Throw Me A Line

Somebody throw me a line, I say!

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right …
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

No, no, not lines from T.S. Eliot. I mean like a rope, a ring, a by god floatie or something. I am drifting too far from the shore, and will soon find myself in The Horse Latitudes again.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. …

the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.

Now stop that! I’m saying it’s hard to keep focus in these long warm days. Summer is the season of doldrums and earnest urge to nap. I’ve not succumbed, but how long has it been since my last blog post? And since engagement brought me up and out from between the lost and arid pages screens? Well I just haven’t been in the mood, is the thing. And that’s not good. I should be blogging at least a few times per week.

The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,   
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.

Tonight I found myself at sunset looking out from my balcony at an amazing sky over the pacific ocean and thinking we who were born have little hope of further pilgrimage, already come as far west as possible, or so it seems. We have reached the edge of exploration.

And between each word on this page, I have hit The Final Frontier. Get it? Obscure jokes for nerds, I got ‘em.

For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: “Flee, all is discovered.” It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.

– Robert Penn Warren

In the spirit of making it all the way to the edge and finding some way to prosper, and of pulling myself with your help from the indehiscent carapace of summer sleep, here’s some writing to share.

In my novel in process, the family has a grandfather who sits in a nursing home, slipping into senile dementia. He’s unstuck in time, and doesn’t know if it’s 2000 or 1948, or sometime between. Here he tells the story of bringing his family to California in the wake of the Depression.

Feedback is earnestly welcomed. Does it work for you? What do you think of Papa’s voice? Please leave a comment here or use the contact link/s on this page to send me an email. Thanks!


Chapter 3, Part 1: Coming to California

I brought my family out in 1942. We dragged up and rolled out of Joplin following a trail of postcards sent by a cousin on my wife’s side, a witless unwashed little bastard who had come ahead in search of work. I tried to talk her out of it, said we had friends and kin and possibilities and the Lord seemed pleased to see us grow where we were planted, but she would not be diverted. Those postcards were full of promises and hope. California was a land of unlimited harvest, he said, where for practically nothing a man could claim a piece of land as wide and rich as his dreams, and have no one to argue with but the bees.

I remember how that long damn road across New Mexico went on and on like the devil himself had laid it with a taut line leading west out of Texas into hell. We had a Chevrolet pickup truck with no air in it and not much air outside either. We dragged a little two wheel trailer behind us for our possibles, making six wheels in all and between there and here every tire blew out or ran flat more than once. My wife up front with me and the baby between us. John rode in the back where we made a place for him and both dogs. For shade I made a frame of old pipe and stretched a tarp. He called it a covered wagon. He was just a little thing, six or eight. I worried for two thousand miles about hitting the brakes or steering hard. I pictured that trailer jumping up to mash them all flat. We carried two jugs of water, one up front one in back, filled them every chance we got, and hardly ever had to stop and wet. It soaked right through into our clothes and dried with a salty haze of sweat that made our shirts and britches stiff.

I had friends in Missouri, some since my childhood days in school, more from farming, and a few from back in 1932 when I found short time work at the road department, bustin rock. It was a bad time and nobody thought hard about you for not havin a job, or havin one that would blister your hands and dirty your clothes. The man who fed his family had respect regardless and everybody shared. Nobody wanted to see a passing pilgrim starve to death. What would be the recompense for that, with Jesus watching us all to see if we loved each other like himself? If I had a pot of hard beans, maybe you had salt pork – don’t need much – God is with us. Between us, we got supper, see? So I never thought I’d see it, bad times or not. Never in my life would have imagined, when I set the jugs down next to a waterhose west of Gallup, what the Lord would show me, standin there upright and talking like a man, outside the fillin station.

I set them jugs down under a tree that was nothing but an erection of twigs about twenty feet high. Not a leaf on it. No breeze, and the sun was for some reason pissed off at all of us. Felt like I stood in a skillet. I would have wiped my face with my handkerchief but it would not have helped. Under the tree was a hose, fed from the tap in the wall.

Here he came, thick and heavy, his face the color of meat going bad. Just as I finished, dropped that hose back in the dirt, I heard him yell Hey you, just a damn minute. I charge for that water, it ain’t free. I stood up and looked at him and at my wife looking at us from the truck with that Charlie baby on her lap, and my boy John watching with his nose pokin over the pickup’s bed. And he yells at me again, Yeah you there, rube. I’s tired of you damn Okies ridin through here slick as you please an that water is mine. It costs, he said.

Well I averred as how I was a paying customer, my truck at his pump waiting for him to fill it and what was he waiting for. So he started moving toward me – all the great, greasy dark red sunburned mass of him heaving in oiled bib-alls – still loud, saying I could have water for free after payment for gas but not instead. Which I said was no longer very damn likely, how much for the water you sonofabitch. That hurried him up, hollerin a dollar a dollar you dirt suckin Okie bastard. I thought he might try to kill me but I heard the clank of the tailgate goin down, the panting of them both comin at a run, silent otherwise. And it was Duke that took him down, teeth in the man’s left arm, but Lady had his right hand too, before he hit the ground.

That devil laid there on the ground squealing and cussin while I dragged the dogs off him, and there came John to help with the water and tote it without being called. I told the man if he got up and came at me again I would set the dogs back on him, then I dropped a dollar on his nose. Said thems Missouri dogs, Hoss. Good for hunting wild pig. A man from Oklahoma might have wasted bullets on your ass, not me. And we moved out. My wife was upset, but I was damned proud of my boy and my dogs.

Her halfwit cousin was gone – vanished forever up into Oregon or down into hell – by the time we found Fresno. We’d had our distractions and detours and his fate wouldn’t keep. But we didn’t need him anymore. He had played his part, lured us out of Missouri into Paradise, by means of his exaggerations and damnable lies. But I came ready. Had my contacts in the Democrats. They had written letters for me to the local Grange . I had written ahead myself. It turned out my friends had friends where we were going. We spent the first week in the Pull On In Motel south of Fresno, then I was ready to go. Early one morning we loaded up children and dogs, suitcases, hitched up the trailer, pulled out over the dusty, weedy macadam and onto Highway 99. I said to Lillian I hope we’ve left nothing behind in that place, for we are not comin back this way.