Wolf River

3 Mar

“Their nightly singing became as soothing as rainfall on a window, an ancient sound of the earth, of life itself”

– J. Dutcher

Most men had forgotten about the King property on the south bank of the Wolf River, halfway between Rossville and Piperton. The land was overgrown with vine and bushes, and the steel gate on the country road was rusted beyond repair. The path that led up the hill from the waterfront had long since been overrun, and was not easily traversed. Atop the hill stood the old house with the thick timber walls and the tall windows overlooking the water. The Wolf River flows slowly through Tennessee, and its winding curves make for a pleasant and unchallenging course. It’s said that the local Indian tribe, the Chickasaw, used to travel from village to village on a calm day without paddling their canoes, drifting down the stream like leaves on a lazy wind. The spring-fed Nashoba, as the Chickasaw called it, is no more. In its place sits the Wolf, silted and contaminated. Eroding banks and sanded bogs now littered the shore, the bright sounds of yesteryear long since faded into eerie quiet.


The dead branches on the ground crumpled underfoot as Michael stepped out of the dinghy. The dock swayed in the current as he tied the boat in place and slung the canvas bag over his shoulder. Standing tall, he spat into the murky depths and stepped onto the shore of the small pebble beach. Aside from the bag and the machete sheathed at his waist, Michael had brought little with him. He wore a cotton shirt that hung loose at the neck and a pair of old infantry pants tucked into wool socks. With the tip of his boot, he scraped through the long grass, pushing aside dry leaves until he found the rocks hidden underneath. The bushes, once kept trim by his brothers at his father’s behest, had grown wild and tangled, their leafy branches intertwined, obscuring the graveled path.


Michael dropped his bag to the ground and took to the brush on the hill with the machete. He pushed methodically upwards; sweat dripping from his arms into the soil. The blade was sharp, and struck quickly through the wood and leaves. He was halfway up the hill as the sun began to fall beneath the trees on the river’s opposite bank. The sunlight flickered and reflected off the windows up above, the glare reflecting in his eyes. Cutting through the last of the overgrowth, Michael stepped from the path onto the well-worn wrap-around patio. As he turned towards the water, the sun finally settled across the shore. The Wolf River grew dark, but the constant whispering of the current remained.


There had once stood a cabin on the land, small but sturdy, almost a hundred years ago. Now, in its place stood a grand old home, built by Michael’s grandfather Marlon after his war. The front of the house was built facing the river, and was perched precariously over the side of the steep slope where the path led down to the dock. The porch was dotted with wrought iron benches, where Michael and his brothers used to sleep on hot summer days. When he was young, their home had been the pride of the county, but now it was grey and rot with age. Every door had been bolted shut from the inside, save the one overlooking the lake. Michael laid his bag at his feet and patted down his jacket pockets before finding the iron key hung on a cord of twine. He had received it in the barracks post in ‘43, attached with a form letter from the bank, explaining that the house was his property now. He hadn’t understood until he received the letter from his cousins in Rossville the next day. Though the escutcheon had long since rusted, the lock held true, and the key slid easily into place. Michael heard the grinding of the unused gears, and pushed the door unstuck into the living room. No one had set foot in the house in eleven years, and the floors were choked with dust. As he walked past the fireplace, Michael dropped his bag on the wide dining table and stepped into the kitchen.


He remembered his brother Robert taking him on a walk towards town when they had been only five and seven years old; they had cut through the wheat field across the road, and trucked through a shallow pond just north of the Twin Lakes. As they came down the gentle slope onto the McInnes farm, they had seen the old man and his wife out in the orchard, and had offered their hands, picking the low hanging fruit near until sunset. They had left with wide smiles, sore arms and a small hemp sack of apples given in thanks. Walking back, Robert got the idea to cut the apples and ask their Ma to bake a pie. When they climbed the steps and walked through the back door, their father was sitting in his favourite chair smoking from a small bruyere pipe. The chair was old and worn, but he loved it well, as it had been his father’s.


Their father hardly lifted his head from his book as the boys made way to the kitchen and Robert drew a long sharp knife from the block. He stepped onto the stool, and as the pipe smoke floated above their heads, began to slice the apples methodically. All of a sudden, he hollered like a beast, and the knife slipped from his hand and fell and stuck in the floor inches from Michael’s feet. There was blood everywhere, and the screams woke the baby and Ma yelled from upstairs, but before the panic truly took hold, their father was there with his clasped iron box. The case was well polished, with silver latches, a thick leather handle and the arms of the U.S Army emblazoned across its front. It clicked open, and their father removed a small tin sewing kit and several pads of gauze. He was calm, and his lips were taut under his thick red beard as he told Michael to hold the gauze to the wound and told their Ma to stay upstairs with the baby. The cut was deep, Michael could see that much, and the pale white bone of Robert’s thumb was visible halfway between the knuckle and wrist.


His father’s hands were steady, never faltering, threading the needle back and forth through the flesh of his brother’s hand. Robert was crying, trying to stifle his sobs by clenching his teeth as the stitches brought sinew and skin together. Their father’s concentration never wavered, his pale green eyes set solely on the task at hand. He didn’t speak other than to ask for gauze or thread, and for a moment, Michael felt as if he were standing by his father’s operating table in town. By the time they were done, Robert’s tears had dried. Their father reminded them that they were too young to handle knives, and called down their Ma to dote on the patient. She did, and had kisses for Michael and Robert both. She had made them throw away the apples, which had been sprayed with blood, but she promised to buy more.


Michael stood and slowly walked towards the basement door in the northwest corner of the house. As he did, the floorboards moved and creaked beneath him, the dust jumping and settling with every step. It was then that he heard the howling whistle through the cracks in the walls, carried adrift over the river from up in the hills. Quickly, he rushed to the door, and opened it to swallow the sound. It was beautiful, he thought, to hear as the wolves joined each other from miles away. The moon was crisp and white, only a sliver away from full, its light hanging soft on the trees like snow. Every howl was followed by another and as each joined the baleful orchestra grew stronger. The Nashoba was alive with the night as the moonlight played off its surface, like a projection in a cinema, with the wolves as a beautiful accompaniment. Each voice was different than the one before it as they cried out to their brothers and sisters from miles away. Suddenly, the song began to fade and the voices dropped off one at a time, as Michael stood silent, shivering from the cold.


Stepping back inside, he climbed down the basement stairs and opened the cellar door. He stood before the large antique cabinet with wound metal handles and fumbled in his pockets for the key he had found in his father’s safety deposit box in Rossville. It was small and silver and it bore his grandfather’s initials engraved in block letters. As he moved to turn the lock the door gently swung open on its own, revealing the collected armaments of four generations of the King family. That the door was unlocked was worrisome, but to his relief all the weapons were accounted for. On the far left was the Enfield rifle laid down by his great-uncle William at the skirmish at Moscow. Next were his grandfather’s three hunting rifles, with which Michael, his brothers and his father were all taught to shoot, firing at cans perched on a dock out on the river. His uncle’s Lee-Enfield, which his father had bought back after the Great War, reddened with rust, hung next to a leather holster with his father’s pistol.


Their father had first killed a man in the Belleau Wood, though he had rarely spoken of it. He had been reassigned from his battalion to the Marines, and followed Sergeant Daly’s group as a medic on the first charge through the field. Sixteen men were dead in the blink of an eye as the machine guns tore through their ranks, their bodies disappearing beneath the waist-high wheat. His father had been lucky, and had time enough to drop flat to the ground. Crawling on hands and knees, hidden to the enemy, he could find no sign of life in any of his men as the second wave charged the enemy encampment. He heard someone shout for a medic from the nearby wood, and had run to help. The man was an officer, and badly wounded, blood seeping through the front of his shirt. His father had reached for his kit, but before he could open it, a shot rang out and the officer’s chest burst open in a splash of bright red. He turned to see a German soldier advancing slowly, rifle in hand. Their father had always insisted that he had “only done what was necessary” that day, sparing the details until Michael and his brothers were old enough. He had feigned surrender, but when the German stepped closer to take his gun, he swept the man’s legs out from under him. They had wrestled in the mud, tearing at each other blindly. In the end Michael’s father had prevailed, and had drawn the German’s own dagger and sunk it in his throat. His father had never shown remorse when he told the tale, but Michael had seen the pain behind his eyes.


Michael took the pistol, climbed the stairs and stepped through the back door into the yard behind the house. Even in the dim light, he could make out the trees several yards away. The woods had seemed infinite when he was a boy, climbing over fallen trunks and through the thicket at dusk. It was an old oak forest, and the ground was thick all year round with dried leaves and twigs that crackled underfoot. He had only ever been lost once in those woods as a young boy, though he had not been scared. It had been so quiet and peaceful. Robert and Patrick had found him hours later, sitting with his back to the trunk of a tall birch tree, eyes closed, a smile hanging on his lips.

Michael stuck to the edge of the forest and collected birch bark and kindling. Passing the old wooden storehouse in the yard, he strode back towards the door of the house. He lit a match, and lay it gently under the birch in the small stone fireplace until the bark began to smoke and crisp. Adding the kindling and the logs, the flames spit and crackled, the heat creeping into Michael’s bones and bright yellow light flickering throughout the room. Once again, the house felt like home, and Michael could almost hear his Ma yelling at Patrick to finish his chores or calling the boys down for dinner. He remembered the sound of Patrick’s shouts when he caught his first trout, and their father’s laughter, and Robert smiling when he got his AGCT results in ’39. He was old now, Michael realized, and his brothers were gone, and here he was on the old sofa in their house, burning the old wood and staring down at the same old river. The fire wavered, reflecting in Michael’s eyes as his eyelids begun to shut. He felt the day and the night and the day before it in his bones. The heat softly cradled him against the pillows and he slept, the way a man can only sleep when he feels at home.


The howl carved through the silence and Michael woke with a start. The embers were fading, and he shivered in the early morning cold. The light filtered through the trees and dew collected on the windowpane as he rose with the fur blanket draped around his shoulders. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and walked out onto the porch into the dawn. He thought it queer that the wolves were howling now, with the night long since faded into day. The howl sounded again, and reverberated against the shore, along the river and through the trees, but there was no answer. It was a lone mournful wail, a pup looking for its pack. Michael turned and stepped back inside, leaving the door ajar to let the wind whistle in with the fresh country air. The wolf must have gotten lost. He hoped that its brothers were looking for it.


The fire’s embers had turned to charcoal and the house was dark, as the sun had not yet fully risen from behind the trees on the opposite bank. He opened the first drawer nearest the back door in the kitchen, and pulled out an old wooden box. Sitting down at the chair near the window, he set the box on his lap and opened it. The seat creaked, and the well-worn cushions spat up dust as he settled in. Michael sat back in his grandfather’s chair and loaded a single round from the box into the chamber of his father’s pistol, and stared out at the calm waters of the Wolf River as the sun rose above the trees and the last howl of the lone wolf rang out across the dawn.


cobblestone & tangerine

19 Sep

i met this girl who is probably my best shot at happiness

in the traditional sense of contentment and joy and

not feeling like total shit all the time.

she likes to drink good whisky and has a kind of wit

that takes getting used to.

i thought i was clever and i laboured under that impression

for years

but she has put me in my place with nothing more than a

word and a smile and a stare

and an offhand comment about how to learn

and what it truly means to learn.

the worst thing is that i cannot shrug nor shake her off

as being too good for me

as she would have me if she could but

her heart is in pieces, i think

so I’m left in the lurch without a leg to stand on

or a pot to piss in and i’m running out of metaphors.

she has these pale bright blue eyes and light brown hair

and she looks a lot like a lot of the other girls i have loved

but its different because she’s not just beautiful she is

strange and weird and all of those adjectives that

i have noted down to look for in love but that scares me

because i made that list to prove there’s no such thing

as a soulmate

because fuck the one i’ve had twenty-five (or so)

and they’ve all been beautiful but they haven’t

been strange they have been so much

in control

and she is like a stone inside a tangerine

that you don’t expect to bite into but

you put in your pocket because you were struck by the moment

and now she is sitting at home and

i am a thousand miles away and even

when i am close to her i am a hundred miles from home

so what’s the point

if she would have me, i would have to have her and hold her

and take her anywhere she wants to go because i am

indecisive and patient with my love and she is full of motion

and she will need to cut me in half to inspect inside

and if she finds corruption and approves of it and smiles

i will know its love because fuck freshly paved concrete

cobblestone is the future

because where else will your cigarette butts go but

between the cracks between the stones

and between the cracks between your teeth.

she doesn’t like poetry

which is good because i don’t either i just

write it because if i didn’t i would probably burn down my house

with vegetable oil like a great and terrible vegan arsonist

best of all she is musical, not that she plays music but

that she feels it she dances and sings and for all

i know she does neither well but she does them and thats

all that matters because you have to feel it inside you

the way you feel a drink on a cold winter night burning you up

and tearing you apart so you can put yourself back together

so i can take the pieces of my heart

and crudely push them together like the wrong puzzle pieces

into something even nearly resembling the picture on the front of the box

so that i am not playing a role but rolling with the punches

and then i might just feel ready

when i will never be ready , but thats

thats the point isn’t it,

that every day will be like the first day

and if its not, then it will be the last

letters under the covers

10 Sep

Underneath my bed
I found words from someone else’s head
It started off simply and
Written in someone else’s hand
She said, “I love you but I don’t want to see you yet”

How old it was I could not say
Yellowed paper, the ink faded with age
It read “Sometimes it’s better to wait
Than to rush and push and pull and make mistakes”

She signed like at the dotted line
“Christopher you’re the apple of my eye
But our love is rot
And like all things, it must die”


23 Jul


it is the thousandth day

since i met you in the lobby of the Y

and told you that you would be fine

i knew you and

you knew me

we had heard stories

and i had heard you were pretty

but thats different from having a match lit

in the back of your head


all of a sudden the lights are on and

i had to walk slowly in case the

fire might burn out

but it didn’t


you started work the next week

and we saw each other

in the cold water

and sometimes spent tuesday afternoons

with frozen fingertips

below ground sharing

sweaters and stories and

sometimes we would even do our jobs

you hid behind your soft smile

and easy eyes

and i pored over you

with cheap quotes and sleazy lies

in case you might be

swayed so simply

but you weren’t


i made love to other girls before i loved you

and i loved another girl when i first made love with you

and you never forgave me that

but believe me, once i loved you they


and i walked to you

at 4 in the morning when you called

i poured myself into you

and i would walk home at 5 when you got tired

and i would spend sunrise at the park

just smiling

until the time you didn’t let me leave

and made me stay past dawn

and we ate cereal and toast and then

walked home together

which made me smile

your kiss made me feel like a better man

like i could change

but i couldn’t


i forgot about your fears

the loose change in your pockets

is always there, but you don’t spend

it unless you need to

but you needed to

because i was scaring you

with the same routine

and you didn’t feel like

staying up til sunrise anymore

because the light hurt your big blue eyes

and i let myself be fooled

by that same soft smile

until the night came when i

strolled down the boulevard

awaiting your call knowing you

would want me in your bed

knowing you would soon want me

in your arms

but you didn’t


i spent the summer by the lake

and you spent it waiting

for the wave- but the wave had broken

and rolled back past the high tide

and the bench marked your heart

because you knew it wasn’t forever

and that i would be leaving soon

but that didn’t hurt

because you didn’t love me


and you knew

that i had drained myself

to fuel the fire

but your match was a

whispering whistle of smoke

but maybe

you thought

even then

you thought

it could have gone a little while longer

but it couldn’t


and the next time you called

it was not to call me

into your bed

but to call me

into your arms

and kiss me with an uneasy smile

and teary eyes

and it hurt you

not because you loved me but

because you had loved me

and you would love a thousand more

like me but i would not find


like you in any crowded bar

and i could not win you back

with my cheap words

or my harsh smiles

and even though you

dropped me off near home

i thought the short walk would hold,

that i could keep the fire burning

a little while longer

but i couldn’t


my city

13 Oct

though she is not today

she was my city then

every storefront and pathway 

more awake at night;

she is a shadow in the day


i race quickly, and sharply slip

through her turns and curves

and trace my finger tips

round her metropolitan mouth

wide open as i walk between her lips


i am a passenger on her roads

with a thousand other strange lost souls

who do not know her moods

her waves of calm and comfort

the city blocks inside her woods


i am a stranger on the street

but beneath the comfort of the deep

i am sure on my feet

and ready to leap from roof to roof

in rain or shine or sleet

sing from the belly

18 Sep

sing from the belly
not from the heart
sit quiet at the theatre
to better know the art

wear your crown like a cap
and your robe like a shawl
and if strangers should knock
open the doors of your hall

treat your clerks like kings
and their sons as heirs
be not harsh with your words
for our words are but air

drive your car like a cab
and wear your heart on your sleeve
because the roads are now empty
and all true men bleed

stupidity at sir john a

25 Mar

There they are in crisp black blazers with cigarette cuffs tucked into slimmed sleeves hemmed at the wrist to flaunt their fiddling fingers, slipping in the lighter to catch flame as they catch fire and blaze new trails at ninety miles an hour. They are the mallrats grown old from the policed to the police, a corporate militia in makeshift uniforms plucked from the plus size bargain bin at your local moore’s menswear store. Mediocrity in a pinstripe suit pours out from last name firms with pompous laminated ferns and stern grey haired matron secretaries with pictures of pretty grand-progeny at their desks, all “wait a second, he’ll be with you in a moment”. They prance down like a pack of gazelles on Xanax, anxious to share tales of snatch and tail and spit stories about sluts and shortstops and secret societies where suits get spanked by C.E.O’s in skull masks. Its saddening, sickening, but from behind the eyes of a tall glass of rye its more curious than spurious a spectacle and I suppose I fancy myself an objective audience to the idiots, pedants who idly pasture at the fountains of youth in public houses. So, naturally, I picked a fight, as the fickle and flagrantly feeble-minded are wont to do I squeezed myself between their two buxom bodied blonde barista trophy wives, sipped a lemon beverage ripe with benzodiazepam and asked

“your hair makes you look like an idiot”

my mistake, my questionable query was a statement of fact, in fairness his follicular fucking around was a futile attempt at fashionable foresight. Karma is as karma does and in my fury I forgot that while my mental fortitude far outshone my erstwhile nemeses, their biceps could curl the toes of the hardiest whore, and I hardly had the sobriety to show any simple common sense, nor raise a defense from the bottle he cracked on my head. Five hours later my eyelids creeped open to a silent wash of sunlight splayed over the curbside. I was halfway home with seemingly no broken bones and still buzzed from the brute force of enough whisky to down a horse on a good day. I stumbled to my feet and traipsed and tripped, tickled pink by the fact that a drink had knocked me out cold but hadn’t wet my lips.