”

“One.” Cute, Kyle said to himself.

“I’ll order a scan,” the doc said, making a note. She looked up at Kyle again. “When’s the last time you had your ticker checked?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, as I said, we have no way of discerning the status of your preset countdown but we can get a sense of its tempo, timbre and relative dynamic. The record shows clocks tending to skip beats with greater frequency in the latter stages.”

Kyle said, “Latter stages of what?”

Dr. Kim’s poker face stared back. “Life,” she said. “That or plain foolishness.”

Kyle put his coat on as the doctor was preparing to head out. At the door she turned and looked at Kyle.

“The word vertigo is from the Latin meaning to turn. It doesn’t mean turn real fast. You have all the time in the world. Measure it.” She closed the door.

He climbed back into his truck with the scan order in his hand. Somehow he knew it would show nothing.

The Disciplinarian

Years ago a friend from college, Doug McAllen, invited me to join him on a special road trip. He was going up to see his older sister and wanted to make it a fun experience. The energy in his voice was compelling as he talked about what he had in mind.

He wasn’t describing a fantasy excursion that could never be real, but something better: a relaxed and pleasant adventure. We planned to be gone for several days, possibly a week.

I immediately agreed to join him on the trip. We had finished university just a month earlier and neither of us had found new jobs as yet. We were still living on what remained of our stipends. A kind of dim cloud had been hanging over me at the thought of not seeing my friends ever again. We had scattered to the ends of the earth, as we knew would happen. Those days of adventure, deep friendship and freedom had been the richest time in my life, some of the greatest memories I would ever have. I’d been sad for many long days.

So, naturally, I was excited to spend this extra time with Doug. It was clear to me that we were going to have a blast. It felt like we were still in school! Dim cloud? Gone.

On the appointed day we stowed our things in the trunk of his car. We had packed small duffels and a couple of day packs. We knew how to travel light. The simplicity of that lifestyle is great: it forces us to trust the circumstances and focus on the experience. I’d learned that these were the only things that mattered.

We started out early, before dawn. As we rode the smooth blacktop, threading through thick forested hills, we watched the sun slowly rise up through the trees. It made me want to stop time.

After several hours we stopped at a diner along the road for breakfast. The coffee was good – strong and hot. We ate soul food – at least our version of it – and avoided any talk of where we thought life might take us. After a while (there was no rush), we climbed back into the car and headed upstream again. It was probably just me, but we seemed to travel the rest of that day through country that elevated my perception of the beauty of life itself.

As the sun was descending toward late afternoon, we came into a small, clean, pleasant-looking town. Our eyes moved over every bit of architecture, flora, and fauna that went by.

Finally, we arrived at her door: Doug’s older sister, Joanne. She had agreed to let us stay with her. Doug hadn’t seen her for over a year. During the drive up he’d talked about her. She had an excellent career and had a comfortable lifestyle. “She isn’t married yet,” was the way Doug had put it. He’d shared a few stories about their childhood that were fun to hear.

“Welcome!” she said as we entered the house. It was a two-story colonial-looking red brick affair, two doric columns guarding the portico. Thriving shrubs in large urns adorned either side the double doors, with knobs made of burnished brass. The place looked sturdy but not blockish. It was nicely adorned but not overdone in Victorian frills.

We set our things in the guest bedrooms. Doug hadn’t mentioned children, but photos of three young people were on the walls and sideboard. Two girls and a boy, all of them handsome and intelligent looking. It was clear that Joanne lived alone. I had assumed she was single and had never been married. Perhaps that was the case, although I doubted it.

I was taken immediately by Joanne’s appearance: she didn’t look nearly old enough to have three grown children. It was also clear where her kids had gotten their looks. I’m not ashamed to say it: Joanne was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. It wasn’t a magazine beauty, either; it was the attractiveness confidence of a woman who who knew exactly who she was.

We stayed there for most of a week, taking day trips while Joanne worked. We usually met up in the evening as she was getting home. The first two evenings she prepared delicious meals for us. She seemed capable and comfortable with the occupations of hospitality. The rest of the time we fended for ourselves, enjoying the local cafes and pubs. During that entire week it was increasingly difficult to take my eyes off Joanne. She had to be at least twenty years older than Doug or I, possibly more. He hadn’t said, and my eyes didn’t care. There was a natural agelessness about her that was captivating.

When it was time to head home I felt the same as I had since graduation: sad that the time was ending and wishing we could stay longer…or that time would slow down. I liked Joanne very much. Apart from her thoughtful ways and natural beauty, there was an intelligent grace about her that was just as attractive as her dark blue eyes and wavy dark hair. I thought we could be great friends. I thought perhaps one day I might kiss her. I secretly hoped she would invite us to stay longer.

But as we sat talking that last day (it was a Sunday), she said, “Well, it’s time for you both to be on your way, huh? I need to get on with things here, and you need to make plans for the rest of your life.”

I was stunned. I had never heard anyone talk that way. If she noticed the look on my face at that moment, she never gave it away.

Later it occurred to me that her forthrightness perfectly matched the rest of her, but I couldn’t see it at that moment. All I felt was deflation and pain. She was dismissing us summarily – maybe not out of spite or relief to have us gone, but simply out of a basic truth: life moves on.

Still, for months afterward it was impossible for me not to feel I had been deprived of what should have been a wonderful opportunity. But it would be years before I realized I had been spared what may very well have been a living hell of my own making.

where it lies

she has a say in what this is

this sorrow taking residence in her bosom

staking a claim there, sure to make good

the urn she cradles in her hands

made of clay, like we all

goes before her, in solitary funeral march

against the wishes of her people

perhaps the law of the land

in coded disregard of their common end

the food of worms and purifying fire

wholly reduction of our earthy homes

to their component elements

and so going step in front of step

in divine obedience to her very heart and

the sweet, severe and redeeming verity of

spring’s insistent answer to winter’s demand

this knowing, knowing, knowing

traced in muted tracks of salt water

like misty waterfalls from her brave eyes

to where the arable soil meets the ageless sand

and the sand the salt-soaked seas of a million such tears

to stand there nobly broken and fragile strong

she opens the cradle of her swaddling hands

and lets pour herself as she might have been

upon the winds that bear her child’s bones

upon the hallowed waves of each days turbulent tide

for there are ways in which

these things ought to be done

and so

she will have her say in where it lies.

the rules for mules

the mules aren’t there

they’ve been put up

I don’t know the rules for this

oddly, I’m a little disappointed

they’re a fixture of my morning

picture of peace

when I was a child in the toy drawer

there was this picture

yellowing shellac over a cheap print on a

biased cut slab of cheap wood

mare and colt in the pasture

and even then I thought it was peace

and comfort and everything was going to be


of all the things in that boyhood drawer

this is what I still have

I don’t know where it is right now, though

and don’t care because

there’s the mules, may they safely graze forever

an enduring link to a child’s dream

that often did not come true

and they’re not there this morning

they’re put up

I don’t know the rules for this.