Hailing from humid ,sunny southern Florida, John's interest in the strange, melancholy, and macabre began when he chanced upon a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula at the local library at age 12. More books would soon follow starting with Edgar Allen Poe's works and the bizarre, dark realism of Kafka. It was H.P. Lovecraft that most gained Mr. Balfour's attention, however, upon leaving him quite unsettled after reading "The Call of Cthulhu". Later, he realized it was because of the bleak implications for humanity present in Lovecraft's work and the impressively oppressive mood he was able to create. John seeks to emulate the philosophy of cosmic horror in his own writing by creating characters whose horror comes just as much from the mundane world, as the metaphysical one. buy his work
Martin Gerber was a small man, always dressed in a white shirt, grey pants, and a rather ugly green tie with pictures of golf clubs covering it that his wife had gotten him. He did not like golf, or any sport for that matter, but it had been a birthday present, and he had little care for fashion, so he wore it exclusively in appreciation as much as apathy. Large black-framed glasses were the only thing that stood out on him, though they were not really large so much as they only seemed so on his face. His accounting job and routine schedule to and from it completed the picture of an uneventful life.
Now, small, unassuming men need not have small, unassuming minds. And an observer might believe Martin to have a fantastic intellect, or imagination despite his appearance. They might believe such a thing as they stared at Martin drinking a cup of tea on the bench in front of the bookstore where he spent his lunch hour, his line of vision fixing on nothing in particular for very long, inevitably ending up somewhat north of his dull brown shoes, and they would be completely wrong. There were no great gears turning under his thinning hair and no big ideas bursting out of his tightly-shut mouth. He had little to say on any subject outside his work, of which he was not that interested in discussing, and did not feel inferior because of this. Everything was as it should be in his eyes. One had to be economic not just in action but in thought, and if anything he said could be classed as a real opinion, it was that people wasted life on pointless thought. In this way, he largely ignored everything superfluous to his little corner of the world.
His most effective way of accomplishing this was a decision to never consider anything outside his home and office too closely, which, on this particular Tuesday, he went against. It was a normal day in all respects; he had finished with his numbers and was on his way to the bookstore, stopping first at the cafe next to it for his tea. What made him stop and examine the bench was the sign placed on it stating that it was wet with varnish. Wet. With. Varnish. For some reason he could not process the meaning of those words and stared at the bench uncomprehendingly, realizing after a minute that he had never actually looked at the bench he sat on every day, thinking of it as a thing with a name. It was just something hard he sat on. Now he could not stop looking.
Not only could he not comprehend the words, but the bench was something utterly alien as well. What was it? Tentatively, he reached out and gripped the backrest, then pulled away from its cool, sticky surface, wiping his hand absently on his white shirt, leaving a crimson stain. Martin did not notice the manager of the bookstore looking at him from the door, nor the woman behind him trying to decide if she should attempt to get by him or not. He did not notice anything but the bench with his handprint on it, and could not stop wondering why it existed. The only thing clear in the quickly forming fog invading his mind was that he would not be getting back to work.
John Meza writes poems -- and builds bridges. Most Sundays he helps feed the homeless people in Artesian Park in Corpus Christi. He believes in tacos, not bombs. A powerful speaker, he often reads his work at open mics and other events.
I once wrote a poem
On a pillar
Beneath a bridge
In Bishop, Texas
By dipping my finger
In mud repeatedly
As a pen
It was about a star
On my tongue
Throat of comets
And how I danced
To save my soul
Erased it a week later
At the time
The poem and I
By One Deep
Copyright John Meza
John Meza adds, "This is a true story about a poem I wrote on a pillar beneath a bridge, with mud as ink. It happened in November of 2016 in Bishop Texas when I was building bridges there, on hwy 77. I never wrote the poem down, other than on the pillar that day, but remember it was an amazing feeling when I wrote it, knowing it would be washed away.
copyright John Meza
I asked her why
She was coloring
There was a
Picture of Jesus
I told her
The burnt sienna
No one ever uses
The burnt sienna
I walked across
Of colonial blood
From a land
With an American
Coup d etat
To a forgotten God
When I arrived
At the border
I pressed myself
Against the wall
Trying to knock it down
With the beating
Of my heart
By One Deep
copyright John Meza
John Meza writes poetry and builds bridges. Photo by John Meza. MORE POETRY BY JOHN MEZA
A city beating
In the dark
Bleeding on each other
A city of stone and sea
Wake the dawn
From a 200 foot tower
I speak to you
With textured words
Are beneath your feet
She was given bad directions
Take a left
At the nicotine stain
Towards creatures devouring
It is dawn
A lazy-eyed girl
In rainbow stockings
Is chasing beautiful shadows
Along Shoreline boulevard
I am staring
At a familiar ocean
Drinking coffee, reading Neruda
We are both lost
Waiting on the sun
Brown eyed girl
With a rose tattoo
Plump like peaches
Late summer orchard hips
Do you always write poetry
In a bar?
No, sometimes I write
In the dark, as I sleep
Other times I write
On the beach at sunrise
I write about brown eyed
Girls with rose tattoos
And plump hips like
Late summer peaches
Can I buy you a drink?
By One Deep
Jon Gregory worked for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 18 years. His poems, short stories and essays have been published in The American Dissident, The Dallas Review, Contexas, The DFW Poetry Review, the Austin International Poetry Festival's annual anthology, in Map of Austin Poetry e-zine, and elsewhere. He has a B.A. from Texas Lutheran University, where he won two short-story prizes from the English department and was associate editor of the literary magazine; and an M.A. from Corpus Christi State University (now Texas A&M-CC).
They're sending up a press release
On the Minister of Pleasure --
The boxing days of Nebraska
Are over on this island.
We are adrift with no compass,
The world in sweet reverse gear,
And logic a luxury we can ill afford.
I would sing of the death of reason
As if it ever really lived,
But I can't make sense of the melody.
As my cool, efficient car
Cut a metal swath
Through a brisk night
Of early spring,
I saw a muscled mastiff,
A strong, joyful machine,
Dart across the road
And narrowly out of peril.
Suddenly I saw his mate,
A virtual clone,
Eyes dazed and gleaming
With the pleasure of the chase.
I dared not stop
To see the living
Complete the race alone.
I'd slept most of the day away
And suddenly found myself atop
My roof, inspecting a metal screen
Held onto the chimney top by three bricks.
The business wasn't interesting.
But a rapidly changing tree
In a neighbor's yard was
Turning red, setting off the yellow
Of our backyard trees.
And I suddenly felt like it
Was worth it to have lived this long.
Standing atop my house like a king.
John Swinburn called Corpus Christi home from the time he was five years old until he graduated from Richard King High School in 1972. More about John at the end of this section.
Early that morning, at daybreak, a shallow, nearly opaque layer of water-hugging mist flowed in through the quiet marina. Faith watched it roll in, a slow-motion wave of dense wax sliding in from the open water. It was an odd fog bank, low and creamy, just a few feet above the surface. The masts and decks of boats in the marina were visible, but everything below deck remained hidden. That impenetrable layer of light grey concealed the boardwalk, too, leaving only an orderly cluster of boats rising from a dull, fictile grey cloud.
No one would be foolish enough to venture out in that fog, Faith reasoned, so she thought she could safely assume hers would be the only boat on the open water. She could see the lights of only one other boat. She slogged through the knee-high cloud along the wooden planks between the slips, blind to the boardwalk, so she judged her position by staying equidistant from the boats on either side, safely away from the dock’s edge.
On a clear day, the loud chatter of seagulls would have broken the stillness of the early morning air. Small flocks of pelicans would have glided a few feet above the surface of the water in search of breakfast. The air would have been heavy with the scent of salt water and seaweed. But on this foggy morning, the birds were waiting for better visibility. Silence enshrouded the boats and the marina and beyond, where open water slept beneath a heavy veil. The sweet aromas of salt and fish filled Faith’s nostrils, though the fog muted those scents of the sea.
Until she had moved to the island a decade earlier, Faith had never set foot on a sailboat. In ten years’ time, though, she had become an accomplished sailor, learning much of what she knew by watching other people sail, reading, and watching YouTube videos. Repetition of the sailor’s art, too, contributed to her skills and built her into a strong and powerful mariner. Open water represented liberty to Faith, freedom from the stifling regimens she associated with life back on the U.S. mainland, the boredom she had so loathed that she had abandoned it, at age forty-six, for the island life.
Her boat’s slip was at the far end of the marina, the very last one on the northwest side.
As she climbed aboard Norteña, her 28-foot Catalina, she heard a voice. “Miss! Miss! You goin’ out now? Too much fog, Miss! Better wait.”
She couldn’t see him, but she recognized the voice as Lucius Labade, the de facto manager of the marina who possessed neither the official title nor salary that would normally accompany the role.
“Hi, Lucius! Nobody else is going to be out in this fog. I’ll be careful!”
“Oh, Miss, you never know ‘bout that water. Better safe, Miss. Better safe. I think you wait until fog lifts, okay?” His voice was closer now, but she still couldn’t see him.
“I appreciate your concern, Lucius, I really do. But I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.”
Suddenly, the little man appeared in front of her, his face directly in front of and level with her breasts.
“Miss, please listen; wait just awhile, okay?”
His hot breath, which she felt through the mesh fabric of her bikini top, startled her. He was just inches away, close enough that he had to raise his eyes and tilt his head to see her face.
“Lucius, you know I’m not going to wait, don’t you? I promise, I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, Miss, I know you one hard-headed woman. I wish you listen to Lucius this time. This fog not like normal. This too thick.”
“You’re a sweet old man, Lucius. I love you for worrying about me! I’m going to be just fine. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Lucius, at sixty-four, was not much older than Faith. Sixty-four years of salt water and sun had stolen the youth from his skin, replacing it with ragged ancient leather and black dots, lesions of unknown but apparently benign origin.
Faith stood in stark contrast to the island native. Her toned body commanded hungry stares from men. Their undisguised lust was the only truly unpleasant aspect of island life. Though rarely did any of them continue making overtures once rebuffed, they did not hide their lechery. That open display reminded Faith of her ex-husband’s unrestrained carnal desire—for her in the early years of their marriage and for anyone else younger and firmer in its waning years.
Lucius acknowledged defeat. “Okay, Miss, but promise be careful. And when you back you tell me, okay?”
“Yes, Lucius, I’ll let you know when I get back. I’ve got my radio with me, too, so if I need help, you’ll hear me calling.”
Faith untied Norteña, coaxed the diesel motor to life, and maneuvered her out of the slip toward open water. Until she could catch a breath of wind, the diesel would be the Catalina’s only power.
Lucius stood, his eyes fixed on her boat, as Norteña slid almost silently away from the marina, the diesel barely growling as it thrust the boat forward. He continued watching until the vessel became a speck in the distance. As he turned his gaze away from the disappearing boat, Lucius noticed another craft slowly move out from the far end of the marina, the only other slip with a light. He squinted to see which boat it was, but it was too far away. He walked in the direction of the slip from which the boat had come. Finally, he determined that the light belonged to the empty slip for Abrázame, a boat owned by a relative newcomer to the island, Drake Pool.
Lucius had overheard Pool making a pass at Faith. Pool, who was in his sixties, thought of himself as a lady’s man. During the two months he had been on the island, he had been involved in several unfortunate incidents in which his “dates” had abruptly left his company after, according to their reports, Drake had groped them. Faith had been one of the women Pool attempted to seduce. Lucius remembered what happened.
“I have no interest in, nor patience for, men like you,” she had said to Pool after he suggested, during a party at the island mayor’s home, that they retire to an empty bedroom. Unwilling to accept her response at face value, Pool continued his pursuit.
“Listen, honey, you know and I know there’s a shortage of men like me on this island and you already know I find you attractive. Do us both a favor and dispense with the obligatory objections because, you know, I don’t take no for an answer.”
Faith’s eyes flashed and a brilliant red fireball ignited her cheeks. “Your conceit is astonishing, especially in light of the fact that neither your intellect nor your looks are doing you any favors. I am absolutely delighted there are no other men like you on this island, because we islanders loathe dealing with trash! Now, you will take no for an answer, Mr. Pool, and if I must give you that answer again, you will regret moving to this island! Do I make myself clear?”
Pool smirked. “Oh, yes ma’am. I know exactly what you’re saying. Enjoy the rest of the parry, uh, I mean party.”
Lucius hadn’t heard the entire exchange, but he had been at the party and heard enough of the words and the way they were exchanged to know of Faith’s displeasure with Pool. Lucius hadn’t liked Pool from the moment he met the man. Pool had always been mean to Lucius, talking down to him, belittling him. Lucius glanced back at the slip where Faith’s boat had been, then turned again toward Pool’s empty slip.
“Best see about this,” he muttered, his brow furrowing. He looked toward the slip that held his own boat. At first, his movements were measured and slow, but as he continued along the boardwalk, he picked up speed. By the time he reached the section of the docks where his boat was moored, his pace was as close to a run as his old body could do.
“Dammit, this not good, I just know is not good!” he said aloud. He unwound the ropes from the cleats on the port and starboard sides of his boat, both stern and bow, then pushed away from the dock with a long pole. His little boat, half the size of Faith’s, drifted a few feet into the pea soup fog; he started his electric trolling motor and steered the craft around the protective jetty and into open water, following the disrupted fog bank like a river.
Twenty minutes later, Lucius began to see signs that the fog was lifting, or perhaps simply melting into the surf. The morning sun was high enough to burn off the top of the bank. A light breeze, the sun’s gift every morning when air began to warm, blew away the remnants of the fog is short order.
Though he welcomed the breeze, Lucius wasn’t happy that the disrupted fog, which had left a bread-crumb trail to follow Pool, evaporated. The only way to follow him would be by sight. He pulled a pair of binoculars from a tray beneath the wheel and scanned the horizon in front of him. Initially, he could see nothing but sky and water, but after another scan he saw something that looked the size of a gnat, a mile or two in front of him. He steadied the binoculars against a wooden brace and looked intently at the gnat.
“Both of ‘em; they both way in front of me.”
Lucius hoisted a single sail and set out in the direction of the gnats on the horizon as fast as the sluggish breeze would take him. Though he knew it probably wouldn’t help, he kept the trolling motor going full blast, as well.
He was surprised that he caught up to the two boats as quickly as he did; in less than forty-five minutes, he was within shouting distance of both vessels, neither of which was under sail. As he neared the two boats, he saw Pool drop anchor. From Norteña, Faith, whose boat was already at anchor, also watched Pool.
When Lucius was just a few hundred feet from the two boats, Pool turned toward him and scowled at his approach.
“Hey, Lucie, what are you doing out here?”
Faith turned in Lucius’ direction, a quizzical look on her face.
“I came to make sure everybody okay; fog bank really bad and could come back. You go back in now, yes?”
“Lucius, don’t you worry about us, we’ll be fine. Mr. Pool seems to want to spend a little time out on the open water with me.” Faith’s smile suggested to Lucius that she was, indeed, fine.
Pool glared at Lucius. “Yeah, Lucie, you don’t need to worry. Go on back to the island. We’ll be fine. We just need a little privacy out here, you know?”
Lucius looked at Pool’s smirk, then at Faith. “You sure? Miss, better if you go back now, okay?”
Pool’s face turned red. “Listen, goddamn it! Get the hell out of here, Lucie! Got it? We want some privacy!”
Lucius looked at Faith again, a deep wrinkle in his brow and his head cocked in disbelief.
“Miss? You sure?”
“Lucius, you’re a sweetheart, but I’ll be fine! I really appreciate you coming all this way, but I’m just fine. I just want a little time with Mr. Pool, away from the prying eyes of the islanders, okay? And, please, let’s keep this between us, all right? No need to start the gossip mill.”
Pool sneered at Lucius. “Go on, Lucie! You heard the lady!”
Lucius started to open his mouth, but clinched his jaw, instead, and began to maneuver his boat away from the two at anchor. As he departed, he shouted back to Faith: “Miss, you tell me when you back, okay?”
“I will, sweetheart! Don’t worry.”
Lucius looked back again. When he saw Faith in the water, swimming toward Pool’s boat, he grimaced. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.
Three hours later, when he saw Norteña come around the jetty, Lucius hurried toward Faith’s boat slip. He waited as she approached the dock, waving at her as she coaxed the boat into the slip.
“I so glad you back, Miss!” he shouted. “I was afraid for you out there with Mr. Pool. You okay?”
“Of course, I’m fine, Lucius. You’re so precious to have worried.”
“I don’t see Mr. Pool boat; he on his way back?”
“Lucius, I asked you if we could keep this to ourselves, right? Can we keep it to ourselves that you saw Pool out there?”
“Yes, Miss, sure. But where is he?”
“You never know what to expect out on open water, especially when you can’t see what’s right in front of you. Lucius, I learned my lesson. I won’t do that again.” She paused and said, “He won’t either.”
Lucius was confused for a moment, but then he began to understand, and the edges of his mouth turned up. She nodded, almost imperceptibly and returned the smile.
“Thank you, Lucius, for looking after me. I’m sorry I sent you away, but I needed to deal with Pool.”
“You my good friend, Miss. Always look after you.”
“And I truly appreciate that, Lucius. Yes, you are my good friend.”
“Mr. Pool not gonna bother you no more.”
“No, Lucius, I don’t think he will,” Faith said, and wrapped her right arm around his shoulders with a squeeze.
copyright John Swinburn
Read more great writing in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
John Swinburn called Corpus Christi home from the time he was five years old until he graduated from Richard King High School in 1972. Corpus Christ was where he developed a framework for understanding the world. He earned his Bachelor of Art’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and eventually formed an association management company with his wife. Since his retirement, Swinburn has used his time to write, relax, and restructure his world view and perspective on life, a work in progress. He and Janine live in the Ouachitas in central Arkansas. Swinburn posts regularly on his blog at www.johnswinburn.com. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he says of his blog. “One day I may use it as a journal, the next as a repository for my fiction or poetry, and the next an outlet for an odd mixture of left-leaning and libertarian political rants.”
Most mornings John Morris heads to the beach with his camera. His writing is every bit as extraordinary as his photos. After reading his writing, take a few minutes to look at his stunning photography.
Castaway - I'm called to the beach seemingly every day...there are exceptions...duty calls...other priorities...stuff happens...but most every morning I can be found on the beach greeting the new day. Some mornings the outcomes seem obvious, splendid colors, light winds, towering clouds, reflections on mirror-like waters...and then there are those mornings where it would seem that there is nothing...but really there is always something...if one only looks...a castaway waiting to be found. Is that not just like our own lives, even on the darkest day, there is color...some small hint that it will be OK if we keep moving...our heart and eyes working in concert...knowing that it is out there...just awaiting our discovery.
Coppertone - Got up this morning with a little bit of lightening in the towering clouds slowly drifting offshore, and thunderstorms to the west...seemed to be a beach day...didn't need the pier as a backdrop with the perfect clouds setting the stage. This was a fun morning to simply watch it unfold, almost no wind, calm surf, and no one on the beach. As I pivoted looking up and down the beach there was so much to see...lots of choices...but when this view started to come together the "coppertone" reflection was too good to ignore...and only one way to get it...wade out and greet the morning.
Life gives us choices...we are put where we need to be...but we still need to decide...do we overthink things to the point where the opportunity is lost...or do we just wade in and do it?
Silent Saturday “Stormy Blues” – A busy day ahead, and a look back at yesterday…one shot up the beach capturing “Coppertones” while 10 minutes earlier the show in the earlier light looking down the beach is the stormy blue of the approaching storms. It is easy to only see things one way…a view that we find comfortable…one that captures our own narrow world view…but maybe if we broaden our perspective there is so much more to see…to seek to understand.
Coastal Colors – One of those special mornings that almost didn’t happen. Usually from my deck in the wee hours of the morning the subtle hints of coastal color emerge…either giving me encouragement to get out…or like this morning, with very little showing I was thinking it was going to be a bust. As I busied myself on other early morning chores, by chance I glimpsed out, and things had changed…so off to the beach I went. When I first arrived, my attention was drawn to the play of light along the shoreline, and the small waves kissing the shoreline…if I could only get it all to come together…those little elements…that make a shot. As the sun peeked over the distant pier, the shoreline and the beach break waves were painted in gold, and then it happened…high above a few pink cotton candy clouds drifted into the shot…completing coastal colors!
Today was one of exceeded expectations, maybe one of those special nudges…when we listen with our heart…we see things we might have missed…had we only looked with our eyes.
Towering Above – As the morning transitioned from the black of night, to the blue hour of dawn, the horizon began to brighten…offering a glimpse of what might come…if only. It seemed that the pier was going to be the spot as I watched a towering cloud, occasionally lit from within by flashes of lightening; though for the shot I had in mind, the cloud had slid too far inland, so a quick adjustment put me at the south jetty, with the cloud towering high above St. Joe Island, casting bands of gold reflecting across the channel highlighting a sportfisher heading towards the horizon in calm seas and light winds…a promise of a new day.
An Early Start – my morning began even earlier than normal…first to the airport to drop my better half off for a trip west, and then heading home…not enough time to make it back to the island…though a stop along the causeway at Billing’s Marina seemed to offer promise. With the wind absent, a mirrored surface to the water, and a skiff sliding silently towards the dock…no doubt a beautiful day was dawning…well worth the early start. I’m lucky, I am naturally an early riser…always waking before first light…greeting the day as it goes from black to blue to golden…those precious few minutes of the best light the day has to offer. I’ll trade the sleep for what these best moments of the morning have to offer us that are up to enjoy it!
Silent Sunday “Rising Above It” – We are back into a pattern of weather that doesn’t always result in easy shots, one with perfect clouds illuminated high above, glorious sunrays and all the rest…but the opportunity is there…if one greets the morning as we all should…one full of the promise of a new day. With not much in the way of early color, it seemed that the pier might be the best option, the lines and contrasts adding interest…if the sun made it through the haze and brought with it some gold. As I went through the morning shots, I was looking for that one “something”…something obvious, or something maybe hidden…just waiting for discovery. That nugget is there…do you see it?
Moonrise – Yesterday evening began to show a little promise, and as always, I have to decide where to go…decisions decisions…subtle clues can be seen in the sky, as the sun goes lower…I aim for the pier…where there was a towering cloud that would light up offshore of the pier. No doubt if it happened it would make for a beautiful shot…but alas the winds high above conspired to push the cloud out of the picture that I imagined. But as the sun was setting, the moon was also rising into the soft blues above a sun painted horizon…marking the end of the day. Often in life our choices are more difficult than deciding where to enjoy a sunset…but sometimes we spend so much time thinking instead of just “doing” that we miss the golden opportunity that was there for the taking…if we just took it.
Silent "Leave only Footprints" - This morning I was drawn south, the farther you go the less evidence of people...you actually don't have to go far...a beach that feels somewhat wild still exists...a beach with sea oats, a naturally contoured beach and dunes, where most of the footprints are those of the nocturnal animals that scurry about the dunes...the hunters and the hunted...leaving only footprints as evidence of their passage. Can we maybe just try a bit harder to avoid leaving our mark wherever we go...tread lightly...be a little more "aware" of our passage and its effect as we cross paths.
Juan Manuel Pérez, a Mexican-American poet of indigenous descent and the past Poet Laureate for Corpus Christi, Texas (2019-2020), is the author of numerous books. He is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Combat Marine Medic with experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the 2nd Marines and the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Marine Air Group Task Force. This two-time Teacher of the Year, along with his wife, Malia (a three-time Teacher of the Year), is a co-founder of The House of the Fighting Chupacabras Press. Currently, Juan worships his Creator, teaches public high school history, writes poetry, and chases chupacabras in the Texas Coastal Bend Area.
Corpus Christi, Texas 2013
O’ pace yourself thy lover, pace yourself
for with my name they have consecrated
tall buildings and beautiful, baseball fields
even pretty shrines where I’m created
O’ pace yourself thy lover, pace yourself
for only I can satisfy hunger
for only I can take you to places
where your empty belly will not monger
O’ pace yourself thy lover, pace yourself
with a Patty Melt, Chocolate Shake, and Fries
or a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit
with Onion Rings and box of Apple Pie
O’ pace yourself thy lover, pace yourself
for there is much more of me to enjoy
John 16:33 NLT
"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world."
City of some of my very first
dreams and memories
City of my sibling’s birth
and plenty of other relatives
City of most of my parents’ habits,
haunts, and shopping activities
Oh, how I grew to learn
your impact on my family
City of my small-time hangouts
and cruising down Getty and Main
City of the Purple Sage Dance Hall
and pretty, Saturday night chances
City of my athletic exhibition
and my college prep life
Oh, how I thrived within you,
Oh, beautiful city of the green trees
City of some first poetic endeavors
and part of my early writings
City of my initial
and accidental teaching career
City of many friends and relatives
and now my grandson’s place of birth
Oh, how I celebrated within you
in blissful happiness
Now, a city of victimized darkness
and too many innocent dead
Oh, how I weep for you in deep desperation and inconsolable sorrow
Outside Alice High School Facing The Cemetery,
January 11, 2018
fully past the fall
in the winter of it all
Alice winds whistle
winds by this and that
playing tag among the graves
winds yet not as cold
resets the season once more
dead, the leaves that fall
dry ground willingly receives
daring nature’s call
small the steps to take
smile so that it may last long
sing along with winds
by the cool, hard steps
made by man, not by nature
reminds me to enjoy life
wind touching my face
At Texas A&M Kingsville
February 15, 2019
out in the open
birds singing in the bright sun
winter in Kingsville
smooth breeze parts the nice silence
what winter is like
this far south of my Texas
short sleeves and short shorts
classes must run on spring-time
while cold in New York
“bees don’t speak English!”
said to the guy fighting with one
hunger speaks louder
stretched-thin yoga pants
is this the right place for you?
…what was I saying?
truly it is all inside
God is Good! God is Great! God is Awesome!
Ladies, Gentlemen, Public School Teachers,
Wise Professors, Students of Poetry,
PHD Carrying Wal Mart Leaders,
Great Citizens of Nueces County,
All of you present here this very night
A man once said, “Come to Corpus Christi.
I will put you and your words on display
Among those I know here in this city.”
So eventually I came to this coast
Tonight, I am tasked to introduce him
I say of him, as Kirk would say of Spock,
“Of all the souls I've encountered on my
travels, his was the most...human.” Indeed
“But good words; that’s where ideas begin. …
Maybe you should listen to them,” I did
A greater poet among great poets
Grand enabler of versification
Facilitator of bards yet to be
The soul of Shakespeare in this century
Grand things and much more can be thought of him
But he will play it off as nothing said
For in this façade of a common man
Rages the poet against his machines
Like Scotty working poetic engines
Expecting finesse in understanding
All the right words in all the right phases
Going where poems have never gone before
That is this man, my friend, and my brother
Kindred poet of a different mother
I do love him, but this is no love poem
These are verses of honor, gratitude
Celebration of this prize of passage
For the best and first among us all here
Despite my rants of ethnic brown issues
Obvious tortilla alliterations
Chupacabras and pesky wall builders
Our bond has become stronger through the years
Yet we are the same despite differences
Like our love for great women and monkeys
For Mexican food, football, and cold beer
For soda pop, polkas, and poetry
With reason, I say these words to you now
In some fear that you might never hear them
One day we will be only memory
To this end, the poet is duly cursed
Yet our words left behind will outweigh us
Fulfilling needs of many who read us
Don’t bother to grieve, it is logical,
Like flowers: here today, gone tomorrow
Yet crafted words remain printed in books
Choose the right ones to say and take the rest
For now we revel in celebration
As we partake in this, a great honor
This city’s very first Poet Laureate
What a wonderful thing it is to witness
And with that I close as I remind you:
I have been and always shall be your friend.
John Kemmerly grew up in South Louisiana, worked in restaurants, sold real estate, and owned a secondhand bookstore in Galveston, Texas. He has published in Psychology Today magazine, Modern Dog magazine, and others. Currently, he lives near Rockport, Texas.
Various accounts of Ernest Hemingway’s visit to Port Aransas still linger on the Island. Some are credible, some not. We know that he showed up here July 20th, 1957, with his friend Arnold Samuelson. Arnold was a young aspiring writer who had hitchhiked and ridden boxcars to Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida, to, as he later wrote, “Learn from the best damn writer there ever was.” The two men hit it off, and after a few months of fishing in Key West, they took the boat to Port A.
They made the 850 nautical mile trip on Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar. The Pilar was a 38-foot sports fisherman that Hemingway modified by lowering the transom twelve inches and adding a wooden roller to help with landing large fish. They docked at Fisherman’s Wharf on a Saturday afternoon without notifying the press or anyone else; however the word of his arrival quickly spread throughout the Island. Locals gathered around the famous author to ask questions, shake his hand, and take pictures. Hemingway, they said, was patient enough but soon started looking for a fight. Not a real fight but rather a boxing match, an event, he announced, to stir up a little excitement. Several opponents were discussed along with size and speed, and most importantly, who would be brave enough to actually fight the great man.
Locals soon agreed on Big Nate, a black deckhand who worked on the Scat Cat and was rumored to be the toughest man on the Island. Nate had grown up in Galveston, Texas, the hometown of the first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson. He had been friends with Mr. Johnson and watched him fight in battle royals, which were illegal and dangerous but lucrative for both the promoter and the winner. At the Galveston City Docks, behind rows of warehouses, they would sink four posts in the ground and loop ropes around it. Then, anywhere from four to eight black men would step into the ring blindfolded and punch it out until only one was left standing.
Nate had never fought in a battle royal but had done his share of fighting around the wharves of Port Aransas. Not only was he brave, but he also had a sense of humor and often repeated a story about the world champion. He and Jack Johnson, along with two of Johnson’s girlfriends, were driving to Florida on vacation. The two women sat up front with Jack in his Cadillac convertible. It was spring and the top was down. Jack wore a maroon mink coat and sped through Alabama at ninety miles an hour. A deputy pulled him over for speeding, and Nate, according to the story he told, heard the deputy talking about a fifty dollar fine. This was back when a hamburger cost ten cents, a chocolate malt a nickel. Johnson didn’t seem upset by the deputy’s outrageous demand. Nate assumed Mr. Johnson had simply misheard the amount.
Johnson opened his glove box to look for some cash, while the deputy waited at the side of the road, a smirk on his face. All Jack could find were stacks of hundreds, the payment from a recent fight. He rifled through his stack, looking for something smaller, and ended up giving the deputy a crisp new hundred dollar bill. At first he was too shocked to respond. He had never seen a hundred dollar bill before and tried to explain that he couldn’t possibly make change nor did he know anyone else who could. Jack listened patiently and buttoned up his mink coat before telling the officer, “Keep it all. I’ll be coming back the same way.”
Beer at Shorty’s
Hemingway and his friend Arnold hung around the dock, meeting locals. The Scat Cat was still out in the Gulf and wouldn’t return until late afternoon, so Hemingway asked about a bar, said he’d satisfy his thirst before taking on Big Nate. A throng of fishermen led him to Shorty’s, where they gathered together on the porch and introduced Ernest to Miss Rose, the owner. Miss Rose was an attractive, well-respected woman, who had declined the attentions of most of the men in Port Aransas. People wondered if things would be different for the great writer, if he’d have better luck.
The bartender served beer as fast as he could open them, while Miss Rose stayed busy icing down more bottles. Mr. Hemingway wanted to know about the local fishing, specifically marlin and sailfish. The men discussed baits and blue water along with various fishing techniques and state records.
“Do fish hear?” one of the locals asked.
This started a big debate with everyone weighing in on the argument. Miss Rose watched as the debate grew louder. Many of the fishermen still wore fillet knives on their belt, something Miss Rose didn’t allow inside her bar. At this point though, she was more concerned with serving her customers.
“Fish cannot hear a lick. They only feel vibrations,” someone said.
“Of course they can hear,” a local boat captain announced. “You rev your engines or bang the surface with a paddle and the Ling come to the surface.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” the man argued, “vibrations not sound.”
Hemingway ordered another beer and settled the argument. “Both men are correct,” he announced. “Fish can hear sounds surprisingly well, which are nothing more than vibrations moving through the water. Yet most fish are not attracted to noise. Here’s what I mean, and I learned this from paying attention to my own mistakes. How many of you have ever raised a billfish, had the great fish take a look around and then back off?”
“It happened this morning,” a man leaning against the railing said.
“Ralph, your baits ain’t purdy enough,” someone called out, spawning laughter.
“Were your baits fresh and riding right?” Hemingway asked.
“Sure they were.”
“And yet the billfish somehow figured out the game?”
The man nodded his head in agreement.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” Hemingway explained. “Your crew probably yelled ‘fish up,’ or maybe someone rushed across the deck stomping too hard. Both will scare off a smart fish.”
At some point Ernest grew bored with the conversation and began looking for someone to match his skills at a game of billiards. He called over a man wearing white shrimp boots. “Young man,” he said, “how’s your pool game?”
The shrimper responded confidently, “Sir, I was conceived on that pool table.”
Ernest hesitated and took a closer look at him. “Son?” he asked.
The guy paused … “Dad?”
Ernest sprung from his bar stool and hugged the young man. It was a happy occasion for everyone until Miss Rose, who was cracking block ice with a wooden mallet, looked up and said, “No, I think not.”
Mr. Hemingway laughed it off while keeping an affectionate eye on Miss Rose, whispering an occasional devotion in her ear.
Advice to Writers
Big Nate was fishing offshore totally unaware that Ernest Hemingway would be waiting for him at the dock.
“Sir,” one of the fishermen asked Ernest, “I write every day, but who should I read to improve my writing, other than you of course?”
“Read everyone,” Hemingway told him, “so you know who you have to beat. But don’t try to beat Shakespeare. He’s unbeatable.”
On the trip over from Key West, sitting beside the master, Arnold had received plenty of good writing advice. He was careful to remember everything Hemingway told him: “Write what you know, and don’t write anything before you know it. Only write the tip of the iceberg and leave the rest underwater … For me, I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of junk, then I throw away the junk.”
Ernest wanted a Papa Doble like the ones he’d had at the Floridita in Havana. Someone suggested they all go next door to The Flats Lounge. Inside the bar, Hemingway surveyed the large dark room and decided to lead his entourage to the rear corner. He introduced himself to the bartender Howie and asked about the drink from Cuba. “A Papa Doble. Do you know it?”
Back then, Howie was, without argument, the best bartender on the Island. While making Hemingway’s signature drink, he quoted the recipe. “Two shots of Bacardi rum. Half a lime. Splash of grapefruit juice and six drops of marasca cherry liqueur. Blend it with shaved ice and serve it with a head of seafoam.”
Ernest was pleased. He respected any man who took his job seriously and excelled in his craft. “Weren’t you a bartender on South Padre Island?” Hemingway asked.
“Yes sir,” Howie answered.
“I think you knew my granddaughter, Mariel.”
“It was a good time and I met a lot of people back then,” Howie said.
Hemingway tilted back his Papa Doble. “I’m not upset with you, young man, just asking.”
“Yes sir, I knew her well.”
The Big Fight
Big Nate would return to the dock soon, so after another round of drinks, Hemingway and his entourage went to go find him. At the dock, men carried boxes of fresh caught fish from the boat to the oyster shell parking lot where a large sign read, “Port Aransas, Fishing Capitol of Texas.” Deckhands hung fish from the sign. Tourists from the Scat Cat stood next to their catch, while someone from the newspaper took pictures.
Hemingway, along with his new friends, entered the parking lot to find Nate. And there he was, a large muscled black man in a white T-shirt splattered with fish blood. Nate grabbed a king mackerel with one hand and spiked it on a nail. “Let the man finish his work,” Hemingway said, but it was too late. People rushed over with the proposition. Nate looked over at Ernest, giving him a hard study before saying, “I ain’t gonna beat up no old white man.”
Nevertheless, Ernest and Nate were soon introduced. “It will just be an exhibition match, some entertainment for the locals,” Ernest told him.
Once the fight was agreed to, a kid on a bike went racing through Old Town yelling the news to people sitting on their porches. They came from all directions to gather around the bait stand at Fisherman’s Wharf. Some were drinking beer, others were placing bets. When no one could find two pairs of boxing gloves, just one oversized glove with dry rot leather, someone suggested rags. “We could wrap their fists up with some oil rags.”
Ernest and Nate discussed it and decided yes, rags would be okay. While their hands were being carefully wrapped, someone found a brass bell behind the net maker’s garage. After a discussion, the Postmaster was nominated as the official the timekeeper. A shirtless man in overalls used a hoe to scrape a square boundary in the oyster shells. “You all can do your fighting here.”
Ernest wore short pants and deck shoes. Nate wore what he had on, jeans and a bloody t-shirt.
The bell sounded and the two men circled each other. Nate threw a jab that didn’t reach its target. Ernest tossed a bomb, a big right hand as if he intended to end the fight right there, but Nate was quick and ducked out of the way. Various onlookers called out instructions to the fighters. “Nate, counter with a left hook!” … “Come on Hem, throw another big right!”
Nate landed the first solid punch, a quick jab to the forehead, but while Nate was in close, Hemingway stepped in even closer and dug a left fist into Nate’s ribs. Shock and pain folded his face into a grimace, but he quickly brushed off the blow and stayed in there, throwing body shots of his own. When round one ended, both men were breathing hard, dripping sweat. Ernest called out for a beer and searched the crowd for Miss Rose.
In the next round, Nate danced from one side to the other, trying to circle his opponent and tire him out. Ernest pivoted left and then right, always staying directly in front of Big Nate. As the seconds ticked off, punches were landed by both men, but Ernest’s punches seemed to do the most damage, sending a trickle of blood dripping from Nate’s chin. When the round ended, Ernest announced he would go one more. Arnold used a towel to wipe sweat from his face. Someone gave him a swig from a bottle of brandy.
The bell rang for round three. Nate started landing his quick jab, frustrating Ernest, who wasn’t always fast enough to block it or get out of the way. He was getting tired, too, clinging on to Nate for an occasional rest. Near the end of the round, Ernest found the strength to rock his opponent with a left hook to the chin. Nate staggered backward. It looked like Ernest was about to move in and finish him off, but the bell sounded and the fight was over.
The crowd cheered for the fighters. Ernest lifted Nate’s hand declaring the fight a draw. People clapped and whistled, while the two men hugged and congratulated each other. Earnest unwrapped the rags from his fists and slipped some money into Nate’s pocket, thanking him for a brave and fair fight.
Everything in Texas
Miss Rose and her bartenders were ready for the rush, having spent the past hour icing beer, refilling bowls with peanuts, jars with pickled eggs.
“We appreciate the business,” Miss Rose told Ernest.
“Not a problem,” He said, and leaned forward to ask something in private. Miss Rose only smiled without offering a satisfactory answer. Later, Islanders would speculate about this brief exchange. Had she rejected him? Miss Rose went on to live a long and successful life, and even though she was often pressured, she never betrayed the confidence of Earnest Hemingway.
Historians speculated about Miss Rose and what would have happened if she had become his fifth wife. Scholars say that his greatest novels were inspired by new found love, and that Hemingway sought out a new woman each time his writing powers waned. Miss Rose, at the time, had her hands full running three bars and apparently was not charmed by the author’s attention. So when Hemingway failed to produce a final novel before he died, some scholars held Miss Rose responsible, claiming “That woman had no sense of history.”
Arnold Samuelson wouldn’t write much either after this. In spite of having the best mentor money could buy, he never found his voice as a writer. It was sad when, late in life, melancholia overwhelmed him. He isolated himself from friends and family and pretty much lost his mind, sitting naked in his front yard unwilling to communicate. His daughter said he had become stuck in the past, trapped with his memories of Ernest Hemingway.
They had stayed in Port Aransas for a week, Ernest and Arnold, fishing every morning, drinking every afternoon, but they never went back to Shorty’s. On the return trip to Key West, they were standing on the flybridge looking out over the Gulf of Mexico when Arnold asked, “What about Miss Rose? What happened?”
Hemingway paused for a moment before answering, “Everything in Texas either bites, sticks, stings, or breaks your heart.”
Who is Johnny Jebsen, and why does he keep emailing me?
I dropped off the end of the social media after short-circuiting on the outrageous political pall. We are seeing why Socrates was pessimistic about democracy. The tower of Babylon: Genesis 11.7, let us go down and confuse their language. We have become lost. LOUDNESS. We need to keep in mind that, politically speaking, we are actually being titrated by LOUD PEOPLE; hence questions like What is LOUD in our world? Interesting for example that merely typing LOUD in caps denotes being loud. Food can be LOUD and colors can be LOUD. What does it mean to be LOUD in people? How are people LOUD? What is clear proof on the importance and recent appearance of LOUD?
My memorable remnants are few. Not so much for my lack of mental capacity but for the small and focused nature of my background.
As a 4 month old child I was left at the door step of a Monastery; hence, parent-less, without a history I was -- though I had never known it -- turned over to Monastery of the Order of Sanctus Sicario, or what is the Holy Assassins of the Holy Catholic Church.
That no history exists, that nothing has been recorded precludes not that it ever doubtfully existed, but that we were so well hidden.
I dropped off the end of the social media after short-circuiting on the outrageous political pall. We are seeing why Socrates was pessimistic about democracy. We may be physically overruled by a ship of fools.
The tower of Babylon: Genesis 11.7, let us go down and confuse their language.
We have become lost.
LOUDNESS. We need to keep in mind that, politically speaking, we are actually being titrated by LOUD PEOPLE; hence questions like What is LOUD in our world? Interesting for example that merely typing LOUD in caps denotes being loud. Food can be LOUD and colors can be LOUD. What does it mean to be LOUD in people? How are people LOUD? What is clear proof on the importance and recent appearance of LOUD?
Here now is my story.
I drive to work in the long line of bumper to bumper traffic with other suburbanites of lesser neighborhoods making their way to work. Real Floridians love Jesus and kitsch but don't eat quiche. Real men love their guns, always sure to stroke it clean and keep it oiled. They imagine themselves "going in" and shooting "foreign invaders," too.
"Where is the sense of things?" I often asked my radio, but the radio never offered solution. It only talked.
There are few things that make sense in the world, and one of them is just being with the ones you love.
If you want to understand Florida, you have to first accept that anyone who lives in Florida is not from Florida. You're either old and running for a tax shelter or you're running away from something you didn't like. We're all castaways here.
We're all pirates of some sort. Canadians and New York Jews abound -- a contact zone of cultures, Pittsburgh and New Jersey settlements. Lots of trailer parks fly Canadian flags.
Yeah. All pirates here! Here in Florida, they call me Papillon.
copyright Johnny Jebsen
A retired physician, John Pettigrove has been fishing all his life. His book Run of the Tide will be available in 2023.
Excerpt from Run of the Tide
Two hundred years ago, native peoples along the Texas Gulf Coast were known as Karankawa or “Karankaway.” They were said to be a barbarous people and were widely feared by early Texas settlers. They were barbarous, yes, but they lived as one with nature. Few other men had the strength to even string a Karankawa bow. Old-time settlers recounted seeing Karankawa hunters gliding silently through the water hunting for Redfish and Black Drum, sensing the fish in the water just from the vibrations and sounds they made on the flats.
They had lived and hunted on the Gulf coast for hundreds if not thousands of years before the Europeans came. They loved their lives and wanted no other. Modernity damned them for this. Now they are gone. But the Karankawa’s passion lives within us. What was once their passion has become ours, and through our lives, they live again on their beloved bays and flats.
Sight fishing is hunting in a most ancient and primitive way. It is an aesthetic experience that unites us with that spirit of human existence as it was lived millennia ago. It is a mystery that puts us in touch with people long gone from this earth and allows us to see the world as it once might have been. There is purity and innocence about angling. Long dormant passions awaken in us, and we become at once exhilarated and united with some distant past.
Modernity denies the relevance of such experience. Since the nineteen fifties, scientists say we have been living in a new geologic epoch called the Anthropocene, where geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activity. The world is changing rapidly, some say irrevocably. Angling gives us the experience of seeing the world as it once was.
What we now call Texas was once just a blank spot on a map at the limits of the known world. It was one of the dark places of the Earth inhabited by a fierce race, just as ancient Britain and Europe were when my ancestors haunted the Roman frontier.
The Spaniards and early settlers had little regard for the coastal tribes. They considered them savage cannibals who danced in fiery fandangos or sulked in the dunes, inspiring fear and dread. The Karankawa, the Copane, the Malaquite, and the Aranama from which so many of our bays and estuaries take their name are long gone from this country.
We don’t know much about those early native coastal people. We can only guess about the millennia between the last great ice age and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the first Europeans began arriving. Cabeza de Vaca’s account of his shipwreck on the Texas Coast during the early sixteenth century is one of very few extant records of the Texas coastal tribes at the time of the Spanish conquest. While great material cultures arose in the Valley of Mexico and in the Yucatan, it would seem that life along the Texas Coast had not changed from the earliest prehistoric times. But with the coming of the Europeans, everything changed. Even before most Native Americans ever saw a European, the white man’s diseases decimated them. Early mariners and the conquistadors themselves imported savage epidemics among people who had no immunity to even measles, let alone the dreaded smallpox.
My childhood was full of wonder and mystery. My sister said my grandmother was of the Delaware (Lenne Lenape) tribe. Her daughter ,Sarah, held an equally strong opinion. She said her mother was crazy and so was I to believe her. My sister is long dead and only has me to stand up for her.
We grew up in Indian country in northeast Oklahoma where the last of the great Algonquin nations were settled by the federal government.
Lenne Lenape literally means “We the People”. The Delaware are recognized as the oldest of all the Algonquin tribes by the Iroquois. The Iroquois was a confederation of tribes including the Seneca, the Cayuga, Wyandotte and others. Many these native Americans were eventually settled in Oklahoma.
A friend, Jim Winnie, was a Seneca-Cayuga. I also had friends among the Osage, and of course Delaware.  The structure of that old Iroquois confederation was an inspiration to the framers of our Constitution.
Like some of my stories this one is fiction based on true stories that happened while I was young.
The ceremonial drum no longer speaks.
Many winters have passed since the thunder spirits have been called with reverent song.
The thunders, who are the Manitoo that bring the rain which they have been given dominion over by the Creator,
await the chants of the People.
But the people no longer sing and dance to the traditional songs, and the sacred drums no longer pound to the pulse of the People.
The Big Ceremonial House of the
the Lenne Lenape, has burned and fallen. The timbers rot. The sacred poles long ago carried away.
Now birds sing in the meadow where once the people danced. At dusk the whitetail deer cautiously feed on the sweet grass where once the Sachem stood.
The Sacred Drum is silent.
Who speaks for the People now?
There is no history and no remembrance. All is shame and the past forgotten.
The structure of the Iroquois Confederation was an inspiration to the framers of our constitution.
A few miles from my home a tributary of the Caney River called Panther Creek flows into the Caney, River. Across the creek there was a swing bridge to service an old oil field pump house. Just beyond the swing bridge a faint trail cuts through the underbrush to an open pasture where the Delaware Ceremonial Big House once stood.
Not far, perhaps two hundred paces, a rail trestle crosses the creek and the track winds its way cross country to the small town of Pawhuska thirty or so mile distant.
That pump house thumps to a drum like cadence as it drives the tie rods back and forth through the sweet grass. The creaking and singing of the tie rods gives the place a creepy feeling especially at night. It was not enough that the big house was once there; the sounds of the pumping, the smell of the crude oil and the pungent odor of decaying timbers gave the place a sense of fearsome dread.
My grandfather came to the Indian Territory from New Brunswick by way of Montana where his father spent a life in desperation tending to a failing farm. My sister’s story is that my grandmother was part Delaware Indian. My grand mother’s death was a mystery when my dad was only four. My grandfather soon remarried and tended to his oil leases in Osage County. All I knew about my father’s family were terrible stories of pain and regret.
There were other stories. In my home town. Pistol Pete, the old gunfighter, was still living when I was a boy. He was nearly one hundred years old. Frank Eaton was his name. He held court outside the Burlingame Hotel barber shop in Bartlesville, Oklahoma every Saturday. A flock of little listeners held on his very word as he told of the old times and the men he killed. I was one of those.
There were also stories of the Manitoo, the thunder spirits, the Gitche Manitou, (the Great Spirit) and Gush Ke Wau, (the darkness). They were just stories. Few grownups took them seriously. Almost none spoke of spirits in public. Almost all of the red men had become Christians. One of my friend’s dad who was the Delaware tribal financial chairman was also a deacon in the Baptist Church. He later served two terms as the chief of the Delaware. Those old ways were not to be remembered.
I had friends who were Delaware, Seneca, Cayuga, Cherokee, Wyandotte, and Osage. One day a Delaware friend, several other boys and I visited his uncle who still practiced the old beliefs. He told us many stories. We asked my friend’s father about those stories. I remember his dad took off his belt and started to whip the whole bunch if us. Those days were best forgotten!
But there were still stories and those stories lived. The Manitoo spirits still lived silently in the hearts of many. The timber along Panther creek and the Caney River below my house was haunted by spirits. The legend was that when you saw the Manitoo you saw yourself.
My friends and I often walked the railroad tracks in the Caney River bottoms to a small oxbow lake we liked to fish. My mom’s housekeeper had showed us that lake. We would catch catfish and crappie there and if she were along she would cook them up with fried potatoes on the shoreline.
One day there was a report that two boys had been killed on the Santa Fe railroad tracks near Panther creek’s confluence with the Caney, River.
The boys had been drinking and spotlighting deer on the railroad right of way. They passed out asleep on the tracks. The night train from Tulsa came barreling up the track when the engineer saw something. He blew his horn and the train braked but it was too late.
Spot lighting deer on train tracks was easy sport among the poaching crowd. The pungent smell of crude and decaying foliage masked a hunter’s scent from the game. And the noise of the oil field wheel houses and rattle of the sliding tie rods masked almost all sound even an approaching train.
The boys were brothers and local tough guys. My friend Ronnie, their step brother, was usually brought along to skin the deer and catch a few fish for their lunch. Ronnie had been there the morning of the accident. He was hiding in the brush while his brothers were drinking. His half brother Jack was the worst. He was a bully and a brute. He called Ronnie Rat Face because of his long rat like nose. He and his dad, Bad Sam, used to join in and beat Ronnie. They and had broken that long nose more than once. So that it was twisted almost cork screw like. Ronnie was terrified of his stepdad, Bad Sam, and often came to stay at my house when Bad Sam was drunk or in an especially foul mood. Ronnie’s mom had died years before. The circumstances of her death just like those of my grand mother were strange. Sherriff Lewis investigated but nothing could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Bad Sam eventually got sent to the state penitentiary in McAlester for manslaughter after a barroom fight. My mom had been on his jury. Bad Sam got out after just three years possibly because my mom did not want to send my friend’s dad to prison. If she had only known.
When Ronnie came out of the brush he found what was left of his step brothers. The deputies said, when they put Jack’s body into a bag to haul it away it looked like a light bulb smashed in a paper bag. There was not a bone left unbroken. The deputies wanted to take Ronnie home but Ronnie just wandered off and finally appeared at our house four days later. He stayed with us a week before going home. Bad Sam was in a rage. His Boys were dead and all he had left was a Rat Faced little “Indian bastard.” Sometimes he called Ronnie by that name when he was drunk.
When Ronnie came back to our house we all stared at him. He was black and blue with bruises Bad Sam given him.
“Lord of Mercy. Boy what happened to you?” Glenola my mom’s housekeeper exclaimed. Glenola was a mother and best friend to all the little kids in the neighborhood.
“Some body been whipping on you?”
Ronnie just trembled. He would not eat. She kept asking him what happened but he would not speak about it.
“Don’t you worry yourself. We are going to take care of you.” Glenola said.
Bad Sam came around looking for him but Glenola shooed him off. She was not afraid of anyone least of all a big Osage like Jim. He was big! Fully six feet eight without boots on.
The fireman and that brakeman on that train were the first to break the story. They reported there was something on the track. They said it was big, really big, and scary like. The engineer throttled down and they braked but could not stop until they hit the boys. That was the story they gave to the reporter from the Tulsa World that day. The story was on the radio. Soon the papers were reporting that the engineer saw a weird large creature on the track and never saw the men.
“If I had seen them boys they’d still be alive.” the engineer sobbed.
“I can’t believe there was nothing else there.”
Washington County, Oklahoma is way too sophisticated for anyone to believe the outrageous tale of the train crew. But the old silent ones knew. Each man in that crew saw something different. The engineer was angry. He said it was a fierce, cruel monster. The brakeman said it brought on a feeling of peace and calm. The fireman felt terror and fear. He said it was a ghost spirit. The old silent ones knew.
One day Ronnie broke down. “I killed them.”
‘You what?” My friends and I asked
“Killed em all.” Ronnie said.
“You are crazy.” We all said.
Ronnie then told his story.“ It was cold with snow flakes in the air like when we built our log fort in the Osage. The wind was coming out of the west and spoiling our advantage. As we crossed the swing bridge across the river I was so scared. I held tightly to the bridge cables and took one slow step at a time. The cable was very cold and my freezing fingers stuck to it. The bridge swung in the wind.”
“ My brothers had already crossed the bridge and were up ahead. As the wind got stronger the bridge swung harder. I slipped. I was afraid to take another step as I moved slowly and cautiously toward the other side.”
The brothers had stolen a quart of Crown Royal from their dad. Bad Sam was a bootlegger and had a lot of whiskey around the House. He would not miss it they snickered. They knew different and knew he would miss it. He counted the bottles every day. Jack said they could blame it on the “Rat” and looked at Ronnie and said “Don’t tell Paw Rat.” and then slapped Ronnie across the face.”
When Ronnie cried they snickered some more. The prospect that he would get whipped for something they did was so funny.
Then they snickered some more as Jack beat Ronnie with his fists until Ronnie was bleeding.
Ronnie began wanting Jack to die. He turned back down there trail toward the swing bridge.
In the evening twilight the two silhouetted brothers looked like ancient Osage warriors. One with roached hair and shaven side burns and the other with his hair pushed back in ducktails. No paint and no rings adorned their ears; they were not on a sacred mission although they were walking on a sacred path.
As they crossed the meadow Jack looked toward the rotting ruin and with a thin smile said :
“The dog eating Delaware Ceremonial House.”
With that they laughed heartily and broke out the Crown Royal and began passing it back and forth.
Two whitetail deer had been in the meadow and they moved off flashing their tails as they trotted away. By then the brothers were too drunk to notice.
Ronnie turned back up the trail to ward his brothers. They were tugging at the bottle. They stumbled toward that railroad tracks to set up for their shot. They began tossing rocks off the right of way and then at each other. When they saw Ronnie one of them chunked a rock his way striking him on the cheek. Blood streamed down his face. He yelped in pain and tears came to him as his face stung and hurt. Ronnie turned back down the trail a second time.
His brothers shouted, “Catch up Rat if you get lost Paw will whip us.”
“And he’ll whip you too if the Manitoo don’t get you.”
Then the brother’s chanted, “The Manitoo’s gonna get you! The Manitoo’s gonna get you!”
They laughed and fought over the bottle.
Soon. It was turning very dark. It was the dark of the moon and the sky turned to blackness as clouds covered the stars. Ronnie sat in misery at the base of the right of way and then took refuge in the ruins of the old Big House crying and shivering in the cold. His flashlight dimmed and the battery was fading as the light flickered off and on. He felt secure his brothers for all their swagger were afraid of the place he thought to himself.
In the quiet and the dark Ronnie thought about his despair and how he despised his step brothers and their paw.
Ronnie’s thoughts turned to the Manitoo and the stories his mom had told him. The Thunderer’s and the Manitoo could be malevolent or good. They could be guardians as or resolutely evil. You could call on the Manitoo for mercy or for revenge. His mom taught him when you see the Manitou you see yourself.
“Could a person call the Manitoo for revenge?” He thought. “Could I ask for the protection of the Manitoo from my brothers?”
He wanted the Manitoo to kill those who tormented him. He trembled. He cried. Hours passed. His obsession made him tremble. He started a little fire in the ruins of the Big House and settled back against an old timber.
No sounds came from the tracks now. The brothers were stuporous. They had started their own big fire, a bonfire of grandiose proportions. It was a white man’s fire.
The wind laid down and except for the drone of the pump house and the singing of the tie rods it became deadly still. The wind stopped The pump engine sputtered and the thump thump of the pump engine and the squealing of the tie rods died away and stopped. The distant glow of the fire on the tracks conjured thoughts of the Manitoo.
As Ronnie watched the glow of the fire on the tracks his little fire burned low and went out. He could hear the engine whistle and hear the train coming.
At the same time the brothers were startled. They woke to the sound of the train. They were frozen in fear on the track.
Ronnie said to us as he told the story,
”you remember that time when we were camping in the Osage? We built the log fort at Camp Mcklintock. Around the camp fire we told ghost stories. I told the story Chester’s uncle had told me about the Manitoo spirits. The one we all got whipped for.” And then he said “No one believes that stuff anymore. You are not supposed to talk about it. But that is what I saw.”
“This thing, a monster, stepped out on the track It was red and black dripping blood. As I watched it I was so angry and wanted to kill them and I did.”
“ You mean you killed them?” We all asked.
“I thought If only I could call the Manitoo and have them kill my brothers. I saw the red face in the glow of the fire and all black around it. I thought kill them! Kill them!”
“Then a faint rumble broke the silence. The ground shook and the train approached and as the sound got louder I still watched the Manitoo on the tracks.
As the sound became louder and the ground began to shake I felt the ground tremble under my feet. Sparks from the fire scattered down the tracks and the grass burned. ‘The train stopped a ways down the track and some men walked back up the tracks. I walked down to the bodies smashed and bruised and dead. I stared at their bodies. Fear and grief gripped me. I wanted to cry and celebrate. I felt Pity and hate.”
The train crew could not agree on what they saw. It really shook them up. One swore a monster was there on the tracks. Another saw pain and fear and a smile with a soft forgiveness.
Ronnie spoke again,
“The Manitoo had been on the tracks, I was so scared I ran and hid in the big house ruins. I hid there four days before I went home and then came here to your house. When I finally got home Paw had already heard what happened. He said I killed my bothers. I left and never went back.”
The sheriff and his deputies walked the tracks and the trains that day were cancelled until the matter was cleared up. Sherriff Lewis looked at the mess. “How many were there?
“Two I guess.” A deputy answered with uncertainty. “Then there is this kid here. He saw the whole thing too.” They looked around but Ronnie was gone.
The headline the next day was “Train crew sees Indian Ghost Spirit”.
Ronnie Truly believed he had called the Manitoo that day. He had called on the spirit of his dead mother and all the spirits. He called for revenge without pity. He cried for days afterward. His stepfather hated him so Ronnie left, never went back and was raised by his mom’s sister. Ronnie had heard me tell about the electric chair at the state penitentiary in McAlester. When I stayed with my Grand Parents in McAlester during the summer if they had an execution the lights would dim all over town. Ronnie knew he deserved the Electric chair for murder but the sheriff never came for him. Who would believe a story like that anyway?
Ronnie never recovered and rarely spoke about that night. He wanted both punishment and forgiveness for the evil he thought he caused.
Years later I saw him on the street one day.
“It was real, I saw the Manitoo and it felt my hate. I am still ashamed” And then Ronnie just turned and walked.
The Manitoo spirits vanished a long time ago. After the Big House burned there was a superstition the meadow where it once stood was haunted. It was a widely held belief. I guess things can happen that no one can explain.
The old Algonquin traditions hold that the Manitoo are guardian spirits. The “Gitche Manitou” was brought to the Delaware by the Black Robe Jesuit priests and was to be loved and not to be feared. It is Gush Ke Wau, the dark one, that is the stuff of horror.
Legend has it and the Sacred Pole In The Ceremonial House of the Delaware people shows a face blackened in death for the death spirit and red with fire for the life spirit. Ronnie lived his life believing he saw the Manitoo that day. It is what the train crew and the men killed on the track thought they saw. “When you see the Manitoo you see yourself.” Always remember that.
“Some times it comes as quite a shock when you recognize yourself in someone, especially if you don't particularly like that person.
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see them you will see yourself."
"As you treat them you will treat yourself. As you think of them you will think of yourself."
"Never forget this, for in them you will find yourself or lose yourself."
"Whenever two Children of God meet, they are given another chance at salvation."
"Having made this choice you will understand why you once believed that when you met someone else, you thought they were someone else."
"And every holy encounter in which you enter fully will teach you this is not so.”
In the face of the Gitche Manitou we see the red spirit of life and the black spirit of death. Two entwined as one.