Monday, August 31, 2009

When Trees Pop, by Helen Losse

Two men stand, fists clenched,
inside a ring formed by other men.
The other men cheer the two men on,
while the man knocks another man down.
Nearby, at an overpass, several boys
throw sand and shout the word queer
at certain other boys.  Several women
stand shoulder to shoulder, seemingly calm.

But as they turn, one woman bites another
woman on her tongue.  Dusk then settles on
the right of way.  Tall evergreens and deciduous
trees turn black.  A cool wind  rocks the bird house,

rustles tree branches, plays a tune on the treble
wind chimes.  Life is slowing from the rackets
of men:  noise from their cars, trucks,
their thrumming, black jackhammers.

The light of a full, orange moon meets the fog.
That night trees pop, a man dies by another
man’s hand, and several young girls shun
the bad girl to whom they must never speak.

Helen Losse is the author of Better With Friends, published by Rank Stranger Press in 2009, and the Poetry Editor of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her recent poetry publications and acceptances include The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Shape of a Box, Distillery and Hobble Creek Review.  She has two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces, and Paper Snowflakes. Educated at Missouri Southern State and Wake Forest Universities, she lives in Winston-Salem, NC.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Silas House Reads from his Forthcoming Novel, Eli the Good

I have my copy pre-ordered; you should too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On Cadillac Mountain, by Nathan Graziano

On the night Darla died, Wayne was sitting at the kitchen table, washing down a couple of her Percocets with a cold Budweiser, when it he slapped him like a strip of leather across his bearded cheek. He knew. That’s how he describes it to his son D.J., just out of Y.D.C., who is sitting across from him at the same table, one year later. Of course, Dwayne points out, he didn’t know she would die ten minutes from that moment—as it would happen—but he knew it would be soon, before the sun came up.

He tells D.J. how the hospice nurse, an older woman named Linda with hardened skin and lips as thin as paper cuts, appeared in the kitchen doorway, and Wayne points to the kitchen doorway. Other than Darla and himself, Linda was only other person in the house that night and her voice seemed amplified, like it was passing through a loud speaker, when, in fact, she whispered, “Mr. Briggs, I think it’s time.”

Wayne nodded, keeping his chin pressed to his chest, his thick graying beard sprawled like a bib on his t-shirt. He hoisted his near seven-feet of bulk from the chair and followed Linda out of the room.

Darla was reclined on the bed a hospital had moved into the house, her eyes closed and bald head wrapped in a pink bandana. She lay in what was her daughter’s bedroom, before Jenny disappeared, before all of that nonsense that landed D.J. in the joint.

Wayne looked at Darla with a shock of familiarity. Despite having seen her like that everyday for the past six months— her cheekbones jutting through stretched yellow skin at sharp angles, her eye sockets like manholes with dull blue stones at the bottom—he could never get used to the idea that this bed of bones contained his second wife. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, placing his large hand lightly above her eyes.

“Baby, it’s me,” he said.

Her eyes flickered. Her jaw opened and closed like a mouth moving underwater.

“My sweet girl.”

“Where’s Jenny?” Her voice was barely a breath, a wisp of air tangled in words.

Slowly, his hand fell from her forehead to her sunken cheek, framing her face. “She’s here, baby. The kids are in the living room. We’re all here.”

“Jenny came back?”

“Of course,” Dwayne said. He paused and kissed the pink banana. “Do you remember the motel in Bar Harbor, The Cadillac Inn? I was thinking about that place the other day, and thinking about how we sat on that porch with a cooler full of cold ones and I was playing my harmonica. Then the next day we drove up Cadillac Mountain. You remember that? Seeing the ocean from one direction and Canada from the other? When you feel better, I think we should go back there. Just you and me, baby. What do you say?”

Darla’s breathing became labored. Maybe it was a struggle, that last taste of life passing through her lips, but a look came over her face and changed the shape of her mouth, twisting her colorless lips upward.

Dwayne tells his son that that look was a smile. The hospital bed is now long gone, and Darla’s clothes have been folded and placed in a hope chest in Jenny’s old closet, but he still remembers that look. That smile. And when D.J. asks his father—when Wayne is quite a few beers into the night—what I was like to watch Darla die, Wayne tells him, again, that she smiled. She opened her eyes and smiled. Easy. Just like that.

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with his wife and two children. He is the author of Teaching Metaphors (sunnyoutside, 2007), Not So Profound (Green Bean Press, 2004), Frostbite (GBP, 2002) and seven chapbooks of poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Rattle, Night Train, Freight Stories, The Coe Review, The Owen Wister Review, and others. His third book of poetry, After the Honeymoon, will be published in Fall 2009 by sunnyoutside press. For more information, visit his website:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fla. doc fired over 'doughnuts equal death' sign

Would anyone have complained if it was Krispy Kreme?

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Dr. Jason Newsom railed against burgers, french fries, fried chicken and sweet tea in his campaign to promote better eating in a part of the country known as the Redneck Riviera. He might still be leading the charge if he had only left the doughnuts alone.

A 38-year-old former Army doctor who served in Iraq, Newsom returned home to Panama City a few years ago to run the Bay County Health Department and launched a one-man war on obesity by posting sardonic warnings on an electronic sign outside:

"Sweet Tea (equals) Liquid Sugar."

"Hamburger (equals) Spare Tire."

"French Fries (equals) Thunder Thighs."

He also called out KFC by name to make people think twice about fried chicken.

Then he parodied "America Runs on Dunkin'," the doughnut chain's slogan, with: "America Dies on Dunkin'."

Some power players in the Gulf Coast tourist town decided they had had their fill.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Pissed-off Poor Appalachian White. . .

Here's something to think about: how many pissed-off middle and lower-class people, not just Appalachian natives, are out there? Quite a few, I'd guess. And we don't have to wonder about how they feel, because articles like this one by Kai Wright make the whole shooting match pretty clear. Thanks to Connie May Fowler who made me aware of this on Facebook.

If ever there was a “teachable moment” about race in modern America, now is it. With the birthers and the reparations conspiracy theories and the Nazi imagery at health care meetings, someone’s gotta explain why all these white folks are wilding out. We need an articulate, impassioned race man to clarify things. But not Al Sharpton; I say pass the mic to Jim Webb.

Remember way back when Webb, a Democratic senator from Virginia and the voice of Appalachia’s neglected white yeoman, was sniffing around a veep nod? In the midst of that media moment, he hit on an idea we’d do well to dwell upon. “Black America and Scots-Irish America are like tortured siblings,” Webb patiently explained to Pat Buchanan in a May 2008 Morning Joe appearance on MSNBC. “There’s a saying in the Appalachian mountains. … ‘If you're poor and white, you’re out of sight.’”


Monday, August 10, 2009

My Friend is Dying, fiction by Matt Baker

It didn’t take long for word to get around that our buddy Pooter was dying of lung cancer. Some of the guys got to talking one day and decided we should drive the four hours to go and visit him. Earl knew where Pooter lived so we agreed to meet at his house around eight on Saturday morning. I hadn’t talked to Earl in six years. But I had called him up and he gave me directions to his house and told me he’d drive the lead car down to Pooter’s.

I’m early and Earl is wiping Armor-all on his tires and I’m inside talking to his wife, waiting for the rest of the guys to show up. I’m watching Earl through the kitchen window.

“He sure loves his truck, doesn’t he?” I say.

“That’s about all he loves.”

“Yeah, I’d say you’re right about that.”

She hands me a cup of coffee and I watch the bouncing under her night-shirt. Now, that’s a pair. That’s what my dad would say if he were here with me. He’s long dead. Lung cancer. The same death Pooter is about to take.
Earl comes into the kitchen. “You’re driving your car too, right?”

“Yes Earl, you can pack in two more in the front of your truck and I can take a total of four in my sedan.” The sedan I’ve had for fifteen years. My grandmother left it to me when she died. She smoked cigarettes but lung cancer didn’t get her. She was knocked down dead by another sedan out in front of her house, while checking her mailbox one day.

Earl’s wife looks out the window. “That’s the same car you had in high school.”

“You remember that car?” I ask.

“Of course.”

“No, I mean do you really remember that car?”

She thinks for a minute, pours more coffee into my cup. Then she looks right through me. “I forgot all about that night.”

Earl comes back inside and asks what all the giggling is about. I wipe the smirk off my face and tell his wife she makes good coffee.

“Thanks,” she says and smiles like it’s her birthday.

“Look,” Earl says.


“Well, so where is everybody?”

“I don’t know, Earl; we may be driving down by our twosome.”

“Looks that way.”

Earl’s wife picks up the coffee pot, “More coffee, gentlemen?”

Earl and I sit down at the kitchen table, glancing outside from time to time. Earl’s picking at the grease on his fingers and I’m watching his wife prance in and out of the kitchen.

“You boys going to drink coffee all day or get a move on?”

Earl looks at me. I shrug my shoulders.

“I’m going down the street and give Stewart his 5/16th back,” he tells us.

Earl’s wife tells me she’s going to go take a shower.

“Can I come along?” I say jokingly. She gives me a naughty-naughty point of the finger. Then she says yes.

His wife takes all her clothes off in front of me without hesitation. She holds a foot in midair, under the flow of the water. She doesn’t look the same as I remember her. But then again, that was more than ten years ago, a long time ago. I don’t even remember her name.

“Aren’t you coming in?”

“Oh yeah. Sure. Be right there.”

I sneak a peek down the hallway and close the bathroom door. She has the shower curtain pulled back so I can watch. That’s how some girls are. Half would die if you saw them naked no matter how good they look. The other half wants you to stare no matter how awful they look.

“Do you know what cancer looks like?”


“Come here a second, I want to show you something,” she says. “I got this thingy down there, a bump, here take a look.”

She pulls back the rest of the shower curtain, angles the shower head towards the wall to keep water from spraying onto the already mildewed floor.

“Do you see it?”

I have no idea what I am looking at. Her belly button is there and her hair is where it should be, it looks normal to me. She’s working her fingers down there, trying to get at something.

“You know,” I tell her, “you should probably let a doctor check it out.”

“I know, but I just wanted your opinion. Earl won’t even look at me down there, let alone touch me.”

“Right, hmm.”

I hear Earl’s truck start up outside. He’s gunning the engine. Then it stops. He guns it again.

“What is he doing out there?” she asks.

“Hey! Aren’t you a little worried, if Earl happens to come in here and sees us like this?”

“Not really.”

“That would’ve been my guess.”

Then she kisses me.

The thing you have to remember is that our friend Pooter is dying and we’re supposed to be going to visit him. Poor guy is only twenty-nine and he’s already got cancer splattered every which way. The doctor said it started in his lungs. When I first heard the news, I wasn’t surprised. Pooter was the only kid in our high school who had a smokers cough. The guy smoked two packs a day. I feel bad though. He always said, he’d quit when he turned thirty. Even when we were younger, he’d say, “Hey, I know this is bad for me, but I’m going to quit when I’m thirty, before I get the cancer.” Poor fucking Pooter.
The phone rings. Earl’s wife stops kissing me and listens. I listen too, even though I don’t know what I’m listening for. It rings, rings, and rings. “Get it,” she says.

“Who me?”

“Yeah, you, Earl’s outside.”

“This isn’t my house.”

“Just get the damn phone.”

“Okay, okay.”

I pick up the phone.

“Earl?” the voice says.

“No, this isn’t Earl.”

“Sorry, wrong number.”

“No, no, wait! You got the right number.”


“No, this isn’t Earl.”

“Then I have the wrong number if you ain’t Earl, asshole.” I recognize the voice.

“Half Pint?” I say.

“Yeah this is H.P., who is this?”

“This is Tom.”

“Oh shit, I was looking for you.”

“Where are you?” I smile, relieved that this who’s-who has been resolved.

“At home.”

“What about Poot?”

“Not going to make it today, I’ve got the funny shits so bad it ain’t worth it.”

“All right, thanks for the call. We’re about on our way out.”

Half Pint starts to say something else, he pauses, then I hear this groan, a loud, and obnoxious, anyhow I hang up the phone and look out the window. Earl’s underneath his truck. I walk back into the bathroom.

“Who was that?”


She’s got a robe on and is drying her hair.

“What did he want?”

“Not going to make the trip.”

“Look, no one else is going, haven’t you figured that out already?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

She leaves the bathroom.

“Where you going?”

“Bedroom,” she smiles, “coming with?”

“Oh yeah. Sure. Be right there.”

Half Pint is pathetic. The guy worms out of everything, usually on the account of an imaginary illness. The funny shits is a new one though. He’s the oldest and the biggest of the group we all run with. He used to play football in high school, defensive end. A couple of colleges recruited him but he never left town, not for one play. He was kind of the star in town back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Dumber than a doorknob but all the folks in town still loved him. He got written up in the papers a few times. When Skipton Wells, the local sports reporter, asked why he should get offered a scholarship to play Division I ball, Half Pint offered up that he could “jump real high” and “memorized the play book four times.” How do you memorize something four times? I don’t know either. Anyhow, his name. We call him half pint because that’s all it takes him to get fall down drunk. Funny how that works. It’s always the scrawny, wiry, big ‘ole-ball-cap-too-big for-their-head wearing ones that can drink 19 beers in a sitting and can still drive home during a snowstorm in reverse.

One thing though, Half Pint can bounce some skulls together. This guy could punch grits out of grandma. That’s why we still lug him around with us. There’s trouble everywhere, never know when it will pop up. That’s why H.P. comes along. One more thing on the scrawny guys, they can’t fight for shit. They talk about being quick and jab this and jab that but to tell you the truth, in a real fight, it takes one punch to win it. One punch to turn the tide of the fight and usually it’s the bigger guy. Enough about H.P., our friend is dying.

In the bedroom, Earl’s wife is naked again. The robe is on the floor and she is combing her long blond hair in the mirror.

“Do you know that Earl can’t give me an orgasm?”

“Uh, no. I don’t recall Earl mentioning that to me actually.”

“He can’t even do it with his mouth. I mean most guys can at least do that.”

“Uh, huh.”

“You can, can’t you?”

“Can what?”

“Are you playing stupid on purpose or you really this slow?”

“Look, uh. Earl could come inside at any minute.”

“Uh huh.” She continues combing her hair, watching me in the mirror. For lack of anything better to do I lay down on the bed. Then I hear Earl’s voice. He’s calling for her. Honey? Honey? Honey? “In here, Cupcakes,” she shouts. Cupcakes?

Earl politely stands outside the bedroom door.

“Honey, have you see Tom?”

“He’s in here.”

“What’s he doing in there?”

I look at Honey. She ignores me.

“What are you doing?” I whisper to her.

“Oh, relax.”

“The door is open, Cupcakes.” Earl opens the door.

“What’s going on?” Earl asks. I stand up off the bed.


“Cupcakes, Tom was asking why you can’t bring me to climax.”

“What’s that mean?” Earl asks.

Honey snaps her fingers to get my attention, “See what I mean?”

I tell Earl about HP and all he has to say about it is, “He’s got the funny what?” About that time the doorbell rings. I figure this is our out. One more shows and we’re gone. But it’s a little girl with a box of cookies in her hand. Earl invites her in and eats the little girls’ entire box of samples. “Sir, this is just to show you what they look like, they’re not really for you to eat.” Earl tells her whatever they are he wants more of them. “You place an order and I come back in a year with your cookies,” she explains. Earl fishes for some bills out of his wallet; the girl prefers checks but takes his cash. At the end of the sidewalk is the little girl’s mother. As she walks back down toward the street, I hear the girl tell her mother, “That guy ate my whole sample box. We got to go home and get another one.”

“He ate the whole thing?” The mother shakes her head and looks up at me. I wave at her and smile.

“So what are we going to do? We going or not?” Earl is getting impatient.

I look at the clock; it’s a little past ten.

“Where does the time go?” Earl asks. I tell Earl that time doesn’t actually go anywhere. It’s just the clock that makes it seem that way. “Yeah anyhow, get on the phone and see where everyone is at, I got other shit I could be doing.” His wife steps in, “Go do your shit Earl, when you all go, you go, until then get out of the house and do your shit.”

“Fine then, I’ll be back in an hour or so,” and Earl leaves.

His truck really roars. Earl hauls off down the street. Then we hear the screeching of brakes. “What in the world?” I start to run to a window.

“It’s nothing. Earl and I have lived here nine years and he still forgets there’s a stop sign at the end of the street.” His wife struts off to the bedroom where she removes her robe, which she had temporarily put on when Earl came to the room and then kept it on for decency sake when the little girl with the cookies banged on the door. I stand outside the open bedroom door.

“So how are things going, Tom?”


“Just fine?”

She’s putting lipstick on.
“Yeah, fine.”

“Your wife?”

“She’s fine too.”

“I hadn’t seen her in years, what’s her name again?”


“That’s right, the little redhead?”

“That’s the one.”

“Tell me something,” she says stepping into a pair of black heels.

“Nice outfit, is that all of it?” I ask.

“I knew you’d like it.”

“Tell me something,”

“What’s that?”

“Promise me you won’t tell anyone what happens.”

“What happens, when?”

“I don’t want Earl to find out, it’d break his heart.”

“Find out about?”

“About us.”
Earl thought it was strange that my hair was wet when he came back an hour and a half later. “Just jumped in the shower real quick, that’s all,” I explained to him. “Not have a shower where you live?” Earl is quick. Not quick enough though.

His wife is making lunch and Earl was surprised to find out I hadn’t made any phone calls. I was worried about Earl’s toothbrush. I had used it after my shower. People say they can smell sex, so I figured a shower would erase all pheromone indicators that could still be floating around in the bedroom or anywhere else for that matter. His wife cautioned that I needed to brush my teeth, you smell, she told me. Like sex? I asked, looking for a toothbrush in the drawer. No, like me. I had never done this before. Not in all the years I’ve been married, never even close. I’ve known Earl as long as I’ve had the sedan.

We sit down to eat lunch.

“Looks like it’s just you and me buddy,” Earl says, chewing on a huge bite.

“Yeah, I don’t know Earl. I don’t think I’m up to it.”

“Come on, we got to go see Poot.”

“I don’t know.”

His wife stands up, grabs some pickles out of the refrigerator. She sets them on the table. Earl is studying me.

“We have to go see him. The guy may not be around much longer.”

I look at his wife. Then I look at Earl.

“I don’t want to.”

Earl’s wife says, “Jesus Tom. Y’alls good friend is dying. You haven’t seen him in how long? And you don’t want to go?”

“No shit, the guy’s dying, Tom,” Earl adds.

“I don’t have it in me,” I tell the both of them.

“What does that mean?” Earl asks. We sit in silence and eat our lunch. Earl keeps giving me this pissed off look. His wife is doing the same.

“It won’t kill you to go see Poot,” his wife says balancing a kosher dill between her fingers.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Earl gets up, so does his wife. They drop their plates into the kitchen sink. “I’m going to go see him, you going or not?” When I don’t say anything, he darts out of the kitchen. His wife goes into the bedroom. I hear his truck start up. Then I hear the screeching of the brakes. Then I hear the phone ring. Then I hear her heels clicking in the hallway, coming closer and closer, when I turn around, I hear, “You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

Matt Baker lives in Arkansas. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cimarron Review, Santa Clara Review, FRiGG, and elsewhere. His work has not been translated into any languages.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Corporeal Chromium Anti-Dowsers Of Elliott Bay, by Dennis Mahagin

After eight straight sunny days, with bare clavicles
pink-tinted as candy canes, Pike Street people keep
thinking positive in wrap-around Vuarnet
sunglasses, especially

the Wallingford gals with teardrop frames
and pinafores, down at the Public Fish Market.
Rhinestone barnacles cling to their lens rims,
they call the hop sing sushi boys by Blues Bro names, curtsy,
and drop their granny glasses an inch below the nose bridge,
rifling buckskin, pushing sound around:

Hey, you’re awful cute Jake,
but what does it take for a Seattle girl
to get some Sockeye?

Wallingford babes chew Bubblicious, they’ve come to soak
sun, and watch the flying fishes. Meanwhile, Ray-Ban Ninjas
nod and grin, tossing king salmon back and forth
like Sumo medicine balls.

Outside, on the pier, for the eighth straight day,
two mimes pray like manta rays, with twin monocle mirrors
for catching the sun glint, slippery as sequins wrapped in upside-
down ok signs. Dad's what I'm talkin' about! cries a five-year old
boy, perched on the shoulders of a poker-faced Akroyd clone.

Pike Street people
have got to believe; they High-Five, holding
their iced lattes at arm's length, careful not to spill
a sweet drop of this drought. Back up the Pike,

photogenic Filipinos take butcher’s block choppers to a row
of slimy Cohos, while the Wallingford girls get ready to go:

Awwwww, Mary, just SO! . . . See it thru,
see the world, Rose! Now. . . let’s wrap it up
for sunny Sally. . . Just one more time, Joe!

Dennis Mahagin is a writer from the state of Washington. His poems and stories appear in magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, 3 A.M., 42opus, Thieves Jargon, Juked, Storyglossia, Absinthe Literary Review, Pequin, Keyhole, FRiGG, Rumble Microfiction, Underground Voices, and Stirring: A Literary Collection. A first book of his poems, entitled Grand Mal, is forthcoming from Rebel Satori Press.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Southern Appalachian English from the University of South Carolina

I don't want to take away from Gabriel's great story, but I had to post this, which is a nifty resource for hearing Appalachian speech (if you don't already live there or don't hear it regularly).

Welcome to this website on the speech of one of America's most often misunderstood regions - southern and central Appalachia, which stretches from north Georgia to West Virginia. It's been romanticized as the language of Shakespeare, and it's been caricatured, ridiculed, and dismissed as uneducated, bad grammar, or worse. But too rarely has it been appreciated for what it is: the native speech of millions of Americans that has a distinctive history and that makes Appalachia what it is just as sure as the region's music does.

Dig Well, by Gabriel Orgrease

For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. Genesis 26:15

Damn, I hate August. . . hot, humid, stinking dead days entombed in boredom. Dead summer, an armpit-perspiring stink. Worm fodder doldrums. August here is a burning pisshole.

Discussed with the family when Pop suggests —as he suggests many projects—that we dig out the old stone well in the back yard. Enthusiastic, I am for it this time, it fits me. For one, I like to dig holes, and then, it keeps me out of trouble to go along and do whatever.

Don’t go down to that place, I say inside, but I can’t help myself. My earliest memory of Pop we are at the kitchen table eating and we are joking and laughing and he throws a washcloth at me. You can say it happened then and not now, it is the past and over, and I should not talk like it is happening right now, but whenever I remember, it is just like it is happening all again, I’m afraid inside and want to escape. The cloth strikes me in the eyes and I laugh. I throw it back at him. It is a worn brown washcloth thin with holes and slightly damp with his hand sweat. It strikes him on the mouth. I throw it back at him, laughing at our game, like he has thrown it at me with the force of a child. Not funny. Pop swings with the back of his heavy arm and hits me in the head. I am knocked out of the chair onto the floor. I am not allowed to cry. A strong boy never cries. I hold my lips, they want to break.

Desperate for two wells. Pop argues. The house well beneath the garage is hardly good for one shower per day. We cannot use the new Kenmore dishwasher without waiting an hour to flush the toilet, before and after. I’m sick of washing dishes in the sink, my chore. No labor saved, we are thirsty half our lives. With budget we could have a well drilled hundreds of feet deep through gray mud and boulders to the aquifer above the clay line. (Money, who has money for sensible stuff? We live on onions, kidney beans and ground chuck. We collect food in the woods like it was a convenience store. He buys a Cadillac.) Drill a well for good water, more of what we already get, or. . . run into sulfur water like our neighbors. Sulfur. A stench all year of bad eggs, drill a well and then sulfur.

Depression. August. At the homestead well ring near the garden, fat Pop splays in his lawn chair. Nearby, I cut brown sod, repeating an old beginning. The stones uncovered look like a fire ring, the opposite of the water ring that these stones are. I struggle, with my ratty sneakers slipping on the shoulders of a shovel blade. I jump up and sink down, alternately swatting black no-see-ums that want to sting my eyeballs. I do not know what Pop is thinking, straining the nylon strapping of the chair, diddling around with a recent copy of Clutch wrapped in Popular Science.

He says, “Son, you have to lean into the shovel when you break ground.” I lean my very hardest, and break a skinny wind.

Down we dig, then dig more, and dig again. The sun recedes into a radiant halo above my head, a 40W light bulb slowly diminished by a rheostat, or a candle sputtering as the wick sucks up the very final drop of wax. Dimness of lost light. Everything burrows down to darkness, while Pop explains stuff. Pop, his mind wandering into the fading sun of a dead August wind, drones on camped there, describing amazing wonders of the modern universe. Above me the last gasp of an aperture to the 4th dimension. I burrow. More days pass digging. I am clumsy with tools. I want to dig with my hands and sharpened sticks, claw the deep blanket of earth with my teeth. Just me and solid ground.

Days go subterranean, burrowing into the coolness of earth. Progress slowly downward day by day into a mayfly cocoon of stone. In dimmer and dimmer light I scratch mud and fibrous roots from within the circle of glacial-deposit boulders. As if they were here, those pioneers that planted our apple, lilac and quince trees, I join them in this digging.

Drops down the ladder, every morning. I climb down. Pop pulls the ladder back up. I dig with a rusty trowel, a hammer, and a Chock Full O’Nuts coffee can. Earth beneath bare feet, cold feeling to squiggly toes. Crouching in this shirtless hole, abysmal. Then mole farther downward. Fill the coffee can with loosened earth—with it, crouch over and fill a tin bale bucket. Pop, when he is there at the top, pulls the clothesline rope. A tin din is echoed off the sides of the stone tube as the bucket weight rises. Some dirt escapes from the bucket and filters down through the dim light, landing on my head. A centipede crawls on the back of my neck.

Dirt, I love dirt. Snuff of dirt. Sucking out the brown-caked crust under bloody fingernails between dry lips. Sifting it through the hair, scratching my head. The funk smell of dirt clogged in my nostrils. Any time, digging well or no well, I suck and squirm and roll and bathe in dirt. When Pop is not there to pull up the bucket I wait alone and am happy with the dirt and imagine. There are no productive discoveries in an imagination frozen with fear of life, but a constant returning to the same aborted hole.

Thirst of life. Digging past everything, all the scenery down there. I look upwards to the sunlight, and Pop sits there in his regal paternity talking to the hole in the yard. On occasion he remembers to let down the wooden ladder. I ascend. Drink raspberry bug juice. “Piss in the woods, Son. Save on the well.” Pop spreads his weight and basks in the lawn chair, sweating in his shorts, and gives educational pronouncements to the hole in the yard. “I killed a man in Korea. I was lying at night in a hole I had dug, freezing in the cold, when this Chinese came out over me to kill and I stabbed him with the bayonet. We were just there on the land with nothing and we dug a hole.”

Destination eternity. I’m no longer sure what direction to go in, like a beaver trapped in an amusement park cage: eternity. At Bible class they tell us about God the Father and Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, a trinity. Quite a big project, this beginning and end of everything. I quickly learn not to say what I think. I do not want to blow it. I learn from Mrs. Meyers in Bible class that God may speak to you, but you don’t talk back. You never throw in the towel with God. Are there times when nobody gets the complete message? Or am I alone? Even when you are sitting at the table for the chicken dinner in the church basement and people are easy with each other and laughing, you behave yourself and take a small glass of water when the pitcher is passed. Reaching out, there is nothing but pain.

Digging a hole. Whenever I surface, the smelly neighbor kids tease, “Esek is digging a hole to China.” I don’t know where China is, but now I want to be there if that is where the hole goes. With all Pop’s other projects on the property, I also hear about Orientals. Pop says, “In China they would put one hundred coolies on your job. It would be done in one day.” Pop says he knows torments that I will never know. Hiding in the well I am one alone. There are only so many days in August. In time I will escape, though the velocity of pain is forever.

Down past the layer of worms. Remnants of a rusty hinge and a broken medicine bottle, things that I finger and turn over and examine before sending the fragments upward for further scrutiny and classification and the comment, “Keep digging.” Down past my own height. The earth towers over as I reach out from side to side, not quite able to stretch fully, confined within the tube of boulders, some larger than my belly, some smaller. I will find this water. Down I dream, and down I dig in dreaming to the core of the world or beyond, downward in search of muddy water. Like any other immigrant to here, I am mud-hogging the stone lining of a dark womb. After a lengthy silence Pop shows up. “How does it look down there?”

Dark, divining thoughts. The ladder hardly reaches this day’s work. There is no clue as to how deep this well will go or how deep it will have to be to give up life and find us water. The digging continues. Pop is distracted: we are too close to success, and success is to be avoided at all cost. He goes back to the house to watch an Abbott & Costello movie on the new color television. He does not stay with any one project for very long. If we do not arrive soon at the end of a task, he changes direction. When I follow him we are always going in circles, like the circle of the stone in this darkness. We never know when we will find water, or food, or money—but we keep on in this searching.

“Death and taxes,” is what Pop says. Yet some of us keep digging. Some of us go off in the woods looking for another hole to talk to. Some of us wander around looking for a hole that will deliberate, that will respond when spoken to, that will give up answers. Some of us keep digging despite the fact that all we find is a replenished source of dirt and murky water.

Diverted to another search, Pop comes back in the afternoon and tells me about this atomic scientist, Edward Teller, talking on the television. I do not know who Mr. Teller is. Pop says he blows things up for a living, like dynamite, but I know “atomic” means that. All the kids know about the bomb. I wonder, listening to Pop speaking from the top of my hole, how many days Mr. Teller would spend digging his well whether Mr. Teller hates August as much as I do. Does Mr. Teller wash his dishes by hand in the kitchen while looking out the window above the sink and dreaming of escape? Pop says we can turn the well into a bomb shelter if we do not find water. I go back to picking, with a piece of broken tree limb, at the pungent soil compacted in the spaces between boulders of sandstone and gneiss, feeling with my fingers the coldness of laid stone. I wonder how old this well is.

Delivered as fifteen days for fifteen years, on the afternoon it is about the sixth hour of digging, as when Isaac's servants came and told him, “We have found water.” It springs up suddenly between my toes. At first I am not sure what is happening. I see brown water mixed with mud. Then I am excited, an everlasting spring. It appears slowly between two stones and then rapidly increases in flow to fight for clearness, to be free of mud. The heel of my foot is now wet. The well is deep, and without the ladder I have no way to climb out. I yell for Pop. My ankles are muddy, and the water is cold. I call for Pop some more. There is no answer from above. My knees are shivering. I’m screaming, for no answer. The water is cold, around my waist. Praying, I think about floating to the top. I think about climbing the stones. I am thirsty and wet, all at once. There is nothing more to dig, as the water ascends. Now my shoulders are shivering. Pop finally sets the ladder down.

Drenched, I climb up. My hair is wet, and my breath is labored. He shows me a puffball mushroom that he just found in the woods. Cut open, the inside looks like white brains. He says that when it is fried in bacon fat it tastes like hamburger. I pay attention and wonder what the lesson behind all this is going to be. He is an artful cook, learned it in the Army. I tell him about the water. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.”

Disengaged, Pop leans over toward the hole and says he is worried. “It smells like shit. Too close to the septic tank. I think we should fill it in. You did a good job, though. I’ll say that. You dig well. A real good job.” I stoop perplexed next to the well hole, basking in the depth of my accomplishment and Pop’s pride. I want to slam a rock into his head. I’m no longer sure what direction to go in, like a beaver trapped in an amusement park cage. Trapped. Sometimes I think it is just not good to follow too close to Pop. Silently I want to slip away behind him into the woods and take a leak, then climb a pine tree to the top and watch the wind above the world, from one of those places where he cannot follow. Holding to the topmost crown, the last limb, with pitch stuck to my hands. I will never come down, until supper.

Pissed, I stick around and help Pop pull up the ladder, and then I begin to fill the hole. The trowel and coffee can, my digging tools, are left down there, to await a future excavation. The wood tools float on the surface, rising, fake battleships, which I pretend to explode and drown by dropping shovels of earth on them. The sound of a released dirt storm splashes and echoes within as it is dropped from the spade.

I do not dig a hole to China. There is no climax. I do not explode. I go inward. The dumb motion of work takes me.

Pop goes off somewhere into the basement to play with the wah-wah pedal on his electric guitar. Oddly, shoveling the dirt back into the well does not take me enough days to notice. I work mornings and evenings to avoid the heat. I take little notice that the midges have gone to sting other eyes.

On some days there are thunderstorms, lightning and rain striking the earth around us, and the air chills, though only for short snaps. Pop decides to trade for a cheap horse, a black stallion that will let nobody but Pop ride him. We stable it in the garage above the good well.

In time I pretend it was not such a bad thing to fill in the old well. I went down behind the first diggers until I found water, and now I follow others in the act of refilling the well once again. In the Bible they stopped talking about digging wells and giving them these really weird names once everyone had their fill of drink. I’m still thirsty.

Today Pop talks about building an experimental airplane, but I am not so interested in crashing. I’m learning to shovel horse manure and lime it. We still take care to not flush the toilet and run the dishwasher at the same time.

September is a cooler month.

Gabriel Orgrease dug out the well in Besemer, near to Brooktondale, near to Slaterville and Caroline, NY. If you check on a map that is up north for Appalachia that thereabouts is pronounced different than in the south. It is like almost another place but it still has rocks, cricks and woods and hills. He likes to play with stones. He now lives on Long Island very close to the Atlantic. When it rains heavy or snow melts his basement floods without his having to do any work. Though he does not love flat land he has got a bit used to it.