Category Archives: Uncategorized

3 Poems / Tom Evans

Poem on a Flower

My flower was laden with dew,
so pink, so moist, and open;
Like lips that are parted in two,
her center, her tongue, was golden.

And crossed by green blades of grass,
formed in a triumphal arch;
Through which some great man could pass,
or some great army march.

The Anvil

Forging the malleable soul,
glint of future,
bellowing past;
Stoking the white hot coal,
’til it rings of truth
at last.

While the heart brings forth life,
red and rife.

The Journey

Longer days may be
when summer comes around,
but the little boy must journey
and has not reached the town.
When he is all grown
where will he be found?

The way is full of turnings
the stars have still not shown,
through winter’s blast
and summer’s burning
will he remain alone-
and never find his home?

“Hope Springs” / a poem by Tom Evans

A day in early March,

the melting snow running in rivulets

down a gully along Reist Street,

(next to the cemetery),

the steam rising off wet portions of the road

as the sun evaporated the water.

A harbinger of spring, it was a sight

we awaited each year after the landlocked winter.

Walking to church, we

lingered as long as we could,

almost expecting a tadpole to

emerge from the pebbled, silty bottom.

(Even if it meant being late for church

we wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.)

It was spring wasn’t it,

the street finally bared dry,

errant green shoots along the

bank ready to unfold,

a crocus poking up here and there-

anything could happen.

The water clear and cold,

scent of wet cement, wormy soil,

and warmth in the air-

anything seemed possible.

But it wasn’t to be, and turning away,

we began the wait for next year.

Confessions of a Neophyte / Stories by Tom Evans

FYI to anyone interested, I wanted to announce that I have gone the self-publishing route, using Kindle Direct Publishing. The above-titled collection contains 6 stories, 2 or 3 of which I’ve already posted here. My intention is to add more to the collection as they arrive. Disclaimer: there is a nominal fee of $1, but I’d be glad to send anyone free review copies if they’d like one. Just let me know. And if by a miracle anyone should actually decide to purchase a copy I’d appreciate it if you’d leave some comments or rate the book, as this will help move it up the ranks, and, believe me, it’ll need all the help it can get to do so. I’m still not sure how this all works but I believe you can find it if you search Amazon or Kindle under the title or author. If I find a more direct way to provide access I will post what I presume will be some sort of link here. The formatting isn’t that great but until I can get that figured out it looks much better in landscape. As always, thanks in advance for your response, etc. etc.

this link will show you a preview of the book: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B01M98NKOK&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_9Y5-xbD56BR5C

“Blues for Mississippi John Hurt” / a poem by Tom Evans

John Hurt walked down a dusty track

with a knapsack on his back;

Taking his time, whistling and singing,

he warn’t in no hurry.

He would pause, set down a spell,

to have a smoke and ruminate.

 

John took hisself some time off,

he was gone for a month or so.

It was good to be out in the open air, he felt,

kicking up the dust, listening to the insects humming.

He welcomed the breeze, he doffed his hat

to the liquid gold sun, to the railroad men,

in awe under the iron-blue sky.

 

He mopped his brow, rejoiced and continued on.

 

He thought about the boys back home, of the women,

yet nothing beat being out here alone:

‘A man’s got to roam, to roam,’

Got to walk his troubles away,

Got to keep walking down that lonesome road,

Till it takes him far away.’

©Tom Evans, 2016

“Bottles and Books” / A Story by Tom Evans

The young man began working in the college library that fall. Arriving early for work on his first day, he went upstairs and checked out the literature section, as was his custom in libraries and they were all there. First, the Americans: Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, Dickinson, Melville, Hawthorne. Next, the Russians: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol. Not one of their books were missing, either, they were all there. Others he would discover later. To change things up a bit, he settled for a book about T.S. Eliot, The Invisible Poet, by Hugh Kenner. So began his career as a reference librarian.

One particular day the young man began to inhabit the bodies of the patrons he served. A young woman came to the desk and spoke to him and he realized it was himself speaking. An older man came to the desk and began writing on a piece of paper and the young man realized it was his own handwriting. One patron paused at the desk to peruse a book he had just borrowed and the young man realized it was he reading the book, and further, he had written the book. It was as if no one else had spoken, written, or read a word that day.

Well, the day had a very musical quality about it. Yes, it was like a great piece of music, a vast symphony to which he was waltzing with several beautiful partners. There was warmth and sound and touch and taste all around and he was a fibre woven through a beautifully wrought tapestry.

Until he ended up in a bar where his attendance record was perfect. His composure was gone as he walked in out of the cold. He began to regain it little by little as he looked at all the bottles lined up behind the bar. No one is going anywhere tonight, he thought. There is plenty to drink and even some food should I want it and everyone is here and no one is going anywhere. He took comfort in this, in the beautiful bottles with their brightly colored labels, in looking out the steamed up windows of the bar, where he could just see the billowing snow, and the cars crawling through the snow furrowed streets.

The jukebox was playing a favorite song, one he’d often played over and over himself, the archetypal rock ballad, with its maudlin lyrics backed by ass-kicking music. Many thoughts came to him, some from the sad past, some about the null future, mostly impinged upon by those of the horrible present. His head began to ache and that familiar scared, nauseous feeling swept over him…the golden girl from the west who turned out to be unfeeling and unfaithful…

The old man sitting next to him was rambling on about the old days, waving his cigar like a conductor a baton, how this very ground upon which the bar stood, all the way to the University, was open field, where he and his friends had played every day as kids. He didn’t seem sad about it, strangely. I know you, old man, with all your talk of bachelorhood and lechery, you must be lonely in your old age, though you would never admit it. You’ve told me this story many times, but you have a good heart and I suppose I can humor you and make the usual replies…his father, of his death and how he hadn’t been there when he died, through unforgiveable willfulness…

He saw a man with a beautiful face sitting at the bar, it was the face of a long-lost friend, a brother, a lover. He realized he had known this face all his life (even longer), yet it had no name unless he remembered it. Of course when the face spotted him and asked what he was staring at the young man was devastated because he didn’t know the face at all, it could be anyone…his abusive childhood, the foster homes prior to that, who were his parents…

He looked around the bar and saw the collage of faces and bottles. Books have titles, bottles have labels, people have faces. Bottles and books, he thought ruefully, I know bottles and books. He left soon after that, and, out in the cold night, drunk and in tears, he noticed how bright the sky had become, a false dawn. He promised to do better, to somehow put his life (such as it was) back together, and made his way to where he slept.

A year later, after things began to work themselves out (as they will), the young man was walking home from work late one autumn evening, and when he saw his sky-blue house nestled in the leaves in the distance, he thought, with a start: They haven’t found me out yet? When I began paying my bills again I thought they must. I am a well-oiled cog in the system, able to survive at last, and a lot of energy emanates from my little house.

What he really thought was: Is this my house, is this my life?

 

THE END

©Tom Evans 2016

Miss Lonelyhearts / Nathanael West

Nathanael West, although he died at an early age, has had a tremendous influence on future writers and writing, as I will discuss later. Having published only 4 books, The Day Of The Locust, Miss Lonelyhearts, A Cool Million, The Dream Life of Balso Snell,  West, described by one biographer as a “homicidal driver”, was killed in a car crash on December 22, 1944 in California as he was returning from a hunting trip in Mexico with his wife. As he often did, he was most likely extemporizing on one topic or another, not paying one bit of attention to the road, added to the fact that this time he was distracted as his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald (who wrote The Last Tycoon after being inspired by West’s The Day Of The Locust), had died the day before, failed to stop at an intersection in California and drove into an oncoming car. It is the consensus of most critics that The Day Of The Locust is perhaps the most famous of his four novels; I’m not sure what they are basing this on and I beg to differ (it sold only 22 copies during his lifetime), as  I believe Miss Lonelyhearts undoubtedly is.

West was born Nathan Weinstein in 1903 in New York City. West, being Jewish, was excluded from fraternities during his matriculation at Brown University and thus it was commonly thought that this was the reason he dropped the name Weinstein, but his brother-in-law S.J. Perelman (the famous humorist) always maintained that this was not case, but dropped the name because he simply wanted a short, recognizable name. An indifferent student, West spent his early life managing Manhattan hotels and writing in his spare time. As the manager of Sutton Club Hotel, Sutton Club Hotel West made many literary contacts, among them Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker, Ring Lardner, Jr., and James T. Farrell. He was known for letting other authors stay for free in empty rooms simply because he enjoyed their company. Although West had been working on his writing since college, it was not until his quiet night job at the hotel that he found the time to put his novel together. It was at this time that West wrote what would eventually become Miss Lonelyhearts, having published two years earlier The Dream Life of Balso Snell, a novel he had conceived of in college.

Several of his ex-Easterner writer friends financed their writing by working on motion pictures, and, tired of living in poverty, when he got a job as a contract scriptwriter for Columbia Pictures, he left for Hollywood in 1933. Once beyond Pasadena, however, the thought never left him that he was prostituting himself, which several friends predicted might happen. At the time of his death, though, West was making money at last. He had just earned $35,000 – around $500,000 in today’s money – for writing screenplays, including for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”.

One friend thought him “the most thoroughly pessimistic person I have ever known” yet good company and witty. Fitzgerald once told a mutual friend that he and West were much alike, for they were moralists, wanting “to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them.”

The idea for the novel Miss Lonelyhearts came from an actual “agony” column being published in the Brooklyn Eagle, “Susan Chester Heart-to-Heart Letters,” the letters from which  he would later copy, almost verbatim, into his novel. In West’s novel, the eponymously named (although a male) Miss Lonelyhearts, gets letters from readers seeking guidance and wisdom, but to Miss Lonelyhearts they all asking the same thing he is struggling with, the “big question”: the meaning of life. He takes his column seriously and despairs because he cannot help them, or himself.

West examines all the usual bromides: hedonistic pleasure, art, getting back to nature, exotic travel, and drugs, rejecting them all after revealing them to be foolish fantasies. Even suicide is deemed absurd. West reserves the greatest disdain, however, for the consolations of religion. “If he could only believe in Christ,” he writes, “then everything would be simple and the letters extremely easy to answer.” Elsewhere he writes: “Christ was the answer, but, if he did not want to get sick, he had to stay away from the Christ business.”

In an already bleak era (The Depression,the book being published in the year (1933) the national unemployment rate was at its highest), Miss Lonelyhearts went farther than any American novel ever had in its contemplation of despair. Its structure  is a tantalizing juxtaposition of the real and unreal, dream and exposition, and often difficult to tell which is which, where  West obfuscates the boundaries between Miss Lonelyhearts’ fevered dreaming and his day-to-day life, as is also the case in Day of the Locust. Miss Lonelyhearts, as West himself intimated was his answer to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which makes it ultimately a refutation, where there is no answer for our cry of help. There are parallels of structure (some critics going as far as stating he took his structure, and the psychology which underlies the structure, intact from Crime and Punishment; themes of guilt, superstition, depiction of a hallucinatory world where characters exist in an almost somnambulant state, muttering to  themselves;  pointing out that both use three narrative devices: the set speech, the confession, and the dream. His boss Shrike (one of the all-time great character names) is presented throughout as the antichrist, and readers have often wondered at the ending (Spoiler alert), where seemingly having rejected Christ, Miss Lonelyhearts becomes a Christlike martyr. Although there are many Christ-like figures throughout literature, the closest to Miss Lonelyheart was Melville’s outsider, Bartleby the Scrivener.

His influence? Indeed, Flannery O’Connor critic Sarah Gordon has pointed out that the closest literary ‘kin’ of her novel Wise Blood in American letters arguably is Miss Lonelyhearts. Another critic believed Flannery O’Connor found a literary model in Miss Lonelyhearts during the long gestation of Wise Blood. In addition, his use of black comedy heavily influenced later writers such as John Hawkes, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., William Burroughs, Robert Coover, James Purdy, and Thomas Pyncheon, among others.

I find it so ironic that Nathanael Weinstein became Nathanael West, went west to survive, and, consumed by it, ultimately died there. Perhaps Dorothy Parker (as she often did) said it best: “Wildly funny, desperately sad, brutal and kind, furious and patient, there was no other like Nathanael West.”

“Angel & Avatar” (short story) / by Tom Evans

As promised in a post (“Avatar”) 10 months ago I finally completed my story. But is it ever really finished I ask myself? Probably not this one, but I’m putting it out there for anyone who wishes to read it. I’d love any kind of feedback you’d like to give. Well, here goes.

“Angel & Avatar”

He purposely lived in the worst part of the largest city in the country because he knew that’s what Jesus would do.  He slept under a particular bridge near Harlem in good weather and wherever he could in bad. Lest you think he was some kind of superhero, dilettante, or saint that was not the case. It was where he wanted to be, where he’d aspired to be since he could remember. You see he actually believed the words he had heard in church as a child, had read deeply in the poets, philosophers, and scriptures of many countries and religions as he grew older, finding everything he first heard in the Bible corroborated throughout, which made his belief even stronger.

He kept body and soul together by begging or doing odd jobs when he could get them, as everyone else in the neighborhood did. Strangers who saw him undoubtedly thought poor man, he’s deranged, bereft because of some awful misfortune in his life, which, again, was not the case.

He had long auburn hair and a beard, favored blue jeans and white work shirts, brown sandals in summer and black boots in winter, and always managed somehow to look clean and healthy. As with most wise men people were drawn to him; they wanted to find out who he was, often offering him jobs for which he was hardly qualified, inviting him to their homes, even to their beds.

He often did things for others less fortunate than he, modest perhaps, nothing earthshaking, some food, money when he had it, a kind word, a clean blanket, a sponge bath as it were, even just checking in on people he knew were in dire straits, little niceties rarely seen these days but greatly appreciated by all he helped.

Then one day he became terribly ill. It seemed like he was not long for this world, which was a pity as he was only in his mid-thirties. He managed to drag himself to a laundromat where he often washed his clothes, hoping to find some spare change lying around in the machines and the pay phone, even better hoping he would meet someone kind, someone he could relate to, someone who wanted nothing from him, who himself was so giving.

But mostly he wanted to feel better. It was a weekend so he hadn’t seen the usual professional people he knew down on the Bowery, doctors and lawyers and such, and he didn’t feel much like walking or searching someone out. Let that person come to him was his thought, he’d recognize them instantly. It had been this way his whole life, he giving all he could, living a meagre existence, and up until now, thriving to his way of thinking. But now, sick, weak, finding himself more vulnerable than he had ever been, it was time for someone to step up and help him out, someone preferably with a medical background, but he realized he couldn’t be that fussy, then wait a minute, yes he could, he deserved someone just right, a person he had been waiting for all his life. That wasn’t asking too much was it? Wracking his brains through all the ancient lore he’d taken to heart he couldn’t think of any worldly reason why not.

Then suddenly the door opened and a statuesque woman with black hair dressed to the nines entered. The first thing he noticed and thought odd was that she didn’t seemed to have any laundry. Since the laundromat was empty he couldn’t imagine why she’d even come in but his question was answered when she walked right up to him and introduced herself as thou. He shook her hand but said nothing, just gazed intently at her. You seem to be about the same age as my son and you don’t look well, she said, that’s why I came in here, I spotted you immediately and since my husband is a doctor thought I’d see what was wrong.

For some reason after she said that he became like a child, something he’d never felt he’d been before, even when he was one. He melted when usually he was so reserved, and then she held her arms out and clasped him to herself and he held on for dear life, taking in her scent, the contours of her body, already feeling much better. He’d never felt these feelings before because he’d never had- needed- anyone until that very moment. And he truly did need her.

She was so warm, smelled so good, and seemed genuine to him though obviously wealthy. This was different from anything he’d ever experienced; all the people he’d helped or met in his life prior to this were strangers at best, one-night stands if you will. When they finished their embrace he wondered what would happen next but didn’t have to wait long as she asked him if he wanted to come to her hotel room. The spell was instantly broken and he didn’t know what to say; the woman grew flustered and he didn’t help her, remaining mute. He thought she might change her mind and withdraw the offer, until she repeated it and he immediately assented. She led him outside, where the rain had let up and the sun was struggling to peek through the clouds. It isn’t far she said, pulling him with an urgency that surprised him but which he thought he understood. She doesn’t want me to change my mind, he thought, and picked up the pace until he was abreast of her.

When they reached the hotel, the Lafayette on 5th Avenue, they went up the elevator to her room on the second floor. Sit anywhere you’d like, she said, I’m going to refresh myself. He sat on a blue divan, relieved to be alone, even if only for a brief moment. Looking at himself he was ashamed of his worn outer clothing and realized he’d like to get freshened up also. To that end he went into her bedroom and stripped, leaving his clothes on the floor where he kicked them aside. He headed for the bathroom and knocked softly on the door. Come in, she said, and join me, the waters’ fine. He did as he was told, not hesitating a moment, sliding the shower curtain open ever so gently, amazed as he behold her naked body, bronzed and fit, and, as I said before, statuesque.

Let me bathe you, she said; and I you, he replied. They washed each other very gently, thoroughly, starting with the soles of their feet and working their way up, then commingling under the streaming water for what seemed like a blissful eternity. When it was over she said, I’ll get out first before I turn into a prune. He parted the curtain for her and she stepped out and draped herself in a thirsty towel. He continued to wash himself thoroughly, then stood under the water for quite a while, letting the steam absorb into his pores, knowing he might not have another shower for a while.

When he was finished he turned off the shower and listened, but heard no sound. He wrapped a towel around himself but when he went into her bedroom saw that she was gone. He quickly went into the outer room and looked around but there was no sign of her, she was definitely gone. When he went back into the bedroom to put on his clothes he saw they were no longer there and in their place was what looked to be a note. He picked it up and read the note written on plain hotel stationary, I’ve sent out for some new clothes for you, I hope you don’t mind. I hope you feel better. He folded the note carefully and placed it on the nightstand then lay down on the bed while waiting for his clothes to arrive and fell asleep.

He awoke when the clothes were delivered, completely refreshed, as if he’d never been sick at all. He opened the paper-wrapped package and found two pairs of levis, a white and a blue work shirt, a couple of bandanas, two bags containing underwear (briefs) and undershirts, some socks, a sturdy pair of brand-new Wolverines, and lastly a knapsack to put his things in. Everything fit perfectly and as he closed the door behind him he felt like a new man. God bless her he said as he walked down the stairs, and now I must be about my business. Stepping out onto the familiar street he put his hand in the pocket of his new jeans and pulled out a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. He stared at it a minute, nodded his head, folded it into a miniscule triangle, then put it back in his pocket. He began to set out on his errand of mercy just as he always had before but his legs immediately felt so weak he thought he would collapse. He sank to his knees, then to the sidewalk, where he sat with his back against the wall of a building. He pulled out one of the bandanas and mopped his perspiring face. Maybe I’m getting sick again, he thought, but I can’t afford to, I have to be on my way, too many people are counting on me and I’ve disappointed them enough already. He tried to recall what day it was, how much time he’d lost but he couldn’t. For the first time he felt the absence of hope, something he’d never experienced before; he’d never questioned his purpose, it had never even occurred to him to do so, he just did what he was called to do. But now that he was questioning it he was scared, also for the first time in his life and didn’t know what to do about it.

Suddenly he remembered there was a park nearby. There was bound to be someone there who knew him, and, if not, he’d make new friends in that familiar bower, surely he would. It had always been a place of respite, of contemplation for him; he’d even sometimes spent nights there in good weather with the other denizens. The weather being only so-so (it was on the cusp of autumn) he wasn’t sure where he would go next, he’d just see what happened. As he neared the park and went through the iron gates surrounding it the park seemed deserted. Wait, there was a policeman, he said to himself. I’d better steer clear of him, there’d been trouble at many of the parks throughout the city. It seemed the latest succession of mayors had been trying (unsuccessfully) to rid the park of people such as himself: bums, vagrants, hobos, drug addicts, and just plain homeless, who really had nowhere else to go. He needn’t worry, though, the police never bothered him as he could often pass as normal, especially since his most recent thorough cleansing and spiffy new clothes. Gathering strength, he thought of his recent encounter with the woman (he never got her name); it seemed so long ago; he couldn’t help wondering why it had happened, what it meant, not sure how he even felt about it.              On that particular day, however, he noticed the policeman watching him, and wondered why. He kept going, hoping to encounter Pete, Larry, Frank or Joe, whom he was close to, buddies almost but not quite, seeking them out in their usual haunts underneath the stone bridge, in the public toilets, or the gazebo by the arboretum, but saw no trace of them. Strange, he thought, he hoped they weren’t among the ones rounded up in the last sweep of the park the police had carried out, which wasn’t long ago if he remembered correctly. Suddenly he thought of Sadie, his favorite, whom he hadn’t seen in a while. He’d known her the longest of any of the myriad unfortunates he’d encountered on the streets. She was a diminutive pale woman but deceptively strong in body as well as mind. She’d shown him the ropes his first few days in the city, even offered him her abode under the bridge that was now his home base that first night. She left shortly afterward, going back to one of her old spots, saying to him, Got to shake the dust off, keep moving, don’t know why, I just do. If you don’t keep moving you’re finished. But I reckon you’ll do just fine; look for me when you can, and I’ll do likewise. Gotta look out for one another, we do, it’s all we have.

He thought of shouting out for all of them, his voice would surely echo over the deserted park, but decided against it, remembering the policeman at the gate. Just then he approached the huge locust bush Sadie could usually be found, often setting up camp in the heavy undergrowth behind it. He paused for a minute as he thought he heard a noise, a faint cry for help perhaps. He listened closely trying to make it out and gradually he heard the voice say help me, help me please. He quickly parted the dense branches of the locust bush and saw Sadie lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from a deep gash on her forehead. Sadie, he said, it’s me, and bent down to cradle her head in the crook of his arm. She looked up at where the voice was coming from, unseeing, and mumbled something unintelligible over and over again. He gently shushed her and told her softly not to talk. He could tell she was hurt badly and wanted to go get someone to help but didn’t want to leave her side.

He looked around in desperation and saw the policeman coming toward him, relieved that help was on the way yet a bit unsettled because it seemed he’d been followed. Still, he had to do something, he thought, and got to his feet. The policeman took the long way around the bush and when he got there told him to step away from the woman, which he was unwilling to do. He could see the wheels turning in the policeman’s head as he assessed the situation. I’m going to have to ask you again to step away, and answer some questions, the policeman said authoritatively, his hand feeling for his nightstick as he didn’t want to take his eyes off him. When he finally had it secured he ordered him to get up slowly and put his hands in the air.

Do you know this person, the policeman asked him. He could see where this was going but answered anyway, Yes I do, and she needs help right away. I‘ll call it in but I’m also going to have to take you in for questioning, the police officer said. He heard an ambulance wail and saw it enter the park, larger than life, incongruously straddling the macadam walking path. The EMTs lifted Sadie gently onto a stretcher, inserted her in the ambulance, and sped off, siren screaming. Immediately replacing the ambulance was a police cruiser, its red light flashing but thankfully no siren.

He was then unceremoniously cuffed and stuffed into the back of the police car. He was outraged at the injustice of it all; why the police had probably done it themselves, he thought as the car began a U-turn to exit the park, but he decided to suffer in silence. Just as they were making the turn he wrenched his neck around when he thought he saw some movement behind the locust bush. He could barely make out the face that popped up over the bushes but thought it could very well be Pete, Larry, Frank or Joe. As the police car exited the park he somehow knew he’d never see them or Sadie again. Regardless of what happened next he was glad they’d been spared; now all that was left to do was pray for Sadie’s recovery. That wasn’t asking for too much, after all, was it?

©Tom Evans, 2016