Fiction excerpt: ‘The World Drops Beneath You’

Tool belt

An excerpt of my short story “The World Drops Beneath You,” published in the anthology Stories from Texas College Students (2016, Lamar University Press). Get the anthology on Amazon to read the story in its entirety, or read it on Medium.

The World Drops Beneath You

© 2016 Sonny Bohanan

The red lights of the television tower pulsed on and off in the distance, a constellation of dying stars lined up single file, like good soldiers, to wink out in unison. Jake stared at the glowing embers and drifted along the edge of sleep as his father drove through the early-morning dark. His mind snapped to attention when Pop turned up the radio for news of the war: Nixon had announced he was bringing home 25,000 troops over the next year. A momentary tingle of hope raised goose bumps on Jake’s arms and the back of his neck, but he realized a heartbeat later that the decision wouldn’t affect the draft notice folded in his back pocket.

Riding to and from work each day, Jake had silently rehearsed how to tell Pop that his lottery number had come up. But when the time came to say the words, his throat grew thick, and he choked on the bitterness he felt at having invited the war into his life by dropping out of school. Words were useless now. They couldn’t stop the chaos that seeped nightly from the television like poison gas—riots and political assassinations erupting across the nation, the latest wave of troop replacements disappearing into a jungle no one had heard of until it arrived in their living rooms.

As Pop drove, the darkness slipped away imperceptibly, leaving traces in the corners and shadows of things, spies behind enemy lines. He turned the pickup in at the job site, and the headlights picked out three men drinking from Thermos cups at the concrete base of the tower. Pop and Jake usually arrived fifteen minutes early to drink coffee, but it was already five-thirty.

“Couldn’t get Shorty out of bed?” Stony said as they stepped out of the truck.

“You can see the boy needs his beauty rest,” Pop said.

Wally, the boss, tapped his watch with his shortened right index finger. “All right, let’s get up there.”  The finger had been sliced off at the knuckle twenty years earlier. When Jake was a kid, Wally had made him laugh by inserting it into his nostril so it appeared to be planted three inches deep.

They cinched on their tool belts, and Pop turned to Jake. “I want you to go up top this morning and install the brackets for the co-ax cable.” He opened a box to check that they were the right size, and handed it to Jake.

“Did you get the elevator running again?” Pop asked Wally.

“Yeah, but you’ve got to control it from the ground,” Wally said. “The wiring’s crossed, and I couldn’t get the damn thing straightened out. We need the electrician out here.”

It was July 20 and already hot at sunrise. The men were working on a Sunday because a series of spring tornadoes had damaged the crane and knocked out the electric power for more than a week, putting them behind. They had less than a month to finish the tower, which rose nearly 2,000 feet above the High Plains to transmit the signal for the ABC affiliate in Amarillo.

Jake started to sweat—he had never been all the way to the top. The men had finished installing the elevator two days ago, and no longer had to climb the ladder hand over hand for 180 stories. It took Pop and Wally, the most experienced of the crew, half an hour to climb it wearing their tools. The elevator’s steel mesh cage ascended the tower in two or three minutes, but only two men could fit inside it.

“You want to ride on top?” Pop asked.

“I don’t think so.” Jake had seen Stony and Gilvin ride on the elevator roof several times. They were the youngest of the crew except for Jake, and were given the shit jobs.

“It’s safe,” Pop said.

Jake glanced inside the elevator at the loose wires sticking out of the control box and said nothing.

“Hell, he’s scared,” Stony said. “Me and Gilvin will do it.” They climbed onto the roof, and Jake carried the box into the elevator cage underneath them. Wally stepped in beside Jake.

Pop stayed on the ground to run the controls. He lifted a walkie-talkie to his mouth, and the one on Wally’s belt squawked, “You got me?”

“We got you.”

“Let’s go.” Pop punched a button and the elevator lurched, rising slowly at first, then faster through the center of the alternating red and white sections. Jake’s stomach tightened as the world dropped beneath him. Seen from below, the guy-wires tethered to massive concrete footings were taut, inch-thick cables that cut a straight line from ground to tower. But from above, Jake could see that the cables in fact drooped in tremendous arcs, the tensile force that held the tower in place unequal to gravity’s ghastly power. The sight gave Jake a sick feeling. The laws of physics, so straightforward on the ground, were warped and unreliable at this height. He reached behind him and secretly inserted his fingertips through the steel mesh, gripping it to steady himself.

The rush of the elevator cooled the sweat on his forehead. A thick morning haze permitted him to look directly at the sun, deliciously pink like a scoop of neon ice cream sizzling and melting along the bottom where it sat on the horizon. Wally spoke into the walkie-talkie and stepped out of the cage when the elevator stopped. He lowered himself into a sitting position on the beam, his legs dangling on either side.

Jake’s stomach swam as he followed. He set the box on the small elevator platform and stuffed as many brackets as he could fit into his tool belt. He tightly gripped the steel next to him with his right hand before stepping cautiously off the platform onto the I-beam, which was about two feet wide. Showing Jake what to do, Wally marked the steel with chalk, drilled four holes, and quickly attached one of the brackets with metal screws. He finished in a couple of minutes and handed the drill to Jake.

“We need one every ten feet,” he said. “Just work your way down. Go ahead and do one, and I’ll watch you.”

Jake attached the drill to his belt and stepped down the ladder to a spot he judged to be about ten feet. He was sweating profusely, soaking his T-shirt as he worked the tape measure.

“Take you all day to do one,” Stony said, amused, from atop the elevator.

Jake avoided looking at the ground while he measured ten feet and marked the holes. He clamped his legs to the beam and held on with his left hand while drilling with his right, barely gaining the leverage he needed to pierce the steel. He took a socket wrench from his tool belt but fumbled it, made a swipe for it and missed, almost losing his balance. Wally cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Headache!” The wrench clanged twice against the steel as it fell, then, seconds later, a third time. The tiny dot on the ground that was Pop dove for cover under his pickup truck. . . .

Read the rest of “The World Drops Beneath You” in the anthology Stories from Texas College Students (2016, Lamar University Press). The book is available at The full story is also available at Medium© 2016 Sonny Bohanan

#     #     #

Sonny Bohanan is a writer and editor in Fort Worth, Texas. Read his writing portfolio or follow him on Twitter. He was an editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the American Literary Review.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Church pews

Those wrestling with their demons needed barely a nudge from Pastor McGargle to leave the safety of the church pew and shuffle down the aisle to be saved. Photo by Pixabay.

On God, the Devil, and the $50 Bet

I feel certain that no one has remembered me in their prayers for a long, long time. Until recently, that is.

I passed the half-century mark a couple of years ago, and at this point in my journey, let’s face it, there’s really no reason to appeal to God on my behalf. I’m fresh out of raw human potential, having squandered it years ago, and now all I have to show for it are aching knees, an irritable bowel, and the slippery downhill slope.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to log on to Medium recently and find that one of my favorite writers, Kel Campbell, had asked God to take care of me. It was a nice gesture, and I thank Kel sincerely for thinking of me. Or . . . well, OK . . . not me specifically, but me generally, as a member of a class or type, i.e., one of Kel’s followers, which I most certainly am, because Kel is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read. That’s why I follow her. And because I follow her, I now stand a better chance of having God look out for me. I’m right there with her dogs and her husband, her sister, brother and friends, in the penultimate paragraph of her story, titled A Prayer:

Please take care of my husband, sister, brother, dogs, friends and Medium followers. (Emphasis added by me, one of Kel’s Medium followers)

I’m making a big deal out of this because it may be the first time I’ve ever been mentioned in the same paragraph as God. In the past, my relationship with God has been strained, at best. I’m frightened of Him, and with good reason, I think. He’s omnipotent and could smite me in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Hell, He could smite me in one shake. Dammit, now I’m cursing in a story about God. He’s not going to like that.

My fear of God is the reason I’ve always tried to fly under the radar and escape His notice. The times when I have attracted God’s attention have turned out, if I’m being honest about it, pretty awful. He’s probably still a little angry with me for what happened when I was seven years old and my sister Misti was nine, the day she decided to answer the altar call at San Jacinto Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas.

This was about forty-five years ago, at the end of the preacher’s sermon one Sunday in September. While the choir sings “How Great Thou Art” over and over in hushed tones, accompanied, very softly, by the organ, the ushers pass the collection plates from one pew to the next. Pastor McGargle works the aisles of the sanctuary with a microphone, tending the electric cord and the wayward sheep of his flock: “Won’t you come forward today and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Unburden yourself, my friends, don’t wait. Let the blood of Christ wash your sins away. Let Jesus lift the burden from your weary shoulders. He knows you’re hurting.”

Half-crooning, half-whispering, Pastor McGargle modulates his voice expertly, pitching a tone of sadness tinged with hope. He’s sweating, rivulets flowing in the deep crags of his face, which I estimate from my vantage as being approximately 113 years of age. I note unhappily, as the hands on my watch tick past noon, that I’m missing the kickoff of the Dallas Cowboys’ home game against my most-hated team, the Green Bay Packers.

The timbre of the preacher’s voice drops an octave as he spots his prey and moves in to close the deal, training every ounce of his attention onto the tender flower wrestling with his or her demons, who surrenders with the barest nudge from McGargle and shuffles forward to be saved.

McGargle approaches, and I realize he’s fixed his crosshairs on my sister Misti, seated next to my mother and grandmother in the pew ahead of me. Misti turns to the preacher, tears welling in her eyes, her lower jaw quivering, takes his outstretched hand, and steps into the aisle. What the — ? I can’t believe this. Why would Misti risk the certain disaster of God’s attention? She seemed fine a few minutes before we left the house for church, when she punched me in side of the head and took the nickel my grandmother had given me for the offering plate. What was all this?

My mother turns to me and stage-whispers, “Sonny, go with her,” gesturing with her head for me to follow my sister. I’m sitting next to the aisle, and my mind blinds with panic when the preacher reaches for my hand. I snatch it away and cling to the wooden armrest as McGargle and my mother prod me to loosen my grip and urge me forward to unburden my soul. I don’t budge. I’ve never been baptized, and I sure as hell do not intend to be on this day. (Please forgive that curse word too, Lord.)

The thought of surrendering my will to God’s horrifies me. It is akin to the way I felt a few years later, watching the 1978 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when I realized in the final scene that Donald Sutherland’s character had been snatched by the aliens and replaced by a clone. Even at the age of seven I refuse to surrender control of myself to someone or something else, and I resist with all my being.

My stubbornness will likely result in a thrashing from my mother when we leave church, but that prospect is less onerous than walking to the altar under the dumb gaze of the congregation and falling to my knees to ask Jesus to save my soul. At this moment, I can’t imagine anything worse.

The preacher gives up and moves forward in the aisle with Misti. My mother glares at me, but she gives up, too, and turns away to watch Misti’s salvation. With the danger past, the adrenaline that flooded my system leaves me deliciously sleepy, but I fight its downward pull. I’m afraid I’ll awaken, sputtering, with my head held beneath the healing waters of the baptismal font.

I was terrified, then as now, by the thought of sensing the direct presence of God, of having the barrier between us torn away so that I’m stripped bare before the Holy Spirit —  a gross invasion of privacy coupled with crippling fear.

I’ve never submitted control of my ego to a higher power, the experience that others call being saved. I find it impossible to surrender to a force in the universe that terrifies me even though I’m not sure I really believe in it.

I remember feeling scared when I first heard the story of Job from the Old Testament Bible, at roughly the same time in my childhood. Having now read Job’s story a few times as an adult, I believe it was the ancients’ attempt to explain why bad things happen to good people. God’s answer —  that mere mortals shouldn’t question Him because they can’t fathom the nature of suffering and of the universe — is not especially satisfying. But the older I get, the more I like the story, and even the moral of the story, because it seems honest in suggesting that some things are beyond our comprehension.

But when I was seven, the takeaway from the Book of Job was simple: Better stay out of God’s way and attract as little of His attention as possible. If this is how He treats Job, His most devout servant, imagine what He’ll do to the little sinner Sonny, who shoplifts and steals cartons of cigarettes from delivery trucks while walking home from elementary school.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Job’s story, allow me to summarize it:

Job was the most devout and humble of God’s servants. One day God and the Devil were watching him from wherever they had gotten together — somewhere in the sky, I’m guessing.

The Devil said, “Sure, Job worships You like crazy now, but what if he didn’t have that nice house and beautiful family and all the material trappings of the good life? What if all that was taken away from him? I bet he wouldn’t be Your best boy then.”

God said, “Are you kidding Me? You can throw your worst at Job, and he’d still worship Me. You can’t shake that dude’s faith. He’s the real article.”

“Why don’t we find out?” the Devil said.

“Sure,” God said. “Do your worst. Job will still be My boy.”

That’s just what the Devil did. He killed all of Job’s sons and daughters. He cast Job out of his swanky house and left his skin covered in boils. All that money Job had earned to support his nice lifestyle was gone in an instant. Job was left to sit outside on a pile of ashes, covered in boils, alone and penniless. Then his old friends started coming by, saying, “Job, what the hell? What happened to you?”

Job said, “That’s what I want to know. Why God? What did I do? Haven’t I been Your most devoted servant? Haven’t I done everything You asked, and more? Why are You punishing me like this?”

Job’s so-called buddies had some ideas about what had happened. They told Job that he obviously wasn’t as good as everybody thought he was, and this proved it. He must have been sinning, otherwise God wouldn’t have done what He did. Job had been brought low because he had fallen short in God’s eyes, they said.

Undaunted, Job went about his rat-killing, doing his daily devotionals and prayers while trying to keep the sores that covered his body from becoming even more painfully infected. He continued worshiping God and giving thanks for all the blessings he’d known.

God and the Devil, watching from their secret perch, were impressed.

“What did I tell you?” God said. The Devil had to admit that Job was a righteous dude whose faith had been unshaken. “I guess You won the bet,” the Devil said, handing over fifty bucks.

“Damn right I did,” God said.

Just then He heard Job crying out, “Why God? Why me?” and it got His dander up a bit, so He pocketed the fifty bucks, looked at the Devil, and said, “Watch this.”

In a fury, God swept down to where Job sat on his pile of ashes and thundered, “Job, you dare to question Me? Where were you when I made the heavens and the mountains? When I made the light, and the water, and the earth, wind, and fire? Where were you when I wrote, through Lionel Richie, the Commodores’ disco smash Brick House?”

God was fired up: “Who do you think you are with these ignorant questions? Yours is not to understand My ways! You couldn’t begin to fathom what I know and the reasons for the way I conduct this universe. You are a lucky man, Job — today I’m going to give you your life back. Because you are a devout man who never lost faith in My greatness, even when you lost everything, I’m going to restore your beautiful children, your house, your riches, and everything you lost. But don’t even think about asking Me Why. You can’t handle the truth!”

With a terrible clap of thunder, God was gone, Job’s old life was back, and the boils had disappeared.

So, Kel, thank you for asking God to take care of me. But if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather just fly under the radar and not have Him think about me too much. Our God is an awesome God, sure, but He’s pretty vengeful, too, and His vanity makes Him kind of a sucker for a bet with the Devil.

Or at least that’s what the Bible says.

Sonny Bohanan is a writer and editor in Fort Worth, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter and Medium, and read his investigative and long-form journalism. He is a former editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The American Literary Review.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the difference between the New York Times, the New York Post, and the New Yorker?

Newsroom of the The New York Times circa 1920

Reporters in the newsroom of the The New York Times circa 1920.

See Sonny Bohanan’s answer to this question on What is the difference between the New York Times, the New York Post, and the New Yorker?

By Sonny Bohanan

The New York Times and the New York Post are daily newspapers that publish 365 issues a year — 366 on leap years — and the occasional “extra” edition in the event of world-shaking news, like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The New Yorker is a weekly magazine that publishes 47 issues a year, covering news, the arts, culture, and anything else of interest.

The three are different in many respects but similar in one: Based in New York, they all focus a good deal on things that happen in that city. The Post is the most New York-centric of the three.

The Post and the Times differ in tone, style, appearance, and story subjects — their personalities. The Post is a tabloid, which describes both its size and its attitude. It has a magazine format that can be more easily read by subway commuters. The Times is a broadsheet, which is difficult, in a crowd, to open to the inside pages.

New York Post cover from February 2016

New York Post cover from February 2016, the day after the Iowa presidential caucus.

The Post gives more prominence to salacious  stories — sex, drugs, scandal, betrayal, and such — and it is designed with a lurid red and black color scheme reminiscent of true-crime novels. The bold, clever, and often risqué front-page headlines are my favorite feature of the Post. Some headlines I enjoyed:

CLOAK AND SHAG HER (CIA boss Petraeus resigns over sexual affair)
HO-NO! (Gov. Spitzer gets caught with a prostitute)
A-FRAUD (Pretty much any story about former Yankee player Alex Rodriquez, aka A-Rod)
WEINER EXPOSED (Pretty much any story about former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner)

The Times, meanwhile, is recognized as the best newspaper in America — maybe the world. It is an annual winner of Pulitzer Prizes, having so far amassed 117 of them, beginning in 1918 for its coverage of World War I.  The Times is one of the few newspapers that has been successful in monetizing the Internet because it is so well-known and respected that people worldwide are willing to pay a subscription fee to read it online.

New York Times cover on September 12, 2001

The New York Times cover for September 12, 2001.

The Times is filled with national and international news, and it has a section for virtually any interest under the sun: Opinion, books, the arts, food, movies, sports, health, science, technology, business, weather, fashion, theater, home and garden. The strength of its brand and the advertising and subscriptions it commands give the Times the wherewithal to continue deploying reporters all over the globe, a rarity.

Of the three publications we are comparing, the Times has by far the largest editorial staff. It also is known for the more formal voice of its writing. While other newspapers refer to their story subjects, on second reference, only by last name, the Times uses courtesy titles such as Ms., Mr., Dr., and Senator in every instance. So where Tom Hanks becomes “Hanks” after first reference in the Post, he will forever be “Mr. Hanks” in the Times, or so we can hope. It is one of the last remaining online spaces where we still daily witness civility, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

New Yorker cover for October 20, 2014, issue

New Yorker cover for October 20, 2014.

If I seem to have ignored the New Yorker magazine, it is only because I’ve saved the best for last. I’ve been a subscriber to the magazine for more than 20 years, even after it beefed up its website and tripled its subscription fee.

Where else can you find the best fiction writers working today, while also learning first about (for instance) the faked intelligence that the Bush Administration used to railroad the nation into a bogus war in Iraq? If only Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had subscribed to the New Yorker, they too would have been privy, before the 2003 invasion, to information that was only available to people, like myself, who read. Just think how differently things might have turned out — how many lives saved — if the Triumvirate of Torture had but read the New Yorker‘s investigative news stories. They could have rushed in and stopped themselves from lying about Saddam Hussein, the yellowcake uranium, and the weapons of mass destruction.

But no, they failed to subscribe to the New Yorker, which caused them to fail the nation by failing (hat trick!) to stop themselves from peddling a lie to the United Nations and the world. I guess what I’m saying is, the New Yorker saves lives. Or it could have, if only . . . well, you know.

For my money, the New Yorker publishes the best long-form journalism in the United States, the best short fiction, poetry, opinion, and humor writing, plus the best movie, music, book, theater, and culture reviews. And don’t forget the cartoons, or the original illustrations that grace the cover each week.

So, there you have it. The difference between the New York Times, the New York Post and the New Yorker. I hope it changes your life in ways that neither of us could have imagined.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the world’s eyes, is President Obama hurting or helping the image of the USA?

Barack Obama and his dog, Bo

Barack Obama has restored America to a position of respect in the world.

See Sonny Bohanan’s answer to this question on In the world’s eyes, is President Obama hurting or helping the image of the USA? 

By Sonny Bohanan

Without a doubt, President Obama has helped the image of the United States during his two terms in office. He’s repaired America’s relationship with her Western allies, who were lied to, just as the American people were lied to, and fed faked intelligence by the George W. Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq War.

The world opened its heart and its arms to America after the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld squandered that goodwill by bullying our allies into a bogus war that cost those nations the lives of their soldiers and siphoned away their money, just as it did ours in the United States.

Obama has removed American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’s done his best to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba (unfortunately Bush created such a legal nightmare that it’s almost impossible to fix now). He stopped the routine practice of torture instigated by Bush and his Office of General Counsel.

Further, Obama has resolutely refused to commit American ground forces to the war in Syria, another unwinnable Middle Eastern quagmire that the Republicans are eager to wade into, at a future cost, if they had their way, of thousands of dead American soldiers. Eventually, we would be forced to leave Syria in defeat, unable to solve the problems that caused that war, just as the Iraq war did nothing to improve the lives of the Iraqi people or to spread democracy in the Middle East, as Bush promised.

Obama has been a strong leader in two areas that perennially leave our Western allies shaking their heads over the stupidity of Americans: Universal healthcare and gun control. Until Obama pushed through the Affordable Care Act, the United States was the only Western democracy that left huge swaths of its population uncovered by health insurance, which put humane medical care out of the reach of many poor Americans. The Affordable Care Act brought the United States into line with the rest of the West in providing a healthcare safety net for its citizens, regardless of their ability to pay.

And Obama has called on Congress to pass common-sense gun control laws that would require universal background checks for all gun purchases. Though the Republican Senate rejected such legislation following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre three years ago, President Obama may be considering an executive order that would help close some of the loopholes that allow gun purchases without a background check.

(Update: On January 4, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order closing the loophole that allowed some gun sales without a background check — those conducted at gun shows and online, for example. The order specifically requires a background check of the buyer for all gun sales. The order also dedicates money and additional FBI agents to improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — NICS — so that it will operate 24 hours a day and will finish background checks more quickly. It also dedicates more money and additional ATF agents to enforcing the existing gun laws, and he called on prosecutors to go after violent felons who try to buy firearms illegally. A fact sheet on the executive order.)

Because of its lax gun laws, the United States is the only Western democracy that experiences almost daily mass shootings, and most of the world is frankly sickened by the mindset that has allowed this situation to fester and grow more dire with each passing year. It’s a stain on the nation’s reputation that Obama has worked to eliminate, but the Republican Congress, grown fat off NRA campaign contributions, is too addicted to the money to do its job and protect American children from the scourge of the nation’s deadly gun culture.

Obama also has stabilized an economy that was in free-fall, the financial sector teetering on the brink of collapse, as George W. Bush fled the White House. We’ve now had an unprecedented string of month-over-month economic growth, and the unemployment rate stands at 5 percent after reaching double digits as Obama took office.

By any objective measure, President Obama has improved the image of the United States, which was in tatters, fully engulfed in flames, when he was sworn in as President in January 2009. He’s been the best American president of the last half-century, hands down.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Funny, or Scary?

Funny or scary clown?

After six debates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz lead the field of Republican Presidential hopefuls. Should we laugh, or run away as fast as we can?

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz lead the Republican presidential hopefuls. I don’t know if that’s more funny or scary.

After six debates among the Republican presidential hopefuls, this is where we are in America: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are leading the field.

We’ve arrived at a place where roughly half the people who live here can’t tell fact from fiction, can’t follow their own arguments to their logical conclusions, and think no one — including themselves— deserves an affordable education, quality healthcare, or a retirement income in old age.

We’re the only Western nation that doesn’t understand the value of a social safety net. There’s zero chance we’ll solve our more insidious problems — racism, sexism, violence — until most Americans aren’t scrambling daily to survive. Hustling for a meal or a place to sleep, working two jobs because wages have been stagnant for 50 years. Trying to get out from under predatory lending and stay out of debtor’s prison, which is suddenly legal again in Texas, where drivers now have their licenses suspended and are eventually jailed for being unable to pay the exorbitant fines that result from failing stringent auto safety and emissions tests.

If Republicans have their way, or if the Supreme Court steals another presidential election, we’ll also be back to fighting insurance companies that refuse cancer coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

We have good ideas about how to fix poverty, education, and healthcare. Doing so will require money, but a huge obstacle has blocked access to it: the folk tale that Republican lawmakers are so fond of, the one we’ve been repeating since 1630, when the Puritan leader John Winthrop delivered A Model of Christian Charity, the famous “City Upon a Hill” sermon that he preached as the first shipload of Puritans waited anxiously to disembark and set foot onto the New World. This narrative of American exceptionalism, a fantasy about how we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, has now lasted for four hundred years.

Have we come far enough yet to admit that our American exceptionalism was built upon the backs of others, that our great, good fortune necessarily meant the misfortune of people of color? Our bootstrapping was made possible when our ancestors exploited the continent’s previously unspoiled natural resources, perpetrated a genocide of the indigenous peoples who populated North America, and extracted wealth from the land at the fastest clip possible by kidnapping Africans and shipping them to the New World to work as slaves.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

—The Declaration of Independence,
approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776

While the Founding Fathers were signing the Declaration of Independence with one hand, they cracked a whip in the other to maintain control over their slaves. The dissociation required to espouse a sacred belief in liberty and equality while owning slaves is akin to the modern libertarian entrepreneur who can’t perceive the privilege inherent in his having won the genetic crap shoot when he was born into a wealthy family.

He senses no advantage accruing to himself just because the income tax code ensures that high-income taxpayers keep more, if not all, of their money. No cards are stacked in his favor when he receives thousands or even millions of dollars in tax incentives (i.e., corporate welfare) for his business. And so he loudly demands that the poor must be rugged individualists and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, just as he’s done.

Now, as the raping of North America’s glorious bounty slows, the natural resources nearly depleted, shit’s getting a little tight in America’s wealth creation department. Candy Crush Saga does not put people to work the way coal mining or steel manufacturing does.

But you’ll never pry a cent out of the new millionaire to help shore up the public good — a blind allegiance to his awesome god The Market won’t abide it, and he’s got it buried in the backyard or in an offshore tax shelter and can’t access it right this minute anyway.

We’ll never get to the second-tier, poisonous problems like racism, sexism, and classism — all underpinned by a violent gun culture — while so many Americans are hungry, sick, and underemployed, too consumed by survival to turn their attention to more complicated problems.

In Fort Worth, Texas, where I live, if you can get to the grocery store and back home without being accosted by the Open Carry gun nuts, you count that as a good day.

Trump has been a long time coming, but now he’s finally here — the embodiment of the beliefs Republicans have been spouting since their messiah Ronald Reagan starred in the role of a lifetime, from 1980 to 1988, as leader of the American Plutocracy. That their desires have finally taken form in Donald J. Trump should surprise no one.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Treat Gun Manufacturers Like We Did Big Tobacco

The Freedom Group earned $94 million after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 20 first-graders ad six school employees, and led to a surge in gun purchases.

The Freedom Group earned $94 million after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 20 first-graders and six school employees and led to a surge in gun purchases, thanks to the NRA.

The Freedom Group is one of the gun manufacturers profiting from the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States. The company not only marketed the assault rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but it also earned $94 million in the aftermath of that shooting rampage, as gun fetishists went on a buying frenzy after the NRA warned them President Obama would soon confiscate their weapons.

Freedom Group also marketed one of the guns used by the terrorist couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino on Dec. 2. And, as The Trace reports, the company is once again enjoying increased profits as gun sales surge amid fears that Congress might try to do its job and regulate the sale of guns. But after Senate Republicans voted last week to allow suspected terrorists to continue legally buying guns in the U.S., that’s just another scare tactic by the NRA — one that works every time on the NRA’s paranoid members.

I look forward to the day when the gun manufacturers face the same stigma that the cigarette manufacturers do, and I hope they’re made to pay a settlement to each state, just as Big Tobacco did, for the harm their products cause to public health.

In 2012, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution declaring that firearms pose a substantial risk to America’s public health. The APA also cited an analysis that estimated that gun violence imposed total costs of $174 billion on the United States in 2010 alone — an average of $645 per gun in the United States, $5.1 million for each fatality, $433,000 for each gun injury requiring hospital admission, and $116,372 for each firearm injury requiring emergency department admission only.

The gun manufacturers need to start repaying the money their products have been costing every taxpayer in America.

The APA noted something that will help you understand just how far the National Rifle Association and the Republican Congress will go to ensure that the epidemic of gun violence continues in the United States:

The APA noted that it cannot reasonably suggest the best ways of curbing gun violence because the nation has no reliable data on this issue. No data? Why? Because state law and federal law prevent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health from collecting data about gun violence. You can probably guess which organization pushed for these limits on collecting data. If you guessed the NRA, give yourself a pat on the back, you’re a genius. And which political party do you suppose codified these limits into law? Right again. The Republicans collected their campaign blood money from the NRA for creating the laws that the NRA told them to create.

This is how the NRA runs things. Last week, the NRA told Senate Republicans to vote against a bill to prevent suspected terrorists on the U.S. Watch List from buying assault weapons or any other gun they desire. So that’s just what Senate Republicans did on Dec. 3—the day after a man and his wife, swearing loyalty to ISIS, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, using guns they bought legally in California. When the NRA says to vote for terrorists and against American kids who are being mowed down weekly in mass shootings, Republicans don’t bat an eye. They do what the NRA tells them.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The Republican Congress and the NRA are sick puppies. The cynicism of restricting the CDC and NIH from collecting data on gun violence is breathtaking, and utterly transparent. They know that when such data are collected, it will be abundantly clear that gun violence places unacceptable monetary and public health burdens—not to mention emotional burdens—on all of us in the United States. Just so that a minority of men who never grew up and who are scared of approaching life without a gun can indulge their fetish.

Is this how you want to live?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Republicans Think You’re An Idiot

The knotted gun sculpture in NY. Anti-gun culture

There’s only one way to stop the gun culture in America, and it’s going to take all of us. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Maybe you don’t know how sick America has become. I’ll tell you: After the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, Republicans voted the next day to allow suspected terrorists on the U.S. Watch List to continue legally buying assault weapons, or any other gun they desire.

No, you didn’t misread that. And this is not a case of Senate Republicans not realizing what they were voting for.

This is a case of a political party in America — the Republican Party — telling us that the children who are mowed down each day by our nation’s gun culture are not as important as terrorists within the United States being able to buy the weapon of their choice. Terrorists just like the couple in San Bernardino who legally purchased their weapons and then killed 14 people.

The Senate Republicans who voted to allow terrorists to buy any weapon they want received $27 million from the NRA, which, by any definition, is a terrorist organization. What else can you call a group that beats back every effort to reduce the more than 30,000 gun deaths a year in the United States?

Let me repeat: Republican politicians announced Dec. 3, quite clearly: Children’s lives are not as important as making sure the couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino can buy any weapon they want. As a reward for their vote, the Republicans receive campaign blood money, legal bribes, from the gun manufacturers, from the NRA, from cynical people like Cabela’s CEO Tommy Millner. Millner exploited the extreme paranoia of his customers, the gun nuts, by planning for Obama’s victory in the 2012 election. He stocked vast numbers of AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifles, and after Obama was elected and then a gunman attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School, the NRA advised its members to grab their guns before Obama did, and Cabela’s business “went vertical,” Millner bragged.

You think this can’t be true. Americans aren’t that stupid, right? Wrong. From 2004 to 2014, more than 2,000 terror suspects have legally purchased guns in the United States, according to the Washington Post. That’s exactly how stupid we are, and the Republican Party loves getting rich off of it. They believe they can get away with this. And do you know why they believe it? Because they can get away with it, and they do get away with it, day after day after day. And they’ll get away with it this time, too. Because you don’t care. Or because you don’t know what to do about it. Or because you’re scared that your husband or boyfriend, the gun nut, and all of his buddies will attack you and call you a libtard for saying this is wrong.

Let me say it: This is wrong. This is beyond wrong. This is sick. The Republicans in the U.S. Congress are sick puppies, and we put them there. There’s only one way out of this mess, and it will require all of us to take two simple steps:

1) Vow this minute never to vote for a political candidate who won’t regulate firearms. 2) Vote in every single election from now on.

It’s that simple. And it’s the only way to defeat the NRA, whose members are mostly single-issue voters.

New York Daily News headline lambastes Republican politicians for inaction on gun sales.

New York Daily News headline on Thursday, Dec. 3, lambastes Republican politicians for calling for prayer while doing nothing to halt the runaway sale of guns.

Or, do nothing, and wait for the killer to show up at your kids’ school. Or the movie theater or church where your teenagers have gone for the evening. Do nothing, and eventually we’ll all get to witness a mass shooting, or we’ll all know someone killed in one, or, if the odds go really against you, then you or someone in your family will be the next victim. That’s what you have to look forward to if you let the Republicans and the NRA get away with it again.

The NRA has an almost 40-year head start. But we have right on our side. We have the majority of the American people who believe guns should be regulated. Why the hell is the gun the only unregulated consumer product in America? Because the NRA outfoxed us, and put us in a box.

Time to break out of the NRA’s box. It’s time the majority took back this country. Time for the sick cowards in the Congress to go home and never return to Washington. They’ve done enough damage for one lifetime. Good riddance.

I ask you: Do you endorse this? How can you vote for someone who watches children killed by gun violence every day in America, and then refuses to halt the sale of assault weapons to known terrorists?

This is what we’ve come to in America. This is one sick country.

Sonny Bohanan is a writer and editor in Fort Worth, Texas. If you liked this article, please enter your email address in the box above to the right, then click Subscribe to receive each of his new posts in your email. You can also follow him on Twitter, and send him a Friend request on Facebook. Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Lesson of a Lost Balloon

Lost balloon
Photograph by Gianni Ranati, Il Palloncino Rosso, 1957.
As it floated up and away, carried swiftly on the prevailing southwest wind, I saw that it was lost forever.


By Sonny Bohanan

When I was four years old, my mother bought me a helium balloon while she and my grandmother shopped in downtown Pampa, Texas. This was a rare treat. My sisters and I seldom received frivolous gifts of this sort, and I managed to get back to my grandmother’s house, riding in the backseat of her 1960s-model Oldsmobile, without popping the balloon. Moments after I stepped out of the car and ran into the side yard, zig-zagging to avoid the ill-tempered chickens that scratched and pecked at the ground, the string slipped through my fingers. Realizing an instant later what had happened, my mind raced crazily, bargaining for the tiniest fissure, a hair’s-breadth crack in the cosmos that would release a miracle and retrieve those fleeting moments since the balloon’s escape. As it floated up and away, carried swiftly on the prevailing southwest wind, I saw, with my head titled back and tears stinging my eyes and throat, that it was lost forever. I was swamped by a feeling I knew–already!–so well. A helplessness that only the child understands, a first inkling that crystallizes into something bitter, a sickening glimpse of the abyss that sometimes yawns open, revealing a vast, uncaring universe, and with it the knowledge, too monstrous yet for me to fully fathom, that we are, at the end, alone, no one to console or warm us in the chilling void that claims us all.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Shoot First


My family’s feud 80 years ago left 3 men dead

© 2014  Sonny Bohanan

I found out a few years ago that my family was involved in a deadly feud in Clovis, New Mexico, during the 1920s and ’30s. David, a friend who edits the Clovis newspaper, was writing a story about the feud for the city’s centennial history book, and he asked me whether I was related to the Bohannans[1] involved. I had no idea, so he sent me what he’d written, and I asked my father and grandmother what they knew. I traced my relation to the Clovis branch of the family with the help of a genealogy website, which linked to a 1930 Associated Press story published in the New York Times.

I hadn’t thought much about what I would discover when I started researching it, and I was unhappy to learn the truth: We lost.

George Curtis Bohannan

George Curtis Bohannan

I use the term “we” loosely. I had not been born yet and wouldn’t be for another thirty years. If my friend hadn’t asked me about it, I would not have known that my great-grandfather’s uncle and cousin – George Curtis Bohannan and his youngest son, Carl – were killed in a feud with their neighbor.

The neighbor, Vernon Tate, had the winning strategy: Shoot first, and let the jury sort it out. I suppose that’s why it is known in Clovis as the Tate-Bohannan feud, and not the other way around. I can call it the Bohannan-Tate feud if I want, but it still winds up the same: My family was outgunned twice by the horse trader and county auctioneer Vernon Tate. As I researched the details, I was struck by the senselessness of the killings and by the realization that my paternal grandfather, Lester Clarence Bohanan, who was 18 at the time, had come within a hair’s breadth of being drawn into the violence.

The squabble, as my grandmother Jewel Bohanan called it, had started, unsurprisingly, with a raft of schoolboy nonsense. It ended more than a decade later with three men dead – George and Carl Bohannan, and Vernon Tate. It also left behind two widows and 19 kids with no fathers.

Vernon Tate

Vernon Tate

Tate killed George Bohannan and 19-year-old Carl on January 18, 1930. Two days earlier, Tate had shot and wounded Louis, another of Bohannan’s seven sons. The surviving Bohannan boys learned one lesson: Bring a gun to a gunfight. Four years later they shot first and killed Tate, at Citizens Bank in downtown Clovis, the same spot where he had killed their father and brother.

The Bohannan-Tate slayings are the most notorious in the city’s history, according to Clovis, New Mexico: The First 100 Years, published in 2007 by the Clovis News Journal. The 1930 double homicide caused a near-riot on the crowded Main Street, the New York Times reported January 20, 1930, two days after the shootings.

Lester Clarence Bohanan and Jewel Bohanan

Lester Clarence Bohanan and Jewel Bohanan

When word of his uncle and cousin’s deaths reached my great-grandfather Pleas (pronounced “Plez”) Bohanan and my grandfather Clarence, his eldest son, they loaded their guns into the pickup and headed for Clovis. Pleas, a quiet fellow who enjoyed a pull from his flask, had moved out West from Tennessee with his wife, Ada Catherine (Lee) Bohanan, and their children around 1916. At the time of the slayings, they lived on a farm outside Goodwell, Okla., roughly two hundred miles from Clovis.

What happened next, before Pleas and his son Clarence arrived, is the only good part of this story, to my mind. After Vernon Tate was arrested, police secretly moved him to a jail in a neighboring county, eliminating, at least temporarily, the opportunity for revenge.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

 #  #  #

The Bohannans and Tates lived in the Ranchvale farming community northwest of Clovis, and their kids – nine Bohannans and eleven Tates – had attended school and social events together for years.

The hostilities started in December 1922 with at least two fights between teenagers Carsey Bohannan and Norvell Tate. Some said the disagreement was over a five-dollar bet at a high school basketball game. In one of the fights, Carsey Bohannan hit Norvell Tate in the head with a hammer, and Carsey was arrested, convicted and served a six-month suspended sentence. The Times story doesn’t mention the severity of Norvell’s injury, but Carsey’s suspended sentence indicates it was probably minor.

This is a logical place for the hostilities to have ended. But that’s not how things go when anger hardens into hatred, and revenge unleashes chaos.

There are no news accounts of the feud between 1922 and 1930. The AP story in the Times says, “Smouldering friction between the two families continued for many years with no serious trouble until last Thursday, when Tate fired three shots at Louis Bohannan at Grier, N.M.”

The Clovis centennial history book put it this way: “Vernon Tate had made his dislike for the Bohannans known since the fights between Norvell and Carsey. Most believe that festering anger led to the violence at Grier . . . .”

Gunfire erupted outside a grocery store in Grier, a village west of Clovis, on January 16, 1930. After a car chase, Vernon Tate and three of George Bohannan’s sons had stopped to settle their differences, but instead they complicated them, and Louis Bohannan left with one hand lighter than the other.

The storekeeper had rushed outside with a pistol to try to break up the fight; Tate snatched it from him and fired three shots at the brothers as they ran to their car.

“One of the bullets clipped two fingers from (Louis) Bohannan’s right hand,” the Times says — a clinical description of a bloody mess that led to still bloodier ones.

Tate was arrested on a charge of assault with intent to kill and was released after posting $2,000 bond. Two days later, a Saturday, he was in downtown Clovis, and George Bohannan was there, too, with five of his sons. Main Street was crowded with families going about their weekly shopping, banking, and socializing. When Bohannan saw Tate in front of Citizens Bank, he grabbed him in a bear hug from behind and shouted, “Here’s the son of a bitch we’ve been looking for!”

These men obviously had little patience for the judicial system. Carsey Bohannan had been convicted and punished back in 1922, but not in a way that satisfied Vernon Tate, whose anger exploded eight years later in Grier. I don’t know who started the fight outside the grocery store in 1930, but George Bohannan didn’t wait for the wheels of justice to complete their slow turn. He would exact Tate’s punishment himself.

I’m guessing that Tate and Bohannan were a hard-headed couple of mules. They had made their stand in one of America’s last frontiers, the Llano Estacado, an inhospitable tabletop mesa larger than the state of Indiana with an elevation that reaches as high as 5,000 feet above sea level. The Caprock, as it’s called, was protected against the white scourge for longer than most of the country – until the eighteen-seventies – by Comanches, Kiowas, Mexicans, and its own harsh climate. Those who live there extract a hard living from the windblown, semiarid grassland, from their livestock, and from each other.

Bohannan and Tate weren’t far removed from a time in the New Mexico Territory when it was hard to tell the difference between the lawmen and the bandits because they sometimes switched places. William Henry McCarty Jr., who came to be known as Billy the Kid, was eight years older than George Bohannan. McCarty killed from four to nine men, including three lawmen, before Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett tracked him to Fort Sumner, west of Clovis, and shot him down in 1881.

Forty-nine years later, Bohannan and Tate were wrestling a few miles to the east, on Clovis’ Main Street in front of the bank. Tate had brought his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver when he went downtown that chilly Saturday in 1930. As Bohannan held him in a bear hug and called to his sons for help, Tate reached into his coat pocket, pulled the .38 and fired a shot into Bohannan’s stomach. Tate turned and shot him two more times “near the heart, killing him instantly,” according to the Clovis centennial book, which continues:

Vernon Tate retreated immediately into the bank, where bank officials locked the door just as three of Bohannan’s sons appeared. But the bank’s back door was not secured, and two of the Bohannan brothers, also armed, came in through it. Vernon Tate saw them and again fired his revolver. The bullet struck Carl Bohannan and sent Bee Bohannan scurrying back outside as police arrived.

Carl Bohannan soon died of his injuries. Vernon Tate was arrested, jailed and charged with murder in connection with George Bohannan’s death, but not charged with Carl Bohannan’s killing.

Tate hired attorney Carl Hatch, who later became a U.S. Senator. Hatch argued that Tate had acted in self-defense; the jury agreed and acquitted him in June 1930.

This, as you can imagine, did not sit well with the Bohannans. Tension between the families continued for the next four years until, on a February afternoon in 1934, gunfire rang out again outside Citizens Bank, and Vernon Tate was dead. Bee, Carsey and Louis Bohannan were arrested.

During their trial in July 1934, Carsey and Louis testified that Tate reached for his gun, so they shot him in self-defense. Bee Bohannan said he would have fired his weapon but hadn’t needed to. Their lawyer E.M. Grantham told the jury that the Bohannans had every right to protect themselves against Tate, who had shown his willingness to shoot first.

“It is not necessary under the law for a man to wait ’til he’s shot at before he goes after his gun,” Grantham said. The jury acquitted all three of George Bohannan’s sons.

In the twelve-year span that saw three men killed, another shot in the hand, and one struck in the head with a hammer, only the teenager Carsey Bohannan was judged guilty of a crime.

The feud ended with Vernon Tate’s death. Both families remain in the region today, and no public disagreements have been reported since 1934. Haney Tate, one of Vernon Tate’s sons, shared his memories of the feud in a 2002 High Plains Observer article.

The final trial “was not what we hoped for, but did expect,” Haney Tate, who died in 2005 at age 90, wrote. “It was probably best all things considered. . . . So much for a terrible tragedy that should never have happened.”

#  #  #

Two people in Clovis who knew about the feud revealed it to my dad, Ronal Bohanan, and to me – on separate occasions, decades apart, by asking whether we were related to the Bohannans involved.

David Stevens, the Clovis newspaper editor, asked me in 2007 when he was writing about the feud for the city’s history book. When I asked Dad, he said his father, my Grandpa Clarence, had told him about it in the 1960s. Dad was working temporarily in Clovis at the time, and a motel clerk saw his name on his ID and asked if he was related to the Clovis Bohannans. He started to notice how often people asked him about his name, and something in their manner prompted him to ask his father about it. That’s when he learned of the feud.

Marty and Ron Bohanan, 50th wedding anniversary

My parents, Marty and Ronal Bohanan

Grandpa told Dad that when his father Pleas learned George and Carl had been shot, they loaded their rifles in the truck. Pleas also brought his old .44-40 pistol with an octagon barrel, the one he kept under his pillow at night.

“Your Grandpa (Clarence) was just a big kid, and he was pretty darn worried about what was going to happen when they got down there,” Dad told me. “I think they had full intentions of shooting somebody.”

My grandmother, Jewel (Grice) Bohanan, Clarence’s widow, lived in Amarillo, a two-hour drive from Clovis, from 1940 to 2014, when she died at age 98. About a year before she died, she told me what she knew about the feud. It ended in 1934, a year before she and Grandpa were married, but he later told her about it. If he hadn’t, she might not have understood why she lost a good customer in the 1970s, when she was a hairdresser in Amarillo. The customer, who was from New Mexico, had brought her young son to her weekly appointment, as usual, and she told Grandma they had visited Clovis the previous weekend.

Jewel Bohanan

Jewel Bohanan

I will let Grandma tell the rest of the story.

“She had the little boy with her, and all during the time I was fixing her hair, he was saying, real low, ‘Bohanan will kill you.’ He was just saying it, to no one, ‘Bohanan will kill you. Bohanan will kill you.’

“She was a very nice lady, and I enjoyed her company. She usually stayed and visited for a while, but she never came back after that.”



[1]The reader may notice the surname spelled two ways in the text: Bohanan for Pleas’s line, and Bohannan for George’s. Pleas Bohanan, who was my great-grandfather, shortened the name by deleting the second ‘n.’ My Grandpa Clarence Bohanan’s younger sister Annice told my Grandma Jewel Bohanan that she remembers her father changing it when she was young, experimenting with the spelling until it pleased him. “He just thought it didn’t need all those ‘n’s in there,” Grandma told me in 2013. I agree with Pleas, even though I’ve come to believe that it is impossible to get rid of the extraneous second ‘n,’ because people insist on putting it back in. There is also a third spelling – Bohannon. The New York Times article quoted above, in fact, switches inexplicably to that spelling of the surname in its final four paragraphs. I didn’t quote directly from those paragraphs, so the ‘Bohannon’ spelling does not appear in the text above. However, the two branches of the family represented in this story descended from Clayborn B. Bohannon (born in 1830), who was my great-great-great grandfather. The family lived in Putnam County, Tennessee, about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville, and both Pleas and George changed the spelling of the surname when they moved out West.


Bohanan, Ronal Lee. Oral interview 2013.

Bohanan, Roxana Jewel (Grice). Oral interview 2013.

Stevens, David. “Trials, Tragedies: Tate-Bohannan violence ‘should never have happened.’ ” Clovis, New Mexico: The First 100 Years, 2007.

The Associated Press. “Father and Son Killed in New Mexico Feud.” New York Times, 20 January 1930.

Wallis, Michael. Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, 2007.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jack Gilbert’s poetry is like cool mist on a hot day

Bengal tiger

The Bengal tiger, fashioned so miraculously well.

I first heard of the poet Jack Gilbert in October 2013, when Michigan writer Matt Bell opened his reading at University of North Texas by reciting Gilbert’s poem, “Hunger.”

Then, about a week ago, I was reading The Sun magazine and stumbled into a sample issue that included five or six poems by Gilbert, who lived for two decades in Europe, in a self-imposed exile. He said he was not a professional of poetry but a farmer of poetry, and he published only five books of verse in 50 years. Because of its rarity, his poetry feels fresh.

One of my favorites was “A Brief for the Defense,” which begins:

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well.

Read the full poem here.

The opening of “Failing and Flying”:

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.

Read “Failing and Flying” in its entirety here.

I appreciate Gilbert’s straightforward simplicity.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: