Earned Wisdom by James Ross Kelly–Flash Fiction Magazine – Daily Flash Fiction Stories

illustration-to-book-of-job-2

I hadn’t been home long enough to take a shower when there came a pounding on the door. I knew only too well who it was: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 and 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. (continued)

Go to Flash Fiction Magazine:

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/

So, Vincent–published in Rock & Sling Winter 2018

by

James Ross Kelly

I was there and your portrait hung in front of me, the 1886 one I’m sure it was, an exhibition at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Mass., late June early July 1973. I came once a day and sat there and looked at your art and I would generally smoke some pot before I did. There were many other paintings of yours—“Irises,” perhaps; I don’t remember the others. Your paintings now are as familiar as my heart.van_gogh_1

I was apartment-sitting for my English professor and contemplating a move back to Oregon, where I thought I could work for a year and then return to school. I remember all of it too clearly, the Fogg and my own fog of swimming in the exciting oatmeal of the 1970s. You, however, are there. They say it is your last self-portrait. Auctioned in 1939 at Gallerie Fisher in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was one of the works branded as degenerate by the Nazis, confiscated and sold. The winning bid was $40,000 by a Dr. Frankfurter. You had given this painting to your brother as a birthday gift. I must tell you, if it is any consolation, my father killed Nazis for one year all through the landscape that you loved. There is a picture of your painting at the auction. Some asshole in a white coat is holding it up. It is better that it went to Switzerland I suppose, but it was bad that the Nazis profited.

So, Vincent, this is of course not about you but about me, perhaps a little bit about 1973, and me telling, among the things I tell, this horrible thing I did. Unlike you and the unfortunate incident with your ear, you could recollect none of it. I remember this all too well. At the same time, your painting of yourself seared me somehow. You clearly painted your aura. Blue shimmering pale blue through your coat and your red, red hair and beard, the air was on blue fire very clearly.

I broke up with Jane there in Cambridge, my lover my good coed girlfriend, my lovely woman companion paramour committing adultery we were, in my car, in motels, and eventually living together after I left my wife. And my wife divorced me a matter of weeks later. I walked around Cambridge, mildly hipped out, two years of college and the Army behind me. Literature, art, film slipped through me—I saw The King of Hearts a dozen times at the Central Square Cinemas with its then-novel two screens. Most every day while your exhibition was at the Fogg, I stopped by and sat on what I remember as a marble bench and looked at you. I knew the thin blue air was on fire all around me. I did not know if I was partially responsible, but there was an inkling inside me that I was.

I paid for Jane’s abortion in late March. She came to me, told me she was pregnant, said she wanted to have the child to carry on a part of me she thought she could not be a part of. Mildly, gently and in a seemingly caring manner I explained I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready. Then I did a despicable thing. In my college-boy English-literature assumption I closed the deal by reading her James Joyce’s “A Little Cloud” from his book of short stories, The Dubliners. The protagonist, a news writer in Dublin, meets in a bar with a friend back from his journalist job in England. The story ends with the protagonist coming home to his small child wailing an infant wail signifying the end of his opportunity as his friend was capitalizing upon his own. Domesticity stopping the pursuit of his art. This closed the deal for poor Jane. Scarcely sixty days after Roe v. Wade, an English professor’s husband who was a gynecologist set up an appointment in New York City, as abortion was still verboten in Massachusetts. This is how I, an agnostic college boy-man, sacrificed my first-born child on an altar of convenience and self-absorbed selfishness. My Celtic ancestors were required to crush the skull of their firstborn and bury the infant under a cornerstone of their first home, to achieve prosperity. I believe now, Vincent, that what I did was virtually the same thing, though I knew then of no practice and no such intent, thinking the child just optional protoplasm.

We, the hip, we the revolution against our material culture, all of us disgusted by modernism gone wrong in the 20th century, we thought the burning blue open sky around us then, a static insouciant deterministic notion driving all—what we were, was all we were. There seemed no possibilities of an inherent intellectual mistake about who we really were.

There was, of course, much more to it. I sat there daily in front of you, I suppose, knowing that was the closest thing I could get to greatness right then, and that it was tangible, and that, of course, did not work out so well for the either of us. I saw what you got in the end was a continuum, a colossal imprint.

Much later I knew it would have been more honest if I had cut off my own ear and wrapped it in sterile gauze and taken it to my first wife and apologized, and told her the truth of her IUD and the countless abortions we had together contrary to her own Catholic, go-to-Mass-every-week Catholicism, and I should have been regretful of that even if the IUD was her idea. She, a nurse looking a little like Jackie Kennedy, would never have divorced me had I not strayed. She met me by the Charles River to serve divorce papers because she now was in a love affair with a man who four months later would leave because he had impregnated another woman. Oh, we played loose and fast and listened to wild rock and roll, Vincent, and slept around and tried to out-bohemian any of your colleagues, but this is how we failed.

Ah, Jesus, Vincent, I’ve come to see this as my socially venial act of murder, unconscious of the reality and void of moral consequence. I premeditatedly pulled the switch as an out-of-touch warden in this prison we have outside of jail; pulled the switch without a sentence, without due process, pulled the switch by paying with my GI Bill check. As I watched some asshole in a white coat take lovely Jane away into a white sterile room in New York City, I and others began the phalanx that now totals sixty million for our nation. The necessary modern notion of family planning, unhinged from premodernity and the time of ancestral contiguity—a thinly veiled eugenic notion of choice preempting responsibility.

I stopped something that had a purpose that I was not actually unaware of. Yes, it took Jesus to forgive this in the near-death ether of spiritual expanse—it took thirty-three years for this to happen. It took me raising two sons and loving them above all else and reflecting on how could I have not loved this one as well. I wonder: Would I have thought differently had I read Ken Kesey’s take on this in 1971?

You are you from conception, and that never changes no matter what physical changes your body takes. And the virile sport in the Mustang driving to work with his muscular forearm tanned and ready for a day’s labor has not one microgram more right to his inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than has the three months foetus riding in a sack of water…How can abortion be anything but fascism again, back as a fad in a new intellectual garb with a new, and more helpless, victim?*

This comes finger-pointing out of the past. Abortion had been challenged by Christendom since the Didache of the first century. Abortion was anathema to life. But we had captains in our revolution to give us a hand with abject morality. World War II made life and death arbitrary and relative; Vietnam continued this nightly in our living rooms. Life has become in America similar to what the Nazis thought, in the sense of an orderly deterministic march to and over the edge of humanity. A clean park was more important than a babe in the arms of its mother. The Liberal Fascism that has held sway was nailed by the father of hipsters. Sadly, then I was lock-step with this march the other way.

published in Rock & Sling  Winter 2018

 

*Excerpt from an interview with Ken Kesey by Paul Krasner. The REALIST Issue Number 90 – May-June, 1971 pages 46-47

Above Lyman’s Riffle–by James Ross Kelly published at Fiction Attic

vaux swiftsby James Ross Kelly

The old man’s house was falling down ten years after his death; twenty-years after, the whole south face of Lyman Mountain and Ernie’s place by the Rogue River, was divided up and there were expensive homes built at various river viewpoints and no notion of Ernest Lyman, who had lived there for almost a century—was in anyone’s  mind.  However, one year after he’d passed, on a hot August, dusk evening that was beginning to cool, I waited for the red glow down river and Vaux’s  swifts darted through warm air and willows along the river. Swifts in the red day glow off in the west and evening light.

 

Go to Fiction Attic for the entire story:

http://fictionattic.com/above-lymans-riffle/

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

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

james_ross_kelly
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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These Pelicans by James Ross Kelly (Where I Live Poetry & Photography Series)

Silver Birch Press

pelicans
THESE PELICANS
by James Ross Kelly

Four pelicans on a log downriver
Sit like squatting men
this crimson Sacramento River evening,

& one rises up a sleepy watchman
& slowly waves his wings,
As a good breeze blows up river,

Paired mergansers begin to move away
As I sit down and look at the pelicans
Whose white through binoculars
becomes pink for a moment
With changing clouds & sunset
Coming

I’ve never wanted flamingos,
I’ve been waiting
For these damn pelicans to show,
& they sleep on the log

All the while I’m sitting under cottonwoods
That release a snow like namesake floating &
Blowing up river, & mallards
Begin to sound and take air across the river

Two pair wheel & move up river
Then turn again, reverse & land
Near the shore below me
Across from the pelicans,

By me the wild grape from
The cottonwood hangs dead

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An Unkindness of Ravens

On the death of poet David Lloyd Whited

It has been over four fortnights since my friend
David died, his widow at his deathbed calling
Me & asking me to speak to him
Through the phone, he in a coma
Children and Marian around so, I panicked &
I prayed the only Christian prayer
I could think of, “Lord bring him back
We need him here, his good cheer and we
Need more of him and Lord don’t take him!”
I’ll apologize to no man for my panic

When his wife arrived from her
Work that Friday he first allowed that he’d not gone
To work as he was feeling bad, & minutes later he
Was on the floor, that Friday night
Having collapsed trying to sit up with Marian’s help
On his couch, didn’t feel good that day
& he stiffened up and went to the floor
I was 700 miles down I-5 I could not go
& there was no good outcome surmised by doctors
The Poet’s heart had given way

In Alaska I saw repeatedly every deer season
An Unkindness of Ravens as they are called
When in a feeding frenzied  group to
Herald every afterkill of blacktail deer,
A snow laden clamor of raven and eagle
Blood on white snow unsympathetic
As most obituaries but louder, & yet
I know only the antidote of fond memory

David & I as young men
Drank and read our poems aloud
& reading poems we crawled through bars & bistros
& fished behind the Snake River dams
& off the derelict sand barge on Maurey Island
& caught ling and true Cod & sharks out of the Puget sound
I carried him out of at least three bars & one night
Off the Tramp Harbor pier
This was the man that wrote:
“Sadness Drives a Fast Red Car”

He died Sunday morning after Thanksgiving
I did not go to the funeral, did not know of a wake
Cremated out of the hospital & as there is usually
These days, no acknowledgement of the body as a rite
A memorial in a church in Tacoma was due
Work friends, one brother, grieving Marian & son & daughters
I called her the morning of the funeral
& I asked her to open all the windows
In their little  house on the Puget Sound
At the mouth of Judd Creek
When she left to go to Tacoma.

My good poet friend David is dead