Dr. Jim McCutchon practiced medicine in Corpus Christi for many years before retiring to pursue other interests, one of which is writing. He is currently working on a novel about life on a 19th century plantation in Louisiana. As an exercise while studying the writing craft at a workshop in Santa Barbara California, he was challenged by the moderator to write a short story containing a very specific ending, and to do it in ten minutes. That story is EMERGENCY, which was included in Corpus Christi Writers 2018. For 2019 he decided to do something a little different.
May 3, 2017
While taking a tour through Pass Christian on my way home from a trip to Biloxi, I stopped at Live Oak Cemetery to see if the gravestone had been placed on my aunt Rebecca’s grave and to just look around. Live Oak is a special cemetery to me. There are so many of my ancestors buried there, and the quiet, the giant moss-covered oaks and the battered headstones all come together to give me a special feeling of being connected to my past. It’s a feeling that I get in no other place and in no other way. Modern cemeteries have what they call Perpetual Care. It’s a prepaid way for the cemetery to take the responsibility for maintenance. Live Oak was established before that idea took hold, and the families are responsible. In my case, there is no family close by, and I think, from the looks of the place, that is not uncommon. Iron fences around family plots are rusted and broken. Marble headstones, softer than the modern granite, are covered with mildew leaving the inscriptions difficult to read. Many headstones tilt to one side, and some are broken. In places, Hurricane Katrina removed headstones, and no one has replaced them.
I drove onto the shell road that has grass growing between the tire tracks and parked alongside the collection of family graves that is just inside the place where the pillars that marked the entrance used to be before Katrina swept them away. Here was the grave of my great, great-grandfather. The family was rich then, and he has a suitable marble monument. Near it is a smaller marble monument for my great grandfather. Near that is a small granite headstone for my grandfather. It is a poignant reminder that, as the family fortune diminished, so did the stone markers. I wasn’t sad, just pensive. I’m probably better off for not having inherited wealth. But I’ve gone down a rabbit trail. It has nothing to do with zombies and revenge.
In the same enclosure were two graves that lay flat with concrete perimeter walls about six inches high and a concrete slab for a lid. At the head of each was a marble headstone about 3 feet high. For some reason, both of these tombs had marble crosses leaning on the headstones, obscuring the inscriptions. They were identical. The vertical beam was about 4 feet long. The transverse beam was about 3 feet long. In thickness, they measured 4 by 4 inches. I was curious. By leaning over, I could see that the first name of the person buried in the tomb to my left was Frederick. I couldn’t see the rest. My guess was that I was standing atop my great uncle Fred at whose house I stayed in and played in as a young child. I remember the house and Uncle Fred very well although he died when I was only five. Another rabbit trail. Stick to the story!
I moved to the twin tomb, thinking it must contain the remains of my great uncle Jimmy. That made sense. They were brothers. They should lie together. Since I am called Frederick James, I was especially eager to see if Old Uncle Jimmy was in there, but that chunk of marble was too heavy to lift. No problem. It should be easy to tilt it up just a tad and peek. Leaning forward, I did just that. It must have disturbed the occupant. Suddenly, as though someone had shoved it, the cross lurched forward, struck me in the lower right leg and propelled me onto my right shoulder alongside the grave. Memories of a previous fall on that shoulder immediately came to mind. And I didn’t like the prospects of another operation. Jimmy Dinn is a nice guy and a good orthopedist, but shoulder surgery hurts.
Then, I thought about my immediate problem. The cross was lying on my right lower leg and foot. I was trapped. The zombie in that tomb had taken revenge on the fool who dared to disturb him. Now, the deserted cemetery was not a blessing. There was no one around to help. Lying down on your side and reaching to your foot does not provide a mechanical advantage for lifting a heavy object. Just the opposite. I couldn’t budge the cross with my left hand. My cell phone was in a pocket that I couldn’t get to, and I considered the possibility that I would die there and join the zombie that had shoved the cross on top of me. The idea gave me the adrenaline surge I needed to rise halfway up, use both hands with a right shoulder crying out in pain and lift the cross one inch. All I needed. I was free. Was my leg broken? No. Incredible luck. I stood, looked around and decided to get out of there. So there. Uncle Jimmy or whoever you are in that tomb. You zombie.
Holding my right wrist with my left hand to stabilize my sore shoulder, I went to my car, opened the door with my left hand, got in and slowly drove off. I was miles away when I realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures. Too late, but I was pleased to be free, and I knew that I could drive with just my left hand. I’ve had experience. When I was in my teens, I sometimes had a date on a cold Saturday night. In those days, cars didn’t have air-conditioning or heat. We also didn’t have center consoles in the front seat. If my date was cold (not in the metaphorical sense), she would sit close to me to keep warm, and it was rude not to help by putting my right arm around her. We didn’t have power steering either.
I drove 3 hours to Baton Rouge on Saturday, stayed overnight with my step-kids and drove 8 hours home to Corpus Christi on Sunday. I was very tired on Monday, but not too tired to go see Jimmy Dinn. X-rays showed no broken bones, and Jimmy prescribed toradol for pain and for its anti-inflammatory action. I had refused offers of pain medicine, but doctor’s orders trumped my stubbornness. I took my first toradol Monday at bedtime. Amazing. I slept well and woke refreshed and almost pain free. Thanks Jimmy.
The story gets better now. Today, I called Live Oak Cemetery and spoke with the administrator. He checked the records and found that someone named Harriet is buried in Uncle Jimmy’s tomb. Well, I guess it isn’t Uncle Jimmy’s tomb after all. Or is it? Are they together? Did I disturb some after life romance? We will never know, and the zombie or zombies will rest undisturbed, at least by me.
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A funny thing happened to me last night. Not funny in the sense of humorous but in the sense of unusual, very unusual. I had just turned off my bedside reading light, turned on my right side as I often do and closed my eyes when the light went back on. That’s strange, I thought. Lights shouldn’t turn back on by themselves...
read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019.
He was sitting at his desk after lunch, talking with three associates. An important business meeting. He had left strict instructions—no calls, no interruptions of any kind—but there it was, the blinking red light on his phone demanding attention. He tried to ignore it, but it flashed with such insistency he finally had to respond.
It was his secretary. The principal from Jenna’s school had just called, and he needed to get there right away.
Not again! Please God, not again . . . the blinking light, the tone of voice; it was too familiar. He turned pale. Dreading what he might hear, he didn’t ask for details. A year ago his wife Darlene had been on her way to that same school to pick Jenna up for a ninth grade soccer game. A truck blasted through a red light and T-boned her. Within moments firemen were working furiously with the Jaws-of-Life to get her broken body out of the car, but it was no use. She was lifeless as a china doll. The flashing red light and his secretary’s tone were the same then as now…
He replaced the receiver, muttered a quick excuse to his three colleagues, and quickly walked out of his office. As he hurried by his secretary’s desk, she gave him the same fearful and sympathetic look she had that time a year ago.
He took the same elevator down as he did then. The same ad for the same cafeteria was pasted on the same elevator walls; the same picture of the same food was still there.
A sob caught in his throat. He suppressed it.
The elevator . . . so damn slow—couldn’t they at least change the picture?
He got in his Beamer in the garage, but his mind was already at the school. The car seemed to drive itself, turning left at the drugstore on the corner of Walnut and right at the gas station, four blocks down to the school, with no conscious input from him.
He had been taking Jenna to school over that same route for a year. Ever since the accident. Picking her up too, though not for soccer practice. Jenna had quit soccer. Quit everything—writing for the school paper, acting in the plays, cheerleading, even talking on the phone with her friends. Mostly she stayed in her room with the shades drawn and the door closed. And she didn’t listen to music anymore. She used to be his sunshine girl, smiling only when she wasn’t laughing.
But not anymore.
Darlene’s face had been smashed. He had chosen a closed coffin. Jenna wanted him to open it so she could say good-bye to her mother, her best friend. He didn’t want to do it, but he did. A mistake. Jenna hadn’t been the same since.
She and Darlene had done everything together; shopped for brightly colored clothes, walked in the rain, danced to teeny bop tunes in the kitchen while cooking, baking or washing dishes. Everything was fun for them.
No more. Jenna didn’t laugh any more. Her stylish preteen clothes hung unworn in the closet. She now chose brown, sometimes black. She rarely talked. It had been a year. He had waited for her to heal, but she only got worse. Now this.
He pulled into the parking lot at school and forced himself out of the car. A security guard offered to take him to the principal’s office. Judging by the look on his face, the guard already knew what had happened.
Fearful and hesitant, he approached the principal’s waiting rom. His chest was so tight he could hardly breathe. As he stood before the receptionist, he saw she too was apprehensive, as though sitting on tragic news she was not free to divulge.
She told him he was expected, that he should just knock and go in. He hesitated in front of the heavy door for a short moment. What horrible news was waiting for him behind this solid core door with imitation brass doorknob?
He took a deep breath, gingerly knocked, and opened the door.
He stopped, unable to release the doorknob for fear of collapsing. The walls and floor appeared gray, but he was dimly aware they might only seem that way because his vision was fading. The principal’s desk was gray too, cold institutional steel, and there were no chairs for visitors.
A tinge of anger began replacing the despair. The anger grew as he realized he would be made to stand like an ordinary suppliant while his eminence fed him the details of this latest tragedy.
He tightened his hold on the knob.
The principal got up, came around the desk and adjusted his ridiculous tweed jacket with the leather patches at the elbow. Who did he think he was, an Oxford Don? A little man with a squeaky voice, he was saying something like . . . terrible thing . . . never had this happen before in my school . . . so much mess to clean up after her . . . can’t have classes this afternoon . . . the students are out of control . . . no atmosphere for academic pursuits . . . was such a nice girl . . . a tragedy . . . and it’s all her fault.
He was really angry now. All the little man cared about was his damn school and his spotless record. Solid core or not, he just might tear the doorknob out and plant it in the principal’s skull.
By now the principal was pointing a trembling finger at something in the corner of the room hidden by the opened door. He was saying, “She started a food fight in the cafeteria.”
He looked behind the door. There was Jenna, standing erect with her head held high and her arms folded on her chest. She had the light in her eyes that he loved but hadn’t seen since Darlene’s death, and she was grinning with defiance and delight. It had taken a year, but in the end, the spirit of his sunshine girl had burst back into life, and neither school authority nor the principal’s anger could suppress it.
“Jenna!” he exclaimed, “Thank God! I thought . . .”
The principal continued his petulant sputtering, but neither father nor daughter paid the least attention. He stooped to embrace the girl. “never mind what I thought . . . oh Honey, I’m so proud of you!”
READ MORE GREAT WORK by local writers in CORPUS CHRISTI WRITERS 2020.
Jimmy Willden is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He is also an American musician and composer. After beginning his career in music in 1998, Willden has since forayed into the world of filmmaking, winning several festival awards as director and screenwriter. He is also an accomplished journalist.
I can’t recall if it was the sound that came first or the realization that there was even a sound at all – but at some point, just before the sun rose, I found myself staring at an empty pillow as the windows rattled from the tune of a heavy wind that whipped against our nearly two-hundred year-old home. The empty pillow, however, shows no signs of recent disturbance, which means he’s either been up for hours, or has never come to bed at all. Long ago, I stopped worrying much about which that might be, because, either way, the answer would still disappoint me.
But right now, I’m shivering from the incessant sharp chill in the air, delivered, nearly unfiltered, through our nil-insulated walls. So, I force myself to sit up and quickly wrap the comforter around my shaky bones. Quietly, I step onto the wooden floors that moan, as always, beneath me. With the comforter draped around me like a shawl, I quickly scuttle across our bedroom to the door, which has been left unusually wide open. My eyes fight in vain to focus on the still dark hallway that rests beyond our bedroom doorway. I intently listen for anything, any sign, other than the violent howling outside, that he’s anywhere inside our beloved home.
There’s nothing but the cries of the wind.
I pull the comforter tighter around me and step out into the hallway, with one foot in front of the other, squinting my eyes in an attempt to desperately make out any sort of detail in the dark blue of morning against the lingering black blue of night. Somewhere along the way I find our boy’s bedroom door which is, as always, left open – just a crack.
Our sweet toddler is in the throes of a fitful sleep. At some point in the night, he had kicked his blankets off and now they lay crumpled at the foot of his bed. In his only defense against the aggressive cold that’s invaded our home overnight, our sweet boy is now curled up in a pitiful, fetal position, with his hands tucked between his knees. And the poor thing is shivering.
After I gently pull his covers back up and tuck them ever so delicately around his body, I find myself drawn to study him for a long moment, but really I’m just trying to swallow away the burning that’s rising from within.
He promised he wouldn’t let this happen again. He promised me the boy and I would always, hand to God, come first. How many nights have I begged him to consider us before the throngs of others he seems to enjoy so much more than us? How many times has he promised he’d change, for the sake of us, for the sake of our love – for the sake of our family?
Downstairs, I discover the fire has long been out. Only the last wisps of smoke linger above the charred firewood in the fireplace. And, of course, the basket beside the fireplace, that usually holds our pre-cut firewood, is empty.
The burning from within gurgles like a sickness in my stomach. I take a long, deep breath, an exercise I learned long ago that could curtail these episodes just as they begin – but this morning, the breath does nothing but breathe new life into the flames quickly rising up through my lungs.
And then I swallow.
And then I turn toward that beautiful hunk of furniture he is so proud of. The brand new centerpiece of our home – a large, burgundy-wooden television set. It remains off, but I swear I hear it – a soft, electrical hum resonating from it. My father never trusted technology, and he swore that’s how he got the cancer that ultimately sent him to his grave last year. I’m not sure I believe the demons of modern society are what really did him in, or if it was the demons of his bourbon diet that truly got the best of him. Either way, may he rest in peace, I still don’t exactly trust the television set much myself, either.
Outside, I find the first signs of light just barely peeking over the horizon, as I slowly approach the large mound of uncut wood stacked on the side of our home. Pulling the comforter even tighter over myself and my limbs just as a gust of wind cuts deep, I spy the ax leaning against the side of the house, at the foot of the mound of firewood; its handle just merely beckoning.
I’m too tired, however, to even consider the job myself. Besides, it’s not supposed to be my job; that task belongs to him.
I slowly turn and allow my eyes to follow the long walkway that stretches from our back porch all the way across the half acre of land behind our house before it arrives at the entryway of an old wooden structure that must be fifty years older than the home we call our own. After a moment, my eyes wander to the very top, where they finally settle, and focus, ever so hesitantly, on the white wooden cross that tops the structure – and in the early morning blue, the faded white cross seems to glow with the gnawing power of yesteryear.
Then I glimpse it, the flickering light shining through a window of the old church, and – like a moth – I’m drawn in, and make my way towards the structure and open the old doors, which send a loud creaking sound echoing beyond me. Standing in the entryway to the house of God, my gaze follows the long walkway, until it befalls a single electric light bulb, which dangles above the altar at which I find him, buried in his writing.
I catch him, this man who swore to me and to God that he loves me and would put me before anyone else, effortlessly letting my utterance of his name float right past him. It’s at this moment exactly when I see it – my husband’s long shadow cast by that dangling light bulb, and this shadow travels all the way back to the very back wall of the altar and stretches up it and the walls behind us and towers incredibly large above us.
After a moment, I allow my gaze to return only to him.
“Have you slept?”
Daniel stops writing and lets out a sigh. Finally he looks up at me, his beloved wife of four years.
“As soon as I’m done with the final draft, I’ll come to bed.”
“The sun’s already coming up.”
Devoid of much love, he just stares at me – through me – and swallows. After a moment, he merely returns to his writing and says, “I’ll sleep after this morning’s service.”
“--I’ll be fine!” he barks and immediately those flames burning up my insides ignite once more. My eyes are too heavy to do much else, so they just remain steady, on him.
“There’s no more firewood for the fireplace,” I say. “Junior was shivering.”
But he’s back there, just swimming in his beautiful, poetic words of the Lord, his attention giveth only to his love of the Parish and the love he receiveth from them, leaving his beloved wife and beloved son cold and abandoned.
“I’ll bring some in, in a minute,” is all he manages to say before he falls completely silent. But I see his brow, so furled from all of that heavy focus, as if the weight of the pen he wields is almost too much to hold. His lips move, dancing with the silent syllables of his God poetry – these words will move mountains; these words will heal wounds; these words will defy–
But there I see it, as I’m turning to leave; the flickering, electric light bulb.
The bulb burns ferociously, causing me to wince and close my eyes. When I open them, my gaze is drawn back to my husband’s looming shadow behind him. Only now, there are two shadows, flanking either side of him. As the light bulb swings in place above him, the giant shadows seemingly dance a twisted dance just as the bulb flickers once more then returns to its natural, electric state.
Back inside, I sit down on the living room floor, before our beautiful television set. As I reach up and turn the dial, the voltaic beast quivers to life with a loud buzz rising from behind the screen – or maybe it’s from the screen itself. Either way, the picture slowly starts to fade into focus, swimming in static and casting unnatural black and blue and white light across the room.
The image is unnerving – but I can’t look away.
Instead, I turn the dial.
Each time I change the channel, that haunting, constant river of noise seems to grow more violent, as the blue, flickering light luls me into a hypnotic rhythm. Somewhere along the way, I recognize the sun through our living room window, as it rises higher into the morning sky, only I can’t, for the life of me, pull my gaze away from the screen. Whatever programming that was once there is now completely long lost in an ocean of bright static.
“I'm often asked if God has stopped speaking to us? The question, though valid, is a trite one, is it not?”
My husband, dressed in a brown and tan suit that allows the red in his beard its time to shine, stands once again behind the altar, eyeing his beloved congregation that sits in the pews before him; all of them effortlessly and magnetically plugged into his sermon.
“While it's true, there are no such modern stories of a booming voice from on high, accompanied by all of that thunder and lightning we've all come to expect, God is still here.
“While it is rare to hear and believe stories of late: of dreams delivered by the Lord meant to guide us one way or the other; God is still here.
“And while the values of such messages may have been lost on us in this modern age, due to our very own mute years, God. Is. Still. Here.
“So yes, while it might seem the Lord may have lost his tendency toward the dramatic, I still believe he is speaking to us, all of us, constantly -- and his message has never been clearer. The problem is we've all grown accustomed to the constant noise of our times, and silence scares us.
“That's it, right there, isn't it? That's where God lives and breathes and speaks to and through us. Right there. In that elusive silence.”
My husband eyes his beloved flock as he delivers his final point home in perfect timing. “It is merely our job to listen, and to discern the meaning -- of his whispers.”
My attention is torn from him as I feel my sweet boy lean against me and rest his small head on my shoulder. I’m overcome and kiss the top of his head, then slowly return my attention to my husband.
“If you turn to 1 Corinthians, verse 2:14, scripture lays it all bare for us. ‘The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.’"
At some point, my attention is once again drawn to the space behind the altar, directly to the dangling light bulb. It flickers, but this time, the light spewing from the bulb seems to twist and warp so unnaturally, like the lightwaves themselves are heavier than the air we breathe. I try to discern what’s causing this effect when I feel a slow pulsation rise from within me.
I want to vomit.
But I don’t.
At least not yet.
“Or as 1 John, verse 2:27 illuminates, ‘As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.’
“Or, rather, if you live in him, he will live in you.”
As the light begins to flicker more, almost in rhythm with the rising pulsation, I turn to my beloved husband’s flock and study each and every one of them. Somehow, it seems as though nobody else can see this or hear this or feel this – besides me.
His sermon is eventually drowned out completely as I continue to study the effects of the affecting light bulb above the altar before me. I feel its powerful vibration rattle within my chest. Then I hear it; that sound; that familiar, unmoving static. It’s floating in there, within the pulsation which has now invited the bulb of light to dance in its slow rhythm. The power of it is awful and awe-inspiring all at once. It hurts my insides until I cannot stand its influence any longer.
So, finally, I vomit.
The pulsation – the static – is all at once gone, replaced by a deafening silence. I can feel all of them, my husband’s beloved flock, all of their eyes on me, piercing through me, as I try to catch what little breath I have left.
Then amidst all that silence, I hear it, my sweet boy’s voice, saying, “Mommy.”
“Mommy,” he says, full of so much love and compassion in such a way only a person unmarked by the evils of living can say. “...Are you okay?”
With the weight of the world on my shoulders, I slowly turn to my sole reason for living and try to smile. “Mommy’s fine.”
My sweet boy swims in bubbles.
I watch as water gushes from that rusted, old faucet of ours into the bath, as the water edges ever closer to the brim. That gushing though, it’s hurting my ears. It sounds like roaring rivers. Or thunderous floods.
Just as a little of the water splashes over the edge, I turn off the faucet.
My boy, he gathers some of the bubble suds with his small hands and designs a beard on his tiny face. As he turns to me, he puckers his lips and says, “Do I look like Daddy?”
My sweet boy, he giggles.
But I’m not at all amused by this. How could I be? So instead of engaging in his games, I take a rag and gently wipe away my boy’s beard of suds.
But then I hear it, slicing through the silence; plopping.
I turn to the source, the faucet; small droplets of water drop from the brim of it, and land in the water, causing tiny little ripples – which reflect the electric light in our bathroom in strange directions. I study a tiny little drop of water as it slowly pulls away from the faucet and falls and falls and falls, until it crashes into the ocean of bath water, sending slow ripples erupting from the crash site, spreading outwards forever.
And then another drop begins its journey.
The dancing reflections within the ripples in the bath water lul me once again, just as another drop drips from the faucet and falls, falls, falls.
The drop explodes into the forever deep, sending fractured light into millions of different directions, refracting again and again until we are all consumed by its never-ending nothingness.
As if I’d never left, I turn to my sweet boy.
“I’m done, momma.”
As if waking from a deep sleep, I have to tell my hand to reach for the towel folded on the sink counter, and to tell my fingers to unfold it, and to tell my arms to hand it to my boy.
After tucking my dearest angel into bed, I somehow found my way to our bed. I remember believing that a good night’s sleep could end this seemingly never-ending, emanating migraine. Instead, I’ve been laying here in my white night gown like a ghost for the past two hours, unable to break my gaze from the magnetic hold that whatever looms in the dark hallway just outside our unusually wide open bedroom door has on me. My chest is heavy, as are my eyes. I want to vomit again, but there’s nothing left inside me other than the burning knowledge that none of this matters any longer.
I am empty.
Yet fully charged.
At some point, he comes into our bedroom and says something, but I can’t quite make it out. I see his lips moving, but behind the newly oscillating universe which has enveloped me, I don’t even try to discern his words.
Anyway, they don’t matter much anymore.
A little later, it registers that my husband has given up trying to speak to me. Instead, he merely removes his shirt and crawls into bed beside me. After he studies me for a moment, he ever so gently kisses me on my forehead, then reaches over to his nightstand, and turns off the lamp, plunging our bedroom into the deep blue-black of midnight.
I close my eyes – and the only thing that changes is that deep blue evolving into just more black on black. Way off in the distant darkness of somewhere, I hear a drip. Soon after, another drip echoes somewhere so far away, it hurts my ears to hear it. I try not to listen, but I can’t seem to stop and I wait, and I anticipate, until–
Another drip drops and echoes.
Somewhere swimming in my hypnotic, half-lucid dreamstate, the sound of the staccato dripping has evolved into something else; something more. Keeping time in that ever-steady rhythm comes a deeper sound; a thudding; a chunking; a chopping. I find my eyes once again wide open. The deep blue returns to highlight the dark black within our marital bedroom, as I merely watch my husband sleep.
The television screen swims in black and blue static once more. Small faces are barely recognizable amidst the interrupted signal that sends the black and white pictures back into its twisted dance before me.
Once again wearing our marital comforter like a shaw, I sit on the floor before his beastly burgundy television studying all of the dots dancing on the screen over smiling faces and sad faces and angry faces and hollow faces. I swear – these faces are all starting to merge into one, bright and electric face – but I can’t be sure just yet. For now, however, they are all singing along to that altogether beautiful pulsating rhythm, vibrating in and through me, just like the water droplets sending ripples through an ocean of bath water, just like all of those reflections refracting all the light that remains. I see it all. I feel it all.
Until I don’t.
I blink and look up beyond the blue static to find my beloved boy wrapped in his very own blanket shaw, once again, shivering.
In the backyard, with the sun once again just below the horizon as if it’s too afraid to announce the arrival of the brand new day, I stand beside the house, and find the ax right where I last saw it. It hasn’t been moved or touched, nor has the firewood.
“I’ll bring some in, in a minute,” were the last words my beloved husband had said on the matter, twenty-four hours ago.
This burning from within hasn’t slept at all, it was just quietly building in its intensity and now begging to be heard and to be felt in its entirety. I grab the ax, with my sweet boy standing behind me. I feel him watching me, as that burning rage from within finally finds its way to the surface and guides the ax high up into the air above me, with my grip tightening around its handle. I scream so loud my ears ring, and then the rage sends the ax violently down, slamming into a piece of firewood placed on the ground before me. The force of the chopping reverberates through the handle and right into my hands. I feel alive. I feel new – as the wood splits in two.
I feel him when he stirs. His renewed energy alerts me that he’s awake, and I know exactly what woke him; the continued sound of chopping, which I’ve timed directly with all those electronic voices singing along to that altogether beautiful pulsating rhythm still vibrating in and through me.
I feel him as my beloved husband rolls over in bed, only to discover my empty pillow. I feel him as he stumbles out of bed still enveloped in his sleepy daze, rubbing the crust of green sleep from his eyes, placing his feet into his slippers, and walking towards our bedroom door, which has been left unusually wide open.
I feel him as he emerges into the hallway, and sees the shadows cast from the black and blue light dancing from our living room. And I feel him; I feel him as his eyes finally find me before the burning fireplace in my once white nightgown. I feel as he discovers the blood which has turned that nightgown a deep burgundy, much like his beloved television set behind me. I feel as his heart begins to dance with that beautiful rhythm resonating from the static behind us and I feel him shivering as his eyes find my hands tightly gripping the ax which, now, rests at my side.
“Claire…” is all he can say. But I feel him as he follows my fixed gaze down to my gift; the answer to all of his prayers.
“What did you do…”
At first, I feel him as he can’t bring himself to look at my gift for him. Instead, I let him see it all within my eyes; I let him see the reflection of our sweet boy’s blood.
Finally, he collapses to the gift I’ve laid before him. He embraces it and cries out – and for the first time I see that his love for us was all at once true, but lost in all of his arrogance, and that this gift was needed in order for him to discover that love for us once more.
The choir of voices singing that beautiful song of static intensifies as I finally turn to him and watch him cradle our beloved boy with so much love and devotion, mumbling to the Lord and to himself, “Oh. God. Oh, god. What did you do, what did you do, what did you do, oh god, what did you do, what did you do, what did you do, what did you do, what did you do…”
Now this is the man I married.
As the ocean of static engulfs us completely, my beautiful husband finally looks back up at me. And, finally, I see everything I’ve ever asked for from him, and more, right there. He hears me. He sees me. He loves me.
This next gift will prove just how much.
I grip the ax handle tighter, and then, become one with the faces in the static.
The early morning sun shines brightly before me, as I slowly make my way down the walkway toward the house of the Lord. Still covered in my gift’s blood, and still dragging the ax behind me, I arrive finally, once more, at its entryway.
The morning sun has lit the now empty church before me in beautiful bright, and I know what I must do. I journey down the middle aisle, through the pews, straight towards the altar.
Overcome by the magnetic knowledge of the presence arriving before me, I drop the ax and collapse to my knees and prostrate before the altar. Before me, I can hear and I can feel it – as its powerful pulsating existence explodes into the here and now. I feel the warmth of something looming over me and the rhythmic ocean of static floods every aural fiber I’ve ever known. As I’m drawn to finally lift my head from the floor of the altar and open my eyes, I’m quickly overcome by the light of a tall, brilliant figure made completely of light which towers before me and is flanked by two giant shadows on either side of it. The pulsating static resonates directly from this being and It speaks to me through the static; a language I’ve quickly learned to understand.
I recognize that much like the lightwaves that surrounded the light bulb during my beloved husband’s sermon yesterday morning, the lightwaves emanating from this beautiful thing are also warping, as if the being is manipulating space and time itself. I find that I can’t look away from it, only that I’m mesmerized completely by its complete lack of features. Where a face should be, there is only light that explodes from it with the brightness of a burning sun.
As the wonderful chorus of unflinching power reaches its crescendo a sudden pop echoes throughout the old church, causing me to blink and for the pulsating static to all at once fall into an abyss of nothing, which allows an overwhelming silence to invade the space instead.
When I open my eyes, a slow, horrible realization guts me from the inside out.
Now, the altar merely stands empty before me; my gaze only finds the once illuminated light bulb now completely dark, just dangling, with a curious black spot resting at the center of it and a small wisp of smoke rising from the bulb itself.
Suddenly, I’m so cold, as my bloodstained nightgown clings to my skin.
And I vomit.
And I feel nothing. Other than the vast emptiness of the house of God behind me, with the center aisle leading directly to those old doors creaking in the early morning wind; just merely beckoning.
At some point, the alcohol in my bloodstream subsided long enough for me to become
slightly coherent. I found that I was in some small inn, somewhere in Colorado, sitting in a chair
by the window. The blinds were open, and I was just staring off at the open Colorado skies that
lay beyond Interstate 76.
I blinked, and rolled my head around, but my useless body couldn’t stand the weight of it;
it fell to rest against my shoulder, as I stared at my feet. On the floor next to my bare feet was an
empty liter of whiskey. I tried to breathe, but the rotten smell of dried vomit permeated my sense
of smell, and instead, I gagged.
Jose Olivares was born in Corpus Christi. He graduated from Roy Miller High School, and the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&I University Kingsville, and Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. He worked as a secondary mathematics teacher, middle school principal and Corpus Christi Independent School District mathematics consultant and as adjunct professor of mathematics at Texas A&M CC. Jose and his wife Tomacita have three children who are also graduates of UT Austin. Their daughter Liana Gonzales is an attorney in Corpus Christi and daughter Mariela Olivares is also at attorney and law school professor at Howard University in Washington DC. Their son Jose Luis is a graphic computer artist in Portland, Oregon. They have four grandchildren.
“Please close the windows, the air is burning my face” my younger sister cried as we drove to California seeking work as migrant workers. My parents had loaded the family (five children ages 17, 15, 13, 10, 4) into the car and headed cross country to the Bakersfield area. Two older siblings did not join us—one was married and the other was serving in the U.S. Army. I was 15.
Our car did not have air conditioning, but the desert air blowing into the car was so hot that we alternated closing and opening the windows. My Mother would constantly place a wet towel over my Father’s head and shoulder in order to cool his body.
We worked picking grapes, peaches, potatoes and tomatoes. Our home was in one of the many labor camps in the area. Our shelter was a metal structure that felt like a furnace in the hot summer days. Our shelter had no electricity, running water or bathroom facilities. Group facilities were available for our use.
Children worked alongside their families and contributed in the daily pickings. We generally worked eight to ten hours each day.
My brother taught me to drive a car that summer. It was a Chevy with a standard shift. One of my greatest pleasures that summer was driving to a corner store on Fridays and drinking a quart of chocolate milk without having to share with my siblings. “When I grow up, I will buy all the chocolate milk I want,” I would tell my brother.
That was the summer of 1962. César Chávez and the United Farmworkers Union that sought to improve working and living conditions for migrant workers would come years later.
--José, levántate mi hijo, ya son las seis-- my Mother said as she woke me up. I waited for her to leave and then started crying silently. I was about 12 years old.
My nightly dreams included episodes of picking cotton. I picked cotton during the day and then I picked cotton during my sleep. I remember being exhausted in the mornings, but I gave myself the privilege of crying only once. I did not tell anyone. I felt I could not take a day off.
We generally worked ten to twelve hours a day in the cotton fields of South Texas. I always felt it was my job to pick cotton, as much as I could, every day. Most of our family worked in the cotton fields during the summers.
Each week my parents would give me about one dollar to spend and our earnings were used to provide for our family. I could count on a new shirt, pants, and sometimes shoes for the start of the new school year. I worked in the cotton fields from grade school through my sophomore year in high school.
Joseph Wilson taught Senior English Advanced Placement, Film Studies, and Creative Writing at Richard King High School for 42 years. He created and edited the poetry magazine "Open All Night" for 40 years. Many of his former students contribute to The Corpus Christi Writers series. He writes poetry. He also posts frequently on Facebook, and has a large following.
one hundred years ago
Paul Herbert Cline
fought in WW One
he survived terrors in France
P. H. died from lung cancer
when I was a freshman in college
he was a good man
a hard man and a hard-working man
a screaming kind of man
in his basement shop he taught me how
to hammer bent nails into scrap boards
and cut planks with a table saw that buzzed
like hornets in my hair
he built a basketball court for me
so that on Sunday afternoons
after spending the night and going to church and Sunday school with grandma
I could play bball with my church boys
my parents divorced
when I was three
I remember my namesake
my father and his new wife
for my little brother Paul and me
on their front porch
with cokes in the small bottles with silver straws
I remember my father promising to take me
to see elephants
loop their tails and trunks at the circus
I remember the night he didn’t show up
and I remember my mother smoking in the kitchen while I sat in the front room
on the couch waiting
from my age of five to my age of thirty
my father was no-show father
his name my name was a name not spoken
there were no pictures of him in the house
so when my mother remarried
my step-father, Walt, I was happy
he was a big handsome man who said he loved me
he was an emotionally limited man
who grew up mostly in an orphanage
where his own mother dropped him off
when he was three
and kept her older two children with her
during the depression
he was uncommunicative
quiet but with a temper
during college when we would part
I would bear-hug him and he would tear up
several years ago during a visit with my mother
while studying old family pictures
she held up a smiling picture of her father
cached separately in a cellophane bag
like it was sacred relic
almost to herself as if praying
my Daddy didn’t like you
because you reminded him
too much of your father
Joseph Tyler Wilson the third
April 1, 2019
We bump into Tina B. in the line for the movie
After we trade compliments
Tina says she bet her daughter
Who is saving seats inside
That she would know five fellow film patrons
She had already won when I kissed her on the cheek
“…a drink after?”
“…no, no, I’m running at 7”
After watching “Parasite” with my old roommate Joe H.
After an animated discussion at the wine bar until one
About current wives, our work, the waitress’s intricately woven dress
Jazz, mistakes of karmic proportions, sons, ex-wives
About the swirling blue currents
That shape the vicissitudes of our lives
We have quiet talk at his house over iced cold water
About the patent lunacy of Trump
And the ever-looming election
And how Joe’s daughter looks
So so much like his second wife
We share a few secrets and a long goodnight hug
While driving home I listen to Ed Sheeran
Sing about how he will always remember
Being kissed by a woman under a lamppost on 6th Street
I kissed a woman there once too
When we pulled to a stop on Bee Cave Road
I didn’t love her but I wanted to love her
And now I can’t remember her last name
Later on Facebook I write my movie review and
Then I read the Times op-eds until 3
After sleeping in to 9
I mow the front yard and the back yard
I play with the poodle puppies on the stone patio
The fuzzy faced one unties my boots
And bites my nose when I hold her close
In the pasture I finish the mowing
And then I move the winter debris to the back fence line
Then I hang a prayer flag for my mother
I cut red winter roses for my desk
Where in three hours the aroma
Will nearly intoxicate me.
I drive skittishly through Houston
This morning shuttered by vertical layers
Of flashing singing rain showers
The vivid grey panels scream down from
The vanishing sky
Mute the sounds of seven
Lanes of crawling cars and
The bestial four-wheeler lugging oil
That I follow closely for seven miles
Because I cannot see anything but close grey
I sit in the Menil Museum right now though
Safely on a solid mahogany bench
Staring for a time at an Agnes Martin
Seven foot by seven foot square oil painting
The same greyish color as the storm
But her inscribed seven lines are horizonal
Subdued greys so I am at peace
Resting and immersed in this room
Filled with other Agnes monochromes and yellow lines
On the floor marking where I cannot go
Just yesterday at lunch at BK Thai on the patio in the overcast
Grey my friend Mark Strand says “Pu Chou, Pu Chung Chu”
Which he claims translates to
There is no story”
I want to read the NewYorkTimesSundayEdition all the way through
I want to hear live jazz
in an outdoor city space with the trace of a breeze
and a strong cup
I want to walk three miles on the bayfront toward the Harbor Bridge
I want to go to the restaurant Egg in Brooklyn and have braised vegetables garnished with fresh herbs over oatmeal
with a fried egg sunny-side-up
I want to see two movies at the local cinema
which begin at the
I want to gaze into my dog’s brown eyes for three minutes
to raise the level of oxytocin in our brains
I want to cut some white roses in the pasture
I want three glasses of Prosecco with raspberries blueberries and
arils of pomegranate filling the bottom of the bowl of the
I want to speak to my mother on the telephone and
have her really be able to hear me
I want to hit some tennis balls with a colleague and raise a sweat
I want to engage in a serious conversation
face to face with my friend
who can’t seem to do that
I want to find just a little mindfulness right now
I want to finish
Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton is a Louisville, KY native who migrated to Corpus Christi with his family. Between Kentucky and Texas, he has traveled and lived in several places, including Spain, Appalachia, Panamá, Peru, the Philippines, and the Colorado River. Currently, he is an MFA candidate at Texas State University. He has two chapbooks: Rain Minnows (Gnashing Teeth Publishing), and Slow Wind (Finishing Line Press). His poetry appears in such journals as Windward Review, Driftwood, Voices de la Luna, Tiny Seed Journal, Sybil Journal, and San Antonio Review. www.joshuabridgwaterhamilton.com. See his website
Fall slips by like a funeral.
Students of the moon attend
silent burials, luminescent families
in obscure worlds. These 8 hour flights with
double feature, thin coffee and atmosphere
charged with no silver disc,
no gravity pull. Another astral body
snuffed, all made of light. light.
Experts in reflection, we orbit
screens — we make them
sequels to our lives, a continuum
of panel, eye, and experience.
Information fills esophageal sockets,
but the visual gulping
induces vomit, expunging of game scores
troop mvts prices candidates homicides plots
we stretch like a cat in constant convulsion.
Yesterday I recognized
house finch, wren and
tufted titmouse — birds that stay
for winter, active only on my side
of window and field guide. When the source
gives out and our sun reels down to a halt,
the picture ceases its movement,
we are forced to tease the light
out of our own cracked lenses.
The afternoon fluvium
leaves behind wide deltas
of silt and hours;
action slows and traces
spidery erosions of crooked rivulets
through morning grit
and swift determination.
Human energy consents
its own diurnal arc,
rising through heavenly body,
layering work, dinner, play.
Orange and blue light
while turbo-diesel engines
craze Main Street.
and silent owners
A sweets shop
chimes open its
door: inside the rich sustain
of chocolate and hard
Hours seem purposed
for losing the drift of current,
pulling into the muddied confluence
a rickety cove,
muted cartoon violence
trickling from houseboat
before heavy blue curtains
obscure the explosion.
A light shower
confers tentative shreds of legitimacy
to narrow spectrums
echoed by forecast:
radio, tv, webpage,
phone app – mundane filters
magnified through urgency.
In the wet patio across the street
a middle-aged woman, hands on
hips, observes gardening tools,
pots, and mulch
glisten and darken
like forgotten photographic process.
She wears a white halter-top,
high-cut running shorts,
and forth in the wet sheen
tossing a blond ponytail.
Her athletic, jerseyed intensity
reconciles early evening –
vessel of time re-encountering
in the drift.
Rays pierce the misty ford of morning
Hark the juncture of livid and dull
The pulse of never taking you after
A simple repast, of never taking after
The dark hollow of cheekbone
Mirror of laughter Find it
Mostly dug into the moist humus
Rotted bone and skin This stitch in my side
Woven from cowflesh and greeting the seared moment of light
The private logon opens spirit hunger,
measures dusk in parts per inch:
lawn green vectors to horizon diminish
the private. Logon opens spirit. Hunger
roots down through windows where hours blemish
until glistening ribcage unfolds elegantly
the private logon, opens spirit. Hunger
measures dusk in parts per inch.
I ate my own desire. There where
the mirror reflected fruits, vines,
a sickening pace to rot faster
until the motorcycle slipped
completely off the road. No more
glass dance, the mortgage melted
in my hands, blindingly free
and anchor-less. One more dog-
dripped bark at a pinking moon
and you folded yourself up
in denim forever. The wind
bends trees walls cars sideways
through prism of salt crystal
prescience, reads the future
homeless sweating and grimed
planting colorful tents
along scythe-curved stretch of beach.
Make this space for the incorrect
calculation, the botched theory
thousands live by, follow the line
into pavement, dust, cotton bolls,
build beginnings again
from slant sun-ray 2x4s
and the mortar squeezed
Desiccate splintered forest
ground up and spat out
under the feet - accumulated
bits of growth, decay, sun-
light worded into leaves
and chainsaws articulated
into kindling - like
the devastation of a bad life
ground up and strewn
in an attempt to soften
the inevitable crash
Copyright Joshua Hamilton
Read more of Joshua Hamilton's poetry in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
The author and her family are compassionate people and have a true love for animals. They have been known to stop the car on the highway to rescue a turtle in the road. Look for THE MISFITS BECOME A PACK, an illustrated children's novel
I am Molly the Weiner dog, I was the first member of the current pack and am also the oldest. I have long hair with a really long body that almost scrapes the ground. I am kind of funny looking but I am a fierce leader. I want to tell you the story of how I became the leader of a very special pack. I used to live on a farm where puppies were made. There were always dogs everywhere running and barking and playing. It was a great place to live. One day a lady came out to our farm looking for something...
Julieta Corpus is a bilingual poet from Mexico whose work has been included in The Thing Itself, and the Texas Poetry Calendar. Her latest literary contribution is a collaboration with poet Katie Hoerth and visual artist Corinne Whittenmore: Borderland Mujeres, published by Texas A&M Press. It will be available in the Fall 2021. Julieta's first poetry collection, "Of Love And Departures" published in June 2021 by EM Editoriales is now available through Amazon.
Lupe looks lovely lying in her coffin; La Presa’s
old mansion hosts the humble wake,
gnarled, toothless women chant hypnotic prayers
clutching melting candles--heads bowed, hands clasped.
A tall, rail-thin young girl stands in a corner, lids
drooping with sleep, her face grim and tear-stained.
Her mother approaches, whispers in her ear. Julia
heads upstairs to try to get some rest.
Mourners sip strong coffee, exchange quiet chatter;
people with young children soon take their leave.
Lupe’s mother, Lola, sits with two young kids,
staring at nothing, her poor heart is wailing--
the cut is too deep.
Her lovely, young daughter killed by her own husband.
Lola starts to weep.
Lupe looks lovely lying in her coffin.
No one must see the spousal abuse. Angry,
purple bruises concealed by long hair, and
the missing teeth knocked out by the brute.
He jumped on his horse when she wouldn't
come to. The men are not present; they all
Upstairs, in the bedroom, Julia is busy dreaming;
her sister, Lupita, has something to say.
But her lips are moving, yet emit no sound.
The only words she catches are: "I will be back".
Once her body is buried, the ritual begins:
Nine days of rosarios, prayers for the dead.
A meeting for women, and not for the children.
Lola chooses Julia to take care of them. But
When she enters the house, a surprise awaits:
both kids appear clean, like they just took a bath.
When they see their aunt appearing quite shocked,
they explain it thus: "Our momma was here. She even fed us!".
Lupe's love was so great, she came back
for her babies...came from the Beyond.
And the man who abused her? The men
did find him, doled out their own brand
of justice: two bruises for every single one
he ever gave his wife.
(This is a tale of spousal abuse, the supernatural, and the power of love.
It is Lupe’s story, Mom’s younger sister-- a story I want to preserve for my brothers, sisters,
Nieces and nephews. I pray that I do it justice)
The beast beats up his wife
For no other reason, than to
Assert his manhood,
"I own you.
I could kill you if I wanted to."
She usually curls up in a corner
And closes her eyes.
She cannot fight back, even less so
When he's been drinking,
Alcohol increases his
The rage within.
He is the man of the house.
The lion in wait for any excuse
To pounce on her.
Lupe is only thirty years old,
But already her physical
Injuries trigger severe seizures.
And no matter how loud she
Screams, no one ever comes
To her rescue.
The neighbors simply shut
Their doors. Her family won't
Help, either. They warned her
Against marrying him.
But Lupe fell in love.
Now, her abusive husband is
"Her cross to bear."
His children are not spared
Any of the abuse, either.
All three boys have met
Every one of his demons.
He tries to bend the children
To his will with his belt buckle,
Boots, and fists.
Years later, he grows tired,
Leaves Lupe for another
Woman. He claims he's
Sick of her seizures, and her weeping,
"You're faking all of it. You're too weak."
The beast dies at seventy years
Old while crossing a busy
Guadalupe Escobedo, his wife,
My grandmother, outlived
Him by eight years.
The Perfect Mistress
Must maintain a youthful Appearance, at all costs.
She must make herself
Of the day or time, keep
Idle chatter to a bare
The mistress keeps up to
Date on the latest
Amatory skills to please him.
She needs to learn how
He likes his steak and learn
To make his favorite
Any mistress worth her
Her salt, maintains a
No matter the situation.
She will keep a drawer filled
With lacy undergarments,
Black or red--NEVER white.
A woman like that should
Acquire the habit of shopping
And eating by herself.
She must display herself at
Various stages of undress
Whenever he is around.
The perfect mistress curbs
An urge to blurt out incisive
Words when compared,
Unfavorably, by him, to
She must forever eschew
The thought of being
Replaced by someone much
A mistress will learn to cry
In silence, and in dark places---
Conquer her fear of loneliness.
You are still there beneath the shadow of our
ebony tree, laughing uproariously. I
know it is you marking a path of salt
towards the ocean. I play hide-and-seek
with your grey beard, resting my sadness
upon your shoulder.
At times, I distinguish your profile
amongst the fig leaves. I stay for awhile and talk with
the breezes which conspire to shape and then
undo your contours.
You are still there, poised as a butterfly sipping
from the petals of my silence. I see your resilience
in the stubbornness of our cactus blooming once a
Sometimes you leave—in the interim, I feed on
cobwebs suspended in time. I dance a barefoot
waltz with torn pages from the wall calendar.
Upon your return, everything acquires the honeyed
scent of permanence.
That sadness haunts her, injects her voice
with a shimmer of tears. When she speaks,
a flock of purple martins leave her lips, fly
They return when Spring kisses the earth—
build their nests against her ribcage, sate
their hunger with her nostalgia.