Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Liz Worth : Amphetamine Heart

Some folks say, the great Blues player Robert Johnson stepped out on the rain swept crossroads of Mississippi to make a deal with the devil. Some say, this deal of soul selling for fame gaining was eventually paid in full, and this is where Johnson’s unbelievable talent came from. I say, it came from hard work. Hours upon hours of practicing his craft with such passion there was nothing else that mattered in his world.

To me, the artist’s work is an exact reflection of the time they’ve put into it along with the sacrifices they’ve made on the road to becoming published that most people don’t see. Lack of sleep, social interaction, friends, family, and even food at times. Working jobs no one wants but the writer happily takes because it pays the rent and allows them time to write. Living among the unwanted in a rundown part of town in some dingy one room is all part of the gig.

And if for some miraculous reason you do become successful as a writer or artist you are instantly looked upon by the majority as someone who has been given an incredible gift from the heavens or in Robert’s case, you’ve simply made a deal with the devil. When really it takes years of hard work and self isolation to learn how to write while being thought of as lazy or a dreamer who will never make a living at being a writer.

Whatever the case may be, Liz Worth is someone very special to the writing world. Someone who has perfected her craft. Honed her skills in such a way that her poetic words will resonate with you long after you’ve read them. Sinking into your mind with the soft subtle imagery from a true wordsmith, but at the same time hitting you like a sledgehammer with the most honest depiction of the world around her.

She sees everything, feels everything, then masterfully punches her keys into poetry that is so tangible the reader feels as if they are in the poem themselves choking on the truth of it all. She draws the reader in so perfectly they hear the buzz of the city’s streetlights clicking off at dawn, or smell the warm scent of liquor drifting to the ceiling with the smoke from a flamed cigarette.

Liz is fearless in her writing which is very rare these days. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, whatever Liz writes, I’m going to read.

After reading Liz’s first book, Eleven : Eleven I had no hesitation about ordering her second book of poetry Amphetamine Heart. As my eyes combed over each line I quickly realized this was one of the best works of poetry I’ve ever read. Worth’s way with words is something truly magical. In my mind I could clearly see someone like The Motorcycle Boy from S. E. Hinton’s Book Rumble Fish, sitting back on his bike and reading Worth’s poems, then blasting down the street listening to her words play softly in his mind.
Yet I saw more than this image. Worth’s words helped me to look deep inside myself. Back to blurry nights pulling hard on the end of a bottle. Where it seemed there was no end in sight, at least one that didn’t end up in an early death. But I also saw in Amphetamine Heart the true beauty in living your life with all you have to give. Embracing the world that’s around you, and stopping to notice the good things no matter how small or insignificant it may be to others. Stop. Take the time to look if only for a moment and enjoy them.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Liz Worth has done just that with Amphetamine Heart. She has bled out all that was inside her for the world to read. This book is truly a masterpiece. A book I will read again and again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Poem : Downtown

I awoke today to the unpleasant realness of it all
Downtown is gone
All but disappeared
Disappeared to the steel teeth of a dozer
To the slow sure swing of a wrecking ball
Fallen brick by brick to the sourness of money
Or making money I should say
Changed forever for the prospect of a dollar
Even the homeless now pay-up for a permit to beg
And building’s that once shadowed me from the scorching afternoon sun
Are gone
Long gone
Gone to this thing the people call progress
The awnings and overhangs that once sheltered me from the rain
Shelter me no more
No more is the thought that I can stop for a minute to get dry
For now, the eye in the sky sends someone out to politely tell me to leave
It seems shelters of any kind cost something these days
If you’re not a customer, you better keep walking
No longer do I see hand painted signs standing out with such beauty
Their bright burst of creative color has been replaced by neon and plastic
No longer do I walk on the sidewalks cracked from the pressures of time
Or see scratched written names from kid’s small fingers dressing the once wet cement
Followed by years scratched in older than I
Now all that I see is perfectly dull
Everything is nice and new and full of no character
Shiny and clean
Just the way big business likes it
Passing through now is like being lost in a land of the future
A land I would have never imagined
A place so bizarre when compared to the good memories of the past
What a strange new place my town has become
Or now is it my town at all?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The River’s Void

April looked peaceful lying in soft linen. Her blond hair flowed around her pillow, her skin was smooth and flawless. Her rich full lips were a nice shade of scarlet. As David watched her, a voice broke his thoughts.

"It’s time."

The usher helped David to his seat, while the pallbearer closed the casket on April. David desperately tried to wipe the tears from his eyes as they laid his partner in the cold winter’s ground. Tears from the heart were something even the toughest detective from the hard streets of New York couldn’t hold back. Today, he couldn’t shut them out. David was not only putting his coworker in the ground, he was burying his lover, his best friend.

Late nights had been spent discussing their future. Something had to be better for David and April than the brick-city madness they were living in. They’d dreamed of a quiet setting somewhere in the horizon, a farm house surrounded by green prairie with not a neighbor in sight. But sometimes, dreams have a way of staying dreams between two people forever.

The day of April’s untimely death, as David remembered, was cold and bitter. It was the kind of cold that went straight to the bone. April had worked the lower Eastside for the past three years, shaking down two-bit criminals, street walkers, and hustlers. She was on to one such hustler that morning.

Crossing Fifty-Second and Norman, April spotted the perp. An eye witness later recalled in the police statement that April was sipping her coffee slowly and watching a strange looking man from a distance. His face was rough and hardened from years on the street. A green tattooed teardrop hung from the corner of his right eye. This was a symbol April had seen before in her work on the street. It meant this man had taken a life at some point, then proudly marked himself with the tear of death for all to see.

Suddenly the man turned and started to run. The chase was on. April dropped her cup and ran after him pulling her gun and radio, then called for backup.

"Suspect fleeing west on Norman toward the Blue Water Docks. I need back up and I need it now."

Rounding the corner she couldn’t see the suspect anymore. Then something caught her eye. It was a movement from above. In front of her, pipe link scaffolding reached into the skyline like some sort of a metal giant. April started to climb. Pipe by connecting pipe, platform by platform, April kept moving, never looking down from fear. Finally, she reached the top and was face to face with her foe, his outstretched arm gripping a pistol.

With her gun drawn April said, "Look man, there’s no way out of this, just drop your gun and turn around."
The man stood silent for a moment, gazing at her with his bloodshot eyes.

"Look, I’m telling you for the last time, drop that gun," April demanded.

The man gave her a half-hearted smile, dropped his gun, and turned around. April walked up slowly, pulling her handcuffs from the belt that lined her waist. This is when David’s and April’s dreams forever stayed just dreams, when their hopes turned to horror.

As she approached him, the screeching tires of the backup police cars filled the air. They were on the docks below. At this point, April made a crucial mistake. She took her eyes off her subject just for a second. It was all the time he needed to turn and put a six inch knife into her abdomen. April slid from his cold metallic blade as the man grabbed her gun. The cops below watched in shock as April was shot in the back, then pushed from the scaffolding onto the docks of the river below. April was gone forever. The killer slipped away into the rooftops of the city.

Coping with April’s death was easier for David in a drunken haze. He spent dark days in his apartment staring into the bottom of a bottle, then waking up on the couch just to do the same all over again. David felt he was going insane. He had even gone so far in his madness as to build what he called his "Communication Box" out of an old transistor, a few guitar pickups, and any other electronic parts he thought would help him contact April in the next world.

David was up for hours soldering circuit boards and wrapping magnets with copper wire, hoping to break through, yet nothing happened. David’s frustration built, and madness carved away at his very existence.

"Let me see her again."

He screamed at the ceiling as if yelling to the heavens. He slammed his fist into the coffee table, not feeling the pain of glass shattering beneath his rage. Then retracting into a fetal position to cry over his overwhelming feeling of loss, he didn’t care who he had to provoke to hear April’s voice again. Heaven or Hell—it didn’t matter to him. He just wanted her back.

By this time, David hinged on any late night sounds that came from his Communication Box. Static or not, he was all ears. Drifting to sleep sitting up then waking in a cold sweat thinking he had heard her voice trying to make contact. But still no April. David was beginning to realize he had hit rock bottom.

Early one morning, a knock came to his door. David crawled off the couch. He glanced at his watch.

Who could it possibly be this time in the morning?

Opening the door, David was stunned to see his police captain.

“Captain, what are you doing here?”

David motioned for the captain to step inside. Walking in with the look of disgust he said, “I’m here to tell you to pick yourself up. This has to stop. You need to pull your ass together. April would not like what you’ve turned into.”

“How would you know anything about it?” David fired back.
The captain’s face grew cold and his brow narrowed. For a split second, he looked as if he wanted to smack David in the head.

“Look, David, you’re not the first person to experience this kind of loss. You either stop living or you pick yourself up. Remember you’re NYPD. People who haven’t given up on their life yet rely on you. Don’t forget the man that killed April is still at large.”

David sat motionless for a minute, rubbing his unshaven chin.

“All right, captain, I’m coming in.”

“Okay, eight o-clock Monday. Between now and then get your ass to a shower and sober up. By the way, you’ll be breaking in a new partner.”

“A new partner?”

The captain turned and walked away saying, “Monday, David, don’t be late and don’t be drunk.”

Back on the street looking for the suspect and looking for revenge, David finally woke up from his grief. David’s new partner, Jessica, was a little overbearing at times with her by-the-book enthusiastic ways, but David also realized that sunlight was a little overbearing at this point. Just getting up and facing the day was rough. However, it was nice to be back on the beat. He felt it was one of the only things he had left after his love was ripped from his life.

Walking down Norman, David asked Jessica if she wanted some coffee. She nodded and then walked across the street to wait on the park bench. David went inside a little coffee shop and stood in line with the rest of New York, or at least this is the way it felt when people were between him and his morning java.
A very well-dressed, soft-spoken man was standing in front of him. He looked to be in his thirties, yet he walked with a cane. Strangely enough, he did not have a limp. David noticed oddities in people. For a detective it was his job to analyze the world around him.

The man turned and spoke. "I think this line is going to go on forever. It doesn’t seem to end."

David smiled and kept chewing his gum.

"You’re a constable I see."

"Yep, a detective."

"You must stay busy in a city like ours."

"Yea, you could say that."

The two men kept up this small talk conversation until both were drinking their precious morning coffee. Walking outside David went to bid the man farewell, but before doing so he asked the stranger his name.

The man turned and said, "The next time you call into that Communication Box of yours, know we’re always listening."

David felt faint. The last thing he remembered was the stranger’s smiling face as he fell to the ground. The next thing he saw was his partner Jessica looking over him.

"David, you okay?"

David sat up somewhat confused. "Where is he?"

"Where is who, David?"

"The man with the cane. The man I walked out with."

"You walked out alone. I watched you. You looked around, and then collapsed."

"Yeah, maybe." David put out his hand and Jessica helped him to his feet. "Look, don’t say anything to the captain about this."

Jessica smiled. "Don’t worry. I won’t mention it. You’ve gone through a lot the last few months. It’s going to take some time to get back in the swing of things."


David kept working April’s case. As the days went by, he couldn’t help but think about the strange man from the coffee shop. Early one morning after following a lead that went nowhere, he decided to walk over to St. Michael's Cathedral. David felt something was drawing him there, but what? As he walked in, the hair stood on the back of his neck. He felt something wasn’t right. Something was there with him. Looking up and suddenly chilled with fear, the stained-glass figures seemed alive and to be looking down at him. As he approached the Communion altar, he saw the man from the coffee shop. Sharply dressed, brim hat to boot, his dark eyes searched David with a hard stare.

"David, sit down," the man said softly.

David could not believe what was going on. He walked over and slid into the long wooden pew next to the man. Shadows danced toward the ceiling cast from slow burning candles. A giant wooden crucifix hung in front of them. David’s mind raced with thoughts of who else could be lurking in the dark corners of the cathedral. What have I done? David thought.

"You’ve done nothing wrong David, and no one is hiding in the corners. David, I’m here to help you make things right." The man said while rolling his cane with his fingers.

David was quit for a long moment then pointed with a shaking hand to the crucifix "Are you one of his?"
The man smiled. "I was around long before he came to save the world and long after the world so happily nailed him to a cross." The man said, as he pulled a small silver hip-flask from his coat pocket, then took a long draw from its mouth.

"Like I said David, I’m here to help you. Whether you knew it or not, you called out to us. Over and over again you spoke, yelled, and even screamed into your Box trying to make contact with the other side. I know what you’re thinking—why didn’t April come back? Why are you stuck with me? Well, it just doesn’t work that way. Chaos would ensue, if this were allowed."

"I just wanted to hear her voice one more time." David said, his eyes welling with tears.

"I know David, but we are not allowed to see anyone that could recognize us from our previous life. It would just cause too many problems."

David started to get cold from the draft that crept in over the marble floors. He folded his arms in discomfort.

"It’s a little chilly, even for me." The man rubbed his smooth white hands together. The gold ring on his finger seemed to jump out visually against his pale skin. He gestured for David to stand.

"Let’s take a walk. At least outside we’ll be moving. Get the blood flowing, you know?"

"Yea." David said slowly in a drawn-out voice from the mans choice of words.

The two men strolled toward the doors of the cathedral. The stranger’s cane tapped the floor with each passing step. Out in the street, it seemed as if they walked for hours talking about April’s Killer.

"David, you’re close to finding the man that took your April. But, understand death surrounds this man like a thick rolling fog. There is no goodness in him, none." the man said. "Go down to the warehouse district and you’ll find an old acquaintance of hers. Someone April worked with years ago."

"In the warehouse district?"

"Yes, the warehouse district. The acquaintance is a washed up fashion designer by the name of Louie Loose Fingers."

"What?" David interrupted. "He doesn’t sound like anyone April would have known."

The man put up his hand. "Give me a chance to explain. Louie was one of the top designers in Manhattan until his habit became too much. He quickly went from the upscale northern tip of New York Bay, the heart of the never-ending lights, to the lower Eastside, where the park benches are always full and stomachs are always empty."

David rubbed his temples as his face pulled into a strained smile. "Selma Kicks, that’s what she called herself. That was a long time ago." David said looking away in the distance as if seeing some fading memory.

"I knew she did some modeling years ago, but she never mentioned this guy Louie."

"Some people are best left in the past. David, find your girl’s killer." The mysterious man said as he handed David an address. "Remember, death surrounds him."

Their conversation was interrupted by a familiar voice. "David, who are you talking to?"

David turned to see Jessica coming up the sidewalk. Looking back, he realized the man had vanished. David knew that Jessica was already suspicious of his odd behavior. He couldn’t say that he was talking to an apparition. She would think he was mad.

I need to come up with something, anything.

"You know, I was just talking to myself. I do that sometimes for some strange reason."

Jessica smiled but didn't reply.

"Look, I’ve gotten a lead on April’s killer," David continued. "We’ve got to go to the warehouse district."

"Kind of sudden, isn’t it?"

David buttoned his jacket against the cold wind that had started to blow. "Not really. We’ve been working the case for weeks. I’m not surprised people are starting to talk."

Jessica followed him back to the squad car.

He opened the car door and turned to her. "Where’s your car?"

"The captain dropped me off down the street," she replied.

David groaned. "Am I in trouble?"

"Nah, I told him we had arranged to meet down here," Jessica said.

"How did you know where I’d be?"

"Just a hunch."

David frowned. He wasn’t sure what to make of his new partner. As hard as he tried to dislike her, it was becoming more difficult.

The two of them arrived at the warehouse district and started to look for 2076 Hanger 13. After a long walk down the wooden planked pier, they arrived. Stepping in through the door of the seedy warehouse seemed a little overwhelming for Jessica. She had not been a detective as long David had. He hoped she was up for what lay ahead.

Louie’s warehouse was filthy with a heavy stench that hung in the air. Bottoms of soda cans were cutout and burnt from preparing his prescriptions. Trash covered the tables and floor. David looked with a heavy eye at Louie sitting at a desk in front of him.

His clothes hung off his boney figure. His pale eyes were slightly sunk into his head and glazed over like an old fish in a supermarket. His dry skin was ashy and adorned with red open abscess. Obviously, he was hooked to the gills. Louie was cutting photos out of magazines and then pasting them into an old book. Women, men, subtitles, it didn’t seem to matter to Louie. In fact, it didn’t seem to matter that David and Jessica had just walked in to his world.

"Hello," David said in a low, non-threatening voice. He could not afford to start off on the wrong foot with this man. Criminal or not, he could lead David to April’s killer.

"Well, now, you here to bust Old Louie?" He said in a scratchy voice.


"Good, you would be hard pressed, anyway. I’ve got a prescription for all this medication. I’m under the care of a doctor, you know."

Yea! Doctor Death.

We’re here for some information on a case we’re working."

Louie continued to work on his project, cutting and pasting very slowly.

"And what makes you think I would help you?"

"My fiancée." David paused for a minute, as he was choking up.

Jessica spoke. "His partner was killed about six months ago. We heard you may have some information."

"Who was your partner?" Louie never looked up from his book.

"April, but you knew her as Selma Kicks."

With a sigh Louie began to tell of a time that once was in his industry.

He said there were many models but none more memorable than Selma, explaining she had beautiful features, flawless skin, and a walk to die for. She had it all.

Louie looked up at David, his rotten teeth exposed between his cracked lips. "I heard about Selma’s death. Might have some info on her killer."

David leaned in closer to the reeking man. "Who is it?"

Louie shook his head. "I said might. Don’t know for sure. He’s a slender man, taller than you, blond hair, rotten teeth." He laughed with a gurgling smoker’s voice. "But don’t we all?"

David was growing impatient. "Just tell me about this man."

"He stays down at the old Johnson Center, run down place about three blocks from here." Louie motioned south from the warehouse. "Can’t miss the place, and can’t miss the fella. Lost three fingers on his left hand. Don’t know his name, but you’ll find him."

"Is that all you can tell us?"

"You’re sure pushy for someone that needs my help." Louie paused, cut his eyes at David, and then continued. "He works for the mob as a hired gun. That’s all I know."

"I appreciate the information. Just one more thing before I leave. Why?" David motioned toward the drug paraphernalia and magazines.

"Cut art is a coping skill for me. It’s how I deal with the everyday pressures of life. Falling from a life that once was is not easy, especially the one I was in. The champagne, the limelight, I had it all at one time and pushed it right into my vein. Drugs are a horrible thing, a demon that some of us will never shake. A demon you get used to seeing each and every day. He is always waiting for the next hit. Now I beg for change, for food. All I have now is a habit and a few good memories. Selma is one of those memories."

Dead silence hung between them for what seemed like forever with just the click of the second hand on David’s wristwatch, clicking through moments of deep and heavy thought.

"Well, David, you may need a coping skill before it is all over. Go find your killer. Find him, and put him away for what he has done." Louie turned his attention to his magazines.

David and Jessica walked through the warehouse and back outside. For blocks, no word was exchanged between them. They were headed into the badlands, the lower Eastside--April’s old district. David knew he was taking his life in his hands walking these streets. Finally, they made it to their destination, the Old Johnson Center at Sixth Street and Main.

The color of the brick building resembled an old tabby cat. Rust stains ran down its walls from the fire escape discoloring the sidewalk below. Windows of broken glass lined the front like jagged teeth in a darkened mouth.

The two of them made their way inside. A terrible feeling came over David that he had never felt before, but he was driven to find April’s killer. Fear of the unknown wasn’t going to stop him at this point. Jessica walked slowly behind him. Both of them were ready with guns drawn. The sand and trash that littered the floor felt as if it were moving underneath them with each step.

"We need to make it to the top floor. That’s probably where he is," David said in a low voice.

"How do you know that?"

"I don’t, but that’s where I would be if I were hiding out. You can see everything from the top floor. You can hear everything from the top floor. So that’s where we are going."

Step by step, they made their way to the top. It seemed as if their legs were going to give out. After twelve flights of stairs, they just wanted to finish their climb. At the upper level David signaled Jessica to turn down her radio before they moved down the hallway. A slight breeze blew through the building’s hollow shell and made old newspapers dance in the air in front of them. The old crystal chandelier in the hallway marked a time that once was when people crowded the ballroom below.

Something suddenly caught David’s eye, a movement in a room just ahead of him. It was a man, but not who he was looking for and certainly not who he expected. It was the man from the coffee shop. He gazed at David with hollow eyes. Then he motioned for David to look in the room he was standing in.

"What is it, David? Why have you stopped?" Jessica asked in a low voice.

"April’s killer is in that room." David pointed forward.

"Wait, how do you know?"

"I just do. Come on."

As they rounded the corner and entered the room, the killer waited with his gun drawn. David was now face to face with his fiancée’s killer.

"Put it down, man," David yelled.

The killer said, "I knew you would come for me after I put my knife in your partner. In fact, this is her gun. How ironic would it be to shoot you with her gun."

"Shut up and put the gun down."

The killer smiled. "You know she begged for her life."

David looked at the man from the coffee shop which no one could see or hear but him. Shrugging his shoulders, his mysterious friend said, "I think comments like that trump the law, don’t you?"

David looked back at the killer. There was an eerie silence between them. This man was no good. He only lived to bring misery and death to others. David knew he was sworn to uphold the law. He was torn between what was right and what was law. But David wouldn’t have to wrestle long with his thoughts, the killer squeezed his trigger, firing in David’s direction. The flash from the guns muzzle in the dark room was almost blinding. David fired back but something strange happened. His gun didn’t fire.

What is wrong with my gun? Why won’t it fire?

Jessica’s gun was working just fine. She shot at the killer. David glanced at the man from the coffee shop. Calmly, he said, "It’s over, David. It’s time."

David looked back at the gun fight and the killer was lying on the ground lifeless but so was David. Horrified, he instantly realized why his gun didn’t work. He wasn’t able to pull the trigger because he was dead. David could see Jessica trying to resuscitate him.

The man from the coffee shop spoke again. "Someone is ready for you to cross over."

David couldn’t believe what he saw. It was April standing in front of him with a smile that David had longed to see again. Her eyes were full of happiness and her arms were ready for his embrace.

The man spoke once more. "You see, David, sometimes dreams have a way of staying just dreams between two people when one of them is suddenly taken away. And sometimes the dreams are just meant to take place in the next life."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Danila Botha : Got No Secrets

A few days ago, I finished reading the book Got No Secrets by author Danila Botha. This first person short story collection took me down the path of 12 young women struggling with drug addition, eating disorders, self harm, rape, and abuse.

Like a cutter slicing their skin gently with a razor till the blade becomes slippery and thick with blood, Botha’s words cut to the bone with precision. Artistic merit few possess. She brings issues of pain buried in the character’s innermost-self, rushing to the surface in such a way the reader can almost feel the first slice of skin stinging slightly with sweat. Yet, at the same time helping the reader understand the desperation of the self harm, self loathing addict, wanting so badly to feel anything in the life that surrounds them.

The sour smell of death lingers on Botha’s words in stories like, A Tiny Thud. As I read, I remember the loss of loved ones to overdoses. Living with these memories is something you never escape. But finding a friend half dead, reaching out to you, mumbling for help in a scrambled language of syllables and word-parts is a living nightmare. A memory you learn to cope with or at least bury until the same haunting sounds wake you in the night.

Botha’s stories, Don’t Talk Junk, and Smacked had a feeling of William S. Burroughs meets Go Ask Alice. I enjoyed her use of Afrikaans in Smacked quite a bit as well. It added to her unique style of writing.

Heroin Heights pulled me in and held me without mercy. Its depth and undertones of pained emotion were something that could be felt in the words Botha laid down.

But the one story that stood out, the real punch in the gut for me was, Just, Quietly, Do it. As I read, I remembered an old friend from 8th grade who had a monster for a father. One day he started in on her. One thing led to another and when she was trying to flee out of the front door, he grabbed her arm, held it in the doorway, then slammed the door shut on it. She said her hand dangled there like an old glove from her broken arm. I still remember the bright red cast that dressed her arm and the fear that lined her eyes as she told me.

A few days later she said her and her mother were leaving in the middle of the night once her father fell asleep. She asked if I could go to her locker the next day and retrieve her books and return them to the office. I said, yes and hugged her goodbye.

That night, I lay in bed, tears streaming down my face, wishing I could have somehow changed her life. I looked out the window in my room, and felt compete sadness as I gazed into the darkness. I knew she was just a few houses away; waiting for her father to get drunk and pass out so her mother and she could make their escape. It was one of the longest nights of my life. This story brought all of it back to me like it just happened yesterday.

The last story I would like to touch on is, My So-Called Date. Reading it was like being run over by a train several times. The bravery alone it took to put these words to paper and to write about the atrocities of rape, takes guts. Botha stares fearlessly into this topic without cringing. Talking about subjects like these is something very difficult to do, much less writing about them for the whole world to read and critique. Danila does this, time, after time, after time. Her fearless writing style makes this book an enjoyable read.

Danila Botha : Got No Secrets

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Artist’s Dreams

M C A from The Beastie Boys passed away from cancer yesterday. This news instantly put me in a funk. The Beastie Boys were a huge influence to my generation but an even bigger influence in the “Skate-Punk World,” I’ve been part of for what seems like a lifetime. The 1980’s and 90’s would not have been the same without their music.

When an artist like M C A passes away it makes me evaluate what is most important, writing or art wise, at that moment in my life. What do I need to finish, and what have I already done that I can look back on with pride? This is how I’m wired. The writer / artist’s mind is constantly thinking, trying to make sense of the world that surrounds them. Evaluating what has been done, what could be done, and how much time we still have to do it before our time is up… All of this is evaluated against the physical and mental shape we’re in at that moment.

Sadly for the artist, time is always against us, especially if you’ve given everything to make your dreams come true. “Walking The Path Less Traveled!” As Mr. Frost would say. Inevitably, one day, you wake up to the fact, you’re scared, tattooed, and physically worn-out; no longer hirable because your body’s paid a heavy price from years of underpaying jobs. The sleepless nights of writing show in the faint smeared shadows under your eyes. Nights where the wall clock clicks in perfect rhythm; the insomniac’s makeshift metronome moving through time with the sweep of its long pointed hands. Your words of everyday conversations have now turned to whispers wrapped softly with the slight sound of a wheeze.

But you also realize it’s all worth it. For your true voice is now stronger than ever. Because the path you’ve chosen, many faded years ago, is that of a writer, an artist… It was not some dead-end job submerged in quarter raises and promises of, “one day too this all could be yours.” It was page after page of writing all that you felt inside for a world that seemed to be asleep. Asleep to anything creative you were trying to do. When the rejection letters outnumber the junk mail, you still kept sending work out. Submission, after submission, after submission. Until you start to see your work published. This is the greatest feeling in the world.

I think, I get my hardheaded determination to make something out of my dreams from my father. If he wanted to do something, he did it. He didn’t talk about it, he did it. He once made the top ten in sales for the linen company he worked for back in the early 1960’s. This was on a national level. He went door to door selling his service in addition to driving his route, picking up, and dropping off the big bulky bags of clothing. But what really made this so amazing was, he stuttered and was uncomfortable communicating with strangers.

Another example came years later. After never showing any interest in music, my father came home from work one day holding a banjo. He said, he had always wanted to learn how to play. I think everyone’s jaw dropped at the same time. It was just so out of the norm for him. But we loved to see him pursue something he had only dreamed about for 50 years.

So night after night he plucked away at its strings with his thick fingers trying so hard to make some type of recognizable sound. Slowly he learned some set-chords, then songs. I was amazed at how hard he tried to learn to play after hours of working landscaping in the hot Florida sun.

So, if you want your dreams to become a reality you need to start now. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come. Never let someone tell you, you are too old to do something or to young, especially yourself... If you want to do something in this life of ours, do it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Along For The Ride

Oddly enough, the gun barrel Jimmy had placed in his mouth felt and tasted exactly how he imagined it would. As the gun rested softly on his tongue, and his lips wrapped around its muzzle, a somewhat metallic, yet bitter flavor from the spent gunpowder filled his senses. Making him acutely aware of the task at hand. But the strangest thing Jimmy recalled about that moment was the cold steel of the gun slowly warming to the same temperature of his mouth as he tried to work up the courage to squeeze the trigger.

Suddenly snapping back from his dark memory to the present time, Jimmy thought, "I’ve got to stop thinking of these things. I’ve got to move on."

"Jimmy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. You okay?"

"I’m fine, just thinkin’ is all."

"Alright, I’ve got to get ready. The show starts in ten minutes and Lady is never late for her show."

Jimmy had never been with a woman before. He sat nervously while Lady Blue prepared to go on stage. In his mind, he was still just a kid that hadn’t made it past the football stadium nights of cheerleaders, and prom queen hopefuls. There weren’t many women to pick from in his part of rural Mississippi, especially if you were marked as being different like Jimmy was.

"Jimmy, you goin’ to be around after the show?" Lady Blue asked, breaking his thoughts.

"Yes, ma’am, I’ll be around." Jimmy dropped his head, his voice barely audible.

"Sweetie, you don’t have to call me Ma’am, just call me Lady," She snapped her power compact shut and tossed it in the makeup bin. Turning to face him her eyes gave him a once-over.

Jimmy squirmed under her inspection. "Okay, Lady it is."

"How did you end up with us anyways? You seem a little young to be on the road."

"I can hold my own," Jimmy spit out.

"Sugar, I didn’t mean to offend. I just meant you look young is all. I did notice you have a limp, and your hand don’t work that well. What happened?"

Jimmy remained quiet, not uttering a word.

"There I go again, sticking my nose where it don’t belong. Never mind what I said. We’ll have a drink after the show, and if you want to talk, we can talk, okay," Lady smiled.

Jimmy finally looked up. "Okay, I could use a drink."


Jimmy watched as Lady Blue pulled her fishnet hose slowly into position. Narrowing her toes, she slipped into her four inch stilettos. Standing up, Lady walked gracefully over and then leaned into a kiss with Jimmy. His heart raced as her full lips touched his cheek, and his mind ran wild as her beard scratched his face.

"See you after the show." Lady said, as she exited the tent right on cue to the Circus Caller’s Booming Voice.

"Step right up to see the show of a lifetime folks, LADY BLUE, the woman with whiskers. That’s right, she’s not a werewolf, and this ain’t no full moon. She’s got a busty body with long lean legs, and bristles on top."

Jimmy stood near the tent’s opening, on the edge of the stage watching Lady’s performance. Jimmy thought to himself how it wasn’t that long ago he was standing on the edge of life. Walking its sometimes tricky balance near death.

Lady finished her show and walked off stage. "Alright, Jimmy, I’m glad that’s over. Each performance seems to get harder as the years go by. My body can’t keep going like this night after night."

"Awk Aaaawk." A strange sound, from an even stranger looking man interrupted their conversation. His hair was greasy and slicked back. What teeth he still possessed were badly decayed and crooked. But most distinguishable of all about him was the soured smell coming from underneath the multiple fat rolls cascading down his body.

Jimmy’s stomach roiled as the man grew closer. He would certainly never get the drop on someone, even in the shadows of a dark alleyway.

"Sam, don’t you know how to knock?" Lady cut her eyes at the reeking man.

"I do, Awk Aaaawk. Is that the new worker? Awk." Sam looked at Jimmy with his one good eye. The other eye was covered over with some type of milky film and drifted without control.

"Yea, that’s him, but he ain’t working tonight. You’ll get him in the morning. Jimmy, this is Sam."

"Nice to meet you, Sam."

"Aaaawk Aaaaaaaaawk. You just be ready to help with the, Awk, elephants in the morning. By help I mean, Aaaawk, clean out their pins, Aawk.

Sam pushed the tent’s flap aside and walked out. He was finally gone, but his smell lingered for several minutes afterwards.

Lady reached for her smokes. Putting the pack's open end to her mouth she gently grabbed a filter with her teeth then tugged it into a soft clinch with her lips. Jimmy could hear the slight crackle of tobacco as the flame brushed the end.

"Man, I’m glad Stinky Sam is gone. He is a big pain in the ass, especially with all that damn squawking he does constantly. He thinks he’s a bird of prey or something, which would be fine if he weren’t such an asshole. You better watch yourself around him. I’ve seen how he treats those animals with that cane of his, burying that sharp little hook into the backs of those elephants' legs to get them to move, and believe me, if Lucky could find a replacement for Stinky Sam, he would."

"I’ll watch out for him."


Trying to change the subject, Jimmy leaned forward and said, "I liked your show, Lady."

Lady took a long drag from her cigarette, then placed it on an old ceramic plate that still held part of that day’s lunch. "It’s hell on my body, but it’s something I like to do. You want a drink, Kid? You seem a little tense."

"Yea, a drink would be nice right about now," Jimmy said, as Lady grabbed a bottle of whiskey from under her dressing station. She slowly poured the golden brown liquid into two shot glasses.

"So, Jimmy how the hell did you get linked up with the circus? Other than that strange walk of yours, and that hand that don’t seem to close all the way, you seem pretty normal."

"Lucky hired me to work with the freaks in the side tent. But, for now, I have to clean up after the animals. He said he needed a little time to fit me into the act."

"I’m not so sure I would classify you as a freak, Jimmy."

Lady’s eye’s narrowed as Jimmy grabbed the brim of his hat and then slowly pulled it back to expose what he had been hiding from her. Jimmy could see Lady’s eyes were now wide and full of question.

"Wow, Jimmy, what happened?" Lady said, as she gazed upon Jimmy's uneven skull that was decorated with long lines of surgical scar tissue. Its top was recessed, and looked like a ball that air had slowly leaked out of.

Jimmy leaned in and touched the sunken part of his skull. "Lucky said, that I would be perfect to pass off as someone who had put his head in the lion's jaws, and the lion bit down on."

Lady looked a little bewildered. "So, what really happened?"

"I use to be a severe stutterer growing up. School was a living hell for me. I had fallen in love with a beautiful girl named Tasha, and I thought she had fallen in love with me. But then our classmates got to her and started to tease her for just talking to me. The school jocks would walk up to us and say, Ji, Ji, Ji Jimmy’s in love with Ta, Ta, Ta, Tasha," Jimmy said, as a single tear streaked a wet line down his face.

"You don’t have to say anymore, sweetie."

"No, you should know my story. You’ve already seen its scars."

"Okay, let’s hear it."

"I had finally reached the point where I didn’t want to go on anymore. In my mind I had no reason to live. So, I did it."

Jimmy put his hand now in the shape of a gun up to his mouth, then his thumb dropped down like a hammer.

"The only mistake I made was, using too small of a caliber. That 22 went right through my head, and I was still alive. I thought I was dead at first. Then I could taste the gunpowder and blood drooling from the side of my mouth. It felt like a thousand bees were in my throat stinging me over and over, and my head was being squeezed in a vice," Jimmy calmly said, as he took another shot of whiskey.

"Damn, Jimmy. What happened then?" Lady Blue was now on the edge of her seat.

"All I remember from that point was immense pain shooting through my body, then nothing but darkness. There was no magical place I was suddenly in. No other side, at least I don’t remember there being one. I woke up twenty-two months later lying in a nursing home, a ward of the state of Mississippi. And until you’ve been a ward of the state, especially in Mississippi you don’t know what fun you’re missing."

"I bet," Lady then shook her head. "So, what happened to your stutter?"

"My stutter was gone. The bullet must have changed something in my brain but it gave me something new to deal with," Jimmy said touching his leg.

"So, that’s why you walk with a limp."

"You got it. I was paralyzed on one side of my body."

Lady grabbed the bottle off her dressing table and poured two more shots. She then reached in her purse for a new pack of smokes. Smacking them upside-down on her palm, she packed the tobacco to her liking. Unwinding the cellophane, Lady pulled a cigarette for herself then Jimmy. The room was filled with the faint smell of fresh tobacco and the strong smell of whiskey. After lighting both of their smokes, Lady stepped out of her heels. Sitting down she moved her hand to the top part of her hose, pinching with her thumb and forefinger, she slid each stocking down carefully then placed them back in their egg shaped containers.

"Sorry, my man. I’ve got to get out of this outfit and into something a little more comfortable."

"Not a problem." Jimmy could feel the liquor had finally relaxed him. Lady step out of her dress, then pulled on a t-shirt with the words, Soccer Mom across the front. After sliding into some cutoffs Lady plopped back down in her seat.

"Wow, I’m glad to be out of that outfit. Some of the things Lucky has me wear are ridiculous. So, what happened next? How did you regain the use of your body?"

"One day a new nurse came into my room. There was something about her that I liked instantly. She looked at me differently; treated me differently. She looked past everything that was wrong with me with complete kindness. Her name was Callie and she was beautiful."

Lady started to chuckle. She propped her feet up on the stool next to her. "So, she found a way to get you up and moving?"

"She wasn’t that type of nurse." Jimmy laughed. "No, Callie never gave up on me. Every day she would come in and move my legs and arms like the physical therapist would do. Finally, I got to where I could sit up on my own."

Lady brushed her beard softly with her hand, pondering Jimmy’s story.

"So, let’s get down to it. What happened between you two?"

"Well, I started to notice strange things about Callie. She would come into my room late at night when she thought I was asleep. Not moving, I would slightly lift my eyelids and watch her sitting in the darkness. She was always nibbling on something. Slowly tearing a wrapper, then holding something to her mouth biting little pieces off. One night I woke, not able to breathe. She happened to be in my room, in the darkness with her secrets. Anyways, she jumped up quickly and was at my side. After I had started to breathe normally. I saw something in her teeth; something she did not have time to pick out. It was bright red and waxy looking. It was a familiar color I had seen somewhere but I could not place where or when. I finally asked what she had been eating. She was very defensive at first, almost hostile. She stormed out of the room, and I didn’t see her the rest of the night. Then the following night she appeared in the darkness again. After watching me a while, Callie came and sat down beside me. She said she was ashamed, but she had a secret she wanted to share with me."

Lady lit another smoke. Her exhale blew out quickly and then drifted to the top of the tent. "Spit it out already. What was she eating?"

"She was eating crayons."

"That’s what she was scared to come out and say. Hell, I was born with a female’s body and a man’s face, and I get on stage every night."

Lady threw her hands upwards and then smacked her thigh. Her dramatic movement made the ash from her cigarette break off and fall to her lap. Jimmy smiled. He knew if she was feeling half of what he was feeling that ash wouldn’t matter at all.

"The difference is, Lady, you work and live with a traveling freak show. You have to think, she was a freak on the inside. She couldn’t tell anyone around her about her obsession. She was eating twelve or so of those bad boys a day. So, when she told me there was this instant bond that happened between us. I told her, I was not going to judge her, that I had been looked at differently all of my life. This seemed to lift a heavy burden off her."

Lady glanced out of the tent’s opening, then back to Jimmy. "So, why are you here, and why is she wherever?"

"In some way Callie and I needed each other. Late at night, when most of the staff was sleeping in a corner somewhere she would appear in my room. She would crawl in bed with me and hold me close to her. She would snack on her crayons, and we would watch television together. We talked for hours about everything under the sun. As we talked Callie would describe each color of crayon she was nibbling on. The texture, the waxy feel in her teeth, and the pieces, somewhat melted, somewhat hard sliding down her throat. She was happy, and I was happy. It was probably the best part of my life. But it all came to an end when one night we accidentally fell to sleep and woke to her supervisor standing over us. It was over for Callie’s job. She had to leave the state, and I was stuck right back in a place with no one I could relate to."

"So, did you find out where she went?"

Jimmy shook his head. "Not at first."

Months drifted by slowly without a word. I mean slowly. Then one day a letter came in the mail. Callie was living in Lawrence, Kansas, and wanted me to come live with her. She said she could not stop thinking about the two of us spending the rest of our lives together."

Lady smiled. "I bet she was eating the hell out of some crayons by that point if she lost her job and had to move that far away. So, you joined the circus so you could catch a ride to Kansas."

A bright smile suddenly stretched across Jimmy’s face. "Callie will be in the stands tomorrow night. After the show we can start our life together. I can’t wait to see her."

"Well, you better get some sleep then. Climb on in bed with Momma. I promise I won’t bite. It will get cold in this tent, and it’s always good to snuggle with a friend."

Jimmy climbed in bed with Lady Blue. He nestled into her full chest and then drifted to sleep in her arms, with the light brush of her whiskers on top of his head.

The next morning’s sun rose faster than Lady and Jimmy would have liked it to. Its bright rays pierced the tent's red and white striped canvas, casting the interior in a light pink alabaster haze.

Waking up hung-over in a circus tent was a new experience for Jimmy. He reluctantly made his way outside to the fairground’s spigot, roughly thirty yards from Lady’s tent. Placing his head under the cool water, Jimmy smothered the pain of his splitting headache. He then submerged his head in the bucket below, making everything so quiet, so peaceful.

Pulling his head up Jimmy’s headache came rushing back in the form of a voice saying, "Awk Aaaawk Aaaaaaaaaaaawk. You were supposed to be cleaning the cages of those filthy beasts at seven AM. Those stinking elephants need to be out for training. Aaaawk. Aaaaaaaaawk."

Jimmy felt like he had been hit with a sledgehammer. Being shouted at by this strange little fat man who believed he was a bird seemed a little much after a night of drinking with Lady Blue. He was dumbfounded for a moment with the annoying screech still ringing in his head. He finally replied, "Okay, okay, I’m headed that way."

"Good. Awk, this will not go unreported to Lucky. Aaaawk.

Jimmy slid his hands through his dripping wet hair. Lighting a cigarette brought slight memories of the night before with Lady. A slight smile crossed his thin lips as his thoughts turned to Callie. He looked off in the distance for a long moment quietly smoking. Then punched out his smoke.

Enough daydreaming Jimmy. You still have a day of work ahead of you.

After a long morning of cleaning cages, and sweating alcohol out of his body, Jimmy realized it was lunchtime. He could finally sit down and rest. By now Jimmy’s stomach was turning with nervousness. It had been two long years since he had seen Callie. In his mind he could still see her soft face and beautiful smile; her scarlet lips rich and full; her dark hair pulled back as she usually kept it. But what he remembered most were Callie’s piercing blue eyes. Her mysterious gaze seemed to look right through him at times.

Jimmy’s concentration was broken once again by that awful noise, "Aaaawk Aaaawk." Sam shouted as he chastised the elephants with his Cane of Pain as he loved to call it, rapping them over and over with its sharp little hook.

Then Lady stepped into view. She reached out and snatched his cane, and in one fast swoop caught Sam in his ass. The steel hook grabbed his right cheek.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaawk!" Sam screeched.

Lady’s cigarette danced in her mouth as she began to rapidly scold Sam, "You like that, did you? These animals don’t need all this misery you bring them day in and day out, you stinkin’ bastard."

"Aaaawk, I’m going to Lucky with what you did to me."

Lady then broke his cane over her thigh. As she handed the pieces to Sam she said, "Take this to him while you’re at it."

"Aaaawk, Aaaawk, Aaaaaaaaaaaawk!" Sam hobbled off toward Lucky’s tent.

Lady looked over at Jimmy. "He had it comin’."

Jimmy smiled at Lady. "I know."

The rest of the day seemed to move a little faster than the first half. Jimmy fed and watered the elephants all while listening to Strange Sam complain about how he was treated by Lady.

Finally it was show time. The Circus Caller started his rant, "Step right up. This is the greatest show on earth, folks. We have it all, lions, tigers, freaks, strong men, bearded women, little people, and not so little people. We have it all."

Jimmy scanned the crowd looking for Callie as the show began. Then a waving figure caught his eye. Her smile so bright, so welcoming to his longing eyes.

Suddenly, a loud shrill sound came from the center of the ring. It was the lead bull elephant blasting sounds of rage through his long gray trunk pointed straight up. Then a loud, "Aaaawk, Awaaaaak Awaaa--"

All at once the crowd began to scream and panic. Jimmy could see Strange Sam's lifeless body under the forehead and tusks of the giant bull, an animal that could easily push down full grown trees in the jungle. But today was pushing with everything it had into his tanner’s fat chest, smashing it into a four inch high piece of meat and broken bones. Sam’s eyes then popped from their sockets. They looked like two elongated eggs dripping with light pink blood.

Then Jimmy’s heart sank with fear seeing the bull now turn his anger on the crowd. Breaking its chains it started for the stands. The look of terror stretched tightly across Callie’s face. The bull was now starting to nudge the wooden bleachers, moving them with ease. The steel frame creaked and moaned as it buckled under the enormous force. The bull then let out another loud shrill through his trunk directly into the crowd as he shook his head back and forth.

Jimmy without a thought for his own safety made his way to the bull, shouting, trying to get his attention. Waving his arms frantically, he finally caught the eye of the bull. He swung his massive trunk, knocking Jimmy to the floor like a rag doll. Out of breath and on the ground Jimmy could hear Callie screaming. He somehow mustered the strength to stand and started up the bleachers to Callie. Halfway up, he felt the prickly cracked skin of the bull’s trunk wrap around his waist. Jimmy was suddenly flying through the air. He dropped to the unforgiving concrete floor below. Lying on the ground helpless, tears fell from his eyes as he saw the bull getting closer to Callie. Jimmy was weak and had taken a good hit to his head when thrown across the tent. Suddenly the screaming crowd was silenced by a shot ringing out. The bull slowly dropped to his knees, making low groans and grunts as blood flowed from his head. Then its giant gray body relaxed all of its muscles and fell lifeless on its side.

Moments later, Jimmy was in the arms of his Callie. Her tears dropped onto his face as she pressed her lips into his. Speaking softly, she told Jimmy to hold on, she wasn’t going to lose him twice. This was the last thing Jimmy remembered. He awoke three days later in the hospital. Callie was asleep in a waiting room chair beside his bed, her fingers intertwined with his.

"Callie," Jimmy said softly. "Wake up."

Callie slowly opened her eyes. "You’re alive. I didn’t know if you were going to make it there for a while. I love you, Jimmy."

In a whisper Jimmy said, "I love you, too."

There was a slight pause between them. They spent a few moments searching each other’s faces. Then Jimmy spoke, "You know you don’t need to be in that chair down there. You need to be up here with me, holding me until I’m completely well. This time you can’t be fired for showing how much you truly love another person."

Callie’s face lit up with happiness as she climbed in bed with Jimmy. Lying on his chest, she slowly unraveled a dark purple crayon. Then nibbled at its end. All was well in Jimmy’s world.

Published at The Fringe Magazine of Australia, July 25, 2011