A letter to Samuel Clemens

Dear Mr. Clemens,

Sir, please forgive the informal salutation, addressing you as Mr. Clemens when I know you’re Mark Twain too. I’ve read your books, books about you, sir. Wish to hell I’d met you, thankful to heaven reading your books I spent time with you.

To my purpose.

The  days I’m in are too often clenched-up muscular in my physical relationship with that day’s life. I say day’s life because I believe every day is a living being. A standalone being, loaded with personality, who sure as shit doesn’t need us to proceed. I suppose we could argue whether or not a day is a self-aware being. I think it is,  has unfettered accuracy, I’m believing.  But that’s just me.

You see the day is nature, and, yes, sir… What?… Sam!… Well,  thank you, Sam. I know you knew that earlier, about words. Words sometimes get jumpy. Know you know that too.

See, I believe everything that happens in day is nature, every single moment of every being on the planet and that includes us. I respectfully disagree with the mindset that views human beings and nature as separate beings.  Everything we do is an act of nature. We people folk have decent level of self-awareness, so if you’ve got two brain cells capable of nodding to one another, hen you know damn well the government and big business and the unions, but oh, Sam, this is yours.  I am repeating myself, you are right my friend. You broke the trail for this sentence.

Never has any being experienced identical two days. Every day has its own shape, energy, style, personalities if you will. Nature has an easy metric ton of personality. No two days are identical for nature, not even close.

And if nature answers to any Godlike higher-power entity it’s not the human race. Thanks for listening, Sam. I hope if you are, you are in joy, wonder, love, and peace.

Peter

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Shoulder punchers: an interview with Smerkle Grumpy

 

  • Mr. Grumpy, it’s a pleasure to sit down with –
  • Smerkle.
  • Pardon?
  • Smerkle, call me Smerkle.
  • Well then, it’s a pleasure sit down with you.
  • Thank you. You as well.
  • It’s been awhile.
  • Been watching my man, Peter, from afar, as the saying goes. Watching him trying to get himself moved. Proud of him. Still patient with people, more than most, more than me. Known him since he was a boy – he’s got a real kind streak.
  • You think he is too kind?
  • Oh no, don’t misunderstand me. Not too kind at all. Glad he’s in a world that’s been short on kindness for a long time. So no, not too kind.
  • Too patient?
  • He’s more patient than I’d be, but no, not too patient. People deserve patience, some need and deserve a lot of it. Some deeply wounded folk in the world.
  • Can he run out of patience?
  • We all can. I remember a time my boy did when he was in reform school back when.
  • Can you tell us about it? Would he mind?
  • He might mind, but I’ll tell you. There was this kid, same age as Peter, in the same hall, the wards where the boys lived. Anyway, this kid, will call him Johnny, liked to punch Peter in the shoulder, doing it light at first, then a little harder, saying sorry later, then punching Pete’s shoulder next time Peter’d walk by. After a while, Peter called him out.
  • Called him out?
  • In this reform school if two of the boys were getting close to a fight, they’d let the boys fight, surrounded by their mates, the male staff watching to make sure no one really got badly hurt, and usually the two combatants became friendly after the fight. Some kind of release I suppose. Calling out was when one kid challenged another, quietly or openly.
  • How’d Peter do it?
  • Wide open. They were in the gym sitting on bleachers, about 30 boys, half a dozen staff or so, taking a break. Peter walks by, Johnny punches him in the shoulder and that was it.
  • What was it?
  • Peter ripped into him. You really want to fight with me that badly? Seriously? Just can’t help yourself, wish it that bad do you? If you’re feeling froggish, then leap, cause your wish has come true.
  • What happened?
  • One smack upside Johnny’s head and down he went. Then Peter did his thing, helped Johnny up, telling him all the time being friends was a lot easier on the both of’m than fighting. Even when he knew he had no choice and had to act, like with Johnny, or protecting someone, he always felt badly about hurting someone.
  • He felt guilty.
  • No-no, not guilty. Badly. Sad. Definitely not guilty.
  • It’s good to be talking with you again, Smerkle.
  • Good to be talking with you too.

 

A more beautiful place

This holiday season, as they call it, I am thinking  and feeling about my family. For some reason knowing you’re likely in the home-stretch of things allows you a sharper awareness of the immense love you feel for family members, most all gone from life. I’m grateful for my instincts because I don’t mind being present in the experience.

Family life ended for me in December, 1969,  two months after my 16th birthday; an essay for another time.

Of course there are tears, at times, and, of course, there are momentary flashes of fury. Fury at the loss, at how long its been, fists clenched, and, literally, nothing and no one deserving of a blow exists on this planet. The stone cold fact is, nothing and no one deserving of that blow has ever existed on this planet.

So I allow the feeling of fury until it passes. It always does.

These days I’m thinking of my mother and father, ,Grandma and Grandpa, Mommom and Poppop (my mother’s parents), Uncle Harry, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Peter, Marjorie, my sister, Rebecca, my childhood friends, a number gone now. My brother, Bobby. I think of my other mother, Leona, my birth-mother — a better human being has never walked the earth. We were  reunited on January 8, 1987. We were emotional and spiritual twins. She was an angel. I bet she still is!

Now, if there is something after this life, it damn well better include more time with these beautiful human beings  or else I’m not interested. When I walk through the beautiful museum hallways in my mind, all the above are there, masterpieces all.

There’s never been a more beautiful place than family.

Why I write

Let me make one thing clear on the front end of this piece: why someone writes is their business. No artist of any kind is under any obligation to explain why he or she creates. Responding with, I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business, is a just response. It is no one’s business.

As far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes a writer to put words on a page is fine with me. First off, the page can be a hard place to get to and, once there, the necessary experience of being fully present in the moment can be heavy lifting at times. Its the words, the writing that I care most about.  An actor who hopes to win an Oscar is no more betraying the craft of acting than a writer who hopes to win a Pulitzer is betraying the craft of writing. Wanting or hoping for an accolade is not a betrayal of creative purity. To think it is is misguided in the best light, and rubbish in any other light.

I have no problem explaining, to some extent, why I write. For some years now my short answer has been pretty much the same: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to. I suppose I could polish that sentence into finer stuff, but I’m leaving it as it is because it was born that way.

It is the sanctuary of language itself that brings me to the page, writing or reading. As far back as I can remember, books and writing have provided sanctuaries I could depend on. Even when I was homeless they were they. I am not by nature a thief, but, when I was on the street, I had no problem at all pinching paperback books off those always-squeaky! book racks in drugstores.

Language is a living thing for me. Words are living beings; they have  shape, movement, sound; they each have their own pulse; they can be moody. I short, words have personality, every damn one of them.

And then, of course, there is this: language is great company. I am never alone when I write or read. Like I said: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to.

 

When a friend dies

My friend Chris Albee will be gone from this life four months the 20th of this month; the tears are streaming down my face right now as I write. I am only one of a number of people whose lives were — and I do not use this word lightly — blessed by his presence. He died from t-cell lymphoma.

Some times at night, during the day, it doesn’t matter, the knowledge he has died will strike hard, my fists will clench and I want punch death square in the face with savage fury — again and again and again. Chris was only 49! He had a wonderful wife and family, he had a nine year old son!

It is so hard to find people in life you know you are safe being yourself with. I was always safe with Chris and he would be the first to tell you he was safe being himself with me.

I cannot change the reality of his loss. What I can do is tell you this. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them. Tell your children, tell your parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins; tell your friends, tell the person you are in a relationship with. Say it! Tell them. And please, remember to hug those you love, and let them hug you back. Be kind, be kind, be kind. And if you are in possession of behavior patterns that wound yourself and others, do your best to get free of them. There is little doubt they may have kept you safe at one time, but maybe not so much now.

If there is a heaven, Chris is there. I have no doubt of it because if there is a heaven, he damn well deserves to be there.

I love you, Chris.

***********

For Kim & Joshua