A Memory of a Memory, story by James Ross Kelly (WHEN I MOVED Poetry and Prose Series)

Silver Birch Press

momndadA Memory of a Memory
by James Ross Kelly

At four, my parents’ divorce had moved my father and me from Rock Island, Illinois, south to the small Kansas town where I was born. My father had gained my custody in an era when men were generally not given custody of children. He accomplished this by getting my mother drunk just before court. His justification was that, in his absence, my mother had gone on a binge and left me alone in our apartment for almost two days. I have no memory of this. He had no apologies. My father was taking me to my grandmother’s house with my grandmother in his ’48 Ford. I had been excited about the house, and had a memory of it as glistening white.

Before all this, I had moved from Kansas and my grandmother’s house at two years old with my mother. We…

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Pacific Yew

I was once paid
To survey Yew trees
In Old Growth forests
In Oregon near Crater Lake
Mammoth Douglas fir & White fir
Covered the landscape, rolling sides
Of Mountains, the Yew were generally
In wet areas, crevices of creeks
They grew as attendant soldiers to the large conifers
Only the fifty to sixty feet the oldest of them
Lining the feeder streams that stretched downward
To Creeks that all ran to the Rogue River
The surrounding clearcuts were littered with their
Brothers  & sisters as they were sexed male  & female
Into large piles to be burned as unmerchantable
In Canada they made them into beautiful hardwood flooring,
After closing a bar in British Columbia I was drinking beer
At a timber fallers home  & complemented him on his floor
As it was gorgeous red hues  & blond running throughout
The lengths of the boards,  & I asked him what kind of wood
It was, as I had installed wood floors for about as brief a time as
I had logged, “THAT,” he said, as he waved his Molson,
“Is Canadian Yew wood!”  & he said it as if it came from the Queen herself
The females have tiny red berries but were no different in appearance
Than the males, but that they were dioeciously conifers with separate sexes
Was something that seemed an oddity, yews were generally few & far
Between but in the right conditions they would form stands that followed
The creeks downhill & appeared as un-uniformed limby
Gnarly red barked ever green twisted with holes & grown
Over defects that were as old as the tall Douglas fir
Their large European counter parts were used as chapels
By early European Christians who took them from
Pagan worshipers that found their otherworldly appearance
In deep forest to be contingent with forested landscape as a being
Rather than separate commodities, & I who had formerly spent
My short forestry career in clearcuts where all this had been raped,
Well, the three weeks I spent with Yews, kind of sealed this notion
That yes this separate place was an amalgam of earth, with a presence
All its own, we were surveying Yew because its bark had been found
To be a cure for breast & ovarian cancer , the worry at the time was
That we had cut too much of it  & the need for it for medicine would
Be its demise in a few short years—perhaps every incurable disease has
Its counterpart, the European Yew were almost wiped out because of its
Prize as the commodity for long bows, this is really more understandable
Rather than the overuse because it was “just in the way,” of D-8 cats and
The ever present need to tidy up & burn the left over’s so we could entertain
The notion of growing back trees like corn that
Rather  had,  in an elegant fashion been growing to cure
The beloved’s:  the grandmother’s, the mothers, the young women whose
Lives were to come into an age of live out of balance
All of us reductionist drones that corporate the lovely,  & the obscure
Into spreadsheets & bottom lines while the checkerboard square clearcuts
Of Pacific Northwest took away the great bands of yew  & the spotted
Owls—who were never seen as created harbingers of loveliness,
& health  & the sure goodness of answers to all our problems

Earned Wisdom

I hadn’t been home long enough to take a shower and there came a pounding on the door and I knew only too well who it was, and he was the last person in the world I wanted to see. I answered the door.

“Ah Heartache my old friend,” I said, “come in you, son-of-a-bitch, come on in make yourself at home. You know your way around, there’s beer in the refrigerator. I got to grab a shower.”

He didn’t say a word but he headed for the Hotpoint refrigerator next to the Frigidaire gas stove. I got in the shower and washed off the grime from the roofing job, I’d hated for the last month. One more week and that would be done. Then hopefully the rains would start: I’d be off with unemployment checks until an editing job promised me, turned up in January. In the meantime I could get some of my own writing done, without worrying about the wolves at the door.

This guy and his friends however were worse than wolves. I got out of the shower dried off then wrapped a towel around my waist, walked through the bathroom door and there he was, with his feet propped on my coffee table watching the six o’clock news. He had gone through one sixteen ouncer. He annoyingly belched and then gargled with the last bit of the first beer as he was opening the second one. I’d been expecting him but I was wishing he’d gone back to California where he belonged

“Looking kind of down in the mouth,” I said.

“Been with that bitch Self-Pity again haven’t you?” I said.

“You sick bastard, we all know how she treats you!” I said.

I went back in my bedroom finished drying my hair put on some shorts and an old Hawaiian shirt and hit the fridge and zipped open a tall boy for myself. I just sat there eyeing the tube with as much attention and chagrin at the commercials as Heartache gave David Muir. I wanted him out of the apartment but felt a strange premonition he needed to be there. Then there came another knocking at the door.

I answered and there he stood. Misery in Friday night togs looking like an escapee from a disco pogrom from decades ago.

“Yeah, I might have known it would be you,” I said, as I opened the door.

“Come in it seems I’ve got some company you’re gonna love. The beers are where they stay cold.”

It wasn’t three minutes before there I was, with both of them on my couch, drinking my beer. A round like this two months ago with them and I’d gotten into a card game and I got behind on the cable bill and there would be no Football until I went back to work in January.

I brought out a can of oily sardines and a bag of chips before they got around to yelling for food. I’d scarcely gotten the hosting job done when a banging started at the back door.

“Who the hell could this be now?” I said out loud.

I made my way back through the rubble of beer cans on the back porch with its idle fishing poles and the washing machine that never worked and there he was—his left shoulder facing me and looking up into the sky bright almost neon twilight of October’s bright changing colors that were solemnly turning gray and there he was.

“Loneliness, you bastard,” I grumbled. “At least you brought beer.”

I made my way back into the apartment Loneliness shuffling in behind me.

“Look who’s here boys,” I yelled.

I went for another one my beers before they were all gone. I knew Loneliness bought the cheapest beer money can buy but at least he brought some. Every three months with the change the seasons it seemed he abandoned whatever twelve-step he was in and ended back on my back porch with the cheap beer. I made my way back into the living room and they all were making more noise without saying anything. Now Heartache was whining about Self-Pity and whether she was going make it back into town.

“That’s all I need,” I said out loud, “is to have her show up tonight.”

I then made a mental note not let her in if she did. When I discovered that there was nowhere to sit, I took to the floor in front of the tube and they’d switched on a two month-old golf tournament where a football game should have been, and I knew it was going to be a bad night. Then I heard the door begin to bang, I didn’t move but it got louder and louder. I let it bang, and they all began to grumble.

“Go away you Bitch!” I yelled.

“Answer the damn door!” said Loneliness, and then Heartache got up expectantly to answer the door thinking it might be her. He’d been dating her for three years, each time they got together it would last a couple weeks to a month, then she’d jilt him again–and here he would be.

“SIT YOUR ASS DOWN!” I yelled, “We don’t have enough beer, the last time all four of us were together–she came in a mini-skirt all hiked-up with torn ass nylons, and she brought whiskey, and her nice tits, and the two of you got in a fist fight and tore this place to pieces–after only about thirty minutes.”

Loneliness thought he heard a woman’s voice from the front porch. “Let me in!” she said.

“SHUT UP! GO AWAY!” I screamed, “If I let you in, all your demons will come too! Get off my damn doorstep you bitch!”

“She’ll go away eventually.” I said. I got back to the Golf tournament. There were 18 beers left in the Fridge and I began to drink in my empty room.

Tribes Have Customs

I was listening to my wife
Tell a story from work
About a small girl with a wad
Of chewing gum in her hair,
& as she drove I was trying
to look at notes from
A lecture by Rupert Sheldrake
From last year, Sheldrake was making
The point that civilizations have laws
& tribes have customs, as my wife talks
About the child I remember her
From last year & her notable step-father
Tattoo Tom we’ll call him, he’s full body tats
& gangland Northern Cali,
Been down by law many times, he
Was out then, but awaiting a jam that
Would likely send him back to prison, in the meantime
He would chat with my wife when he walked the
Kids to school, they were always on time well groomed
& happy, he told my wife of drive by shootings,
& holding the kids in his arms in a safe space
As the bullets tore through the house,
He’d been on the same tier as Charlie Manson
In Pelican Bay, or some other Maximum Security
Can, all locked away from all the rest of us, Tom had made
His amends, but he’d not become a civilian, since
He’d been born into the gang life & the customary model
Was criminality, yet Tom still  deeply cared
For the children & they were happy, but now he’s back down by law
& the little girl has had gum in her hair
For the entire weekend, is always late for school,
& doesn’t always have clean clothes
Sheldrake, from my notes, says,
“Atheistic scientists cannot have the Mind of God
For the source of the physical laws of the universe.”
—neither did Manson

Then suddenly

The Vaux’s swifts that had been up
& down the river feeding on flying insects,
Began to draw close & come together
With high, rapid twittering, high whistled chipping,
In ever tightening circles,
Swirling & swirling,
They all go up to spin together in a great pinwheel-like circle,
Coming more & more altogether directly above the chimney,
Then suddenly,   in one morphic resonant being they come down
& into a whirling black-funnel-down tornado-like cloud gyre,
Fifty feet in height, above the house & then into-the-chimney
In a second or two,
Full of this day’s hatch settling & chittering for
Brick gripped sleep.

My father never drank by James Ross Kelly (Me, as a Child Poetry Series

Silver Birch Press

My father never drank
by James Ross Kelly

My father never drank
While he was working
When he was not working
A bottle of Jim Beam appeared
On the dining room table like a Roman pillar
And when it drained down another appeared.

My father was generally working
Sixteen hour days in the oilfields
Seven days a week until
A well came in or there was a dry hole
In between in the moving of the oil derrick
He was off, & he would drink, in the
Mornings there was beer at Lyle’s
& later at the St. James Hotel
Where there might be a card game
& I’d drink cokes and stare at the
Huge painting of Custer’s Last Stand

On a barstool I’d sit & his pals
Would call me little Jim Beam, I took no
Notice of this but liked the smell of stale beer
& the…

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