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4 p.m. Count
Yankton Federal Prison Camp
Supervisor of Education Maureen Steffen
2008 National Endowment for the Arts
Writer-in-Residence, Editor Jim Reese
Copy Editor S. Marielle Frigge
Cover Art Juan A. Zuniga
Layout/Design Shane Miner / Jim Reese
Copyright © 2008 by the Yankton Federal Prison Camp
All poems, prose and artwork are used with permission
by the authors, and they retain all rights to their work
Except for brief quotations in reviews, no part of this work
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval
system, without the prior written permission of the
copyright owner unless such copying is expressly permitted
by federal copyright law.
4 p.m. Count is made possible by a generous grant by
the National Endowment for the Arts. The Department
of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Washington,
DC (hereinafter referred to as "BOP") enters into this
agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts
(Hereinafter referred to as the "Endowment") to provide
a Writer-in-Residence program in the Federal Prison
System, under the authority of Section 5 (o) of the National
Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965,
as amended [20 U.S.C. 954 (o)] and Section 601 of the
Economy Act of 1932(31 U.S.C. 1535).
Yankton Federal Prison Camp
P.O. Box 680
Yankton, SD 57078
S. Cynthia Binder
4 P.M. Count 11
Be a Man 14
Arkansawing for Asparagus 15
Jason E. Davis
The Squirels' Nest 16
To the Yankton Writing and Publishing Class 18
Momma's Holiday 22
Mario G. Covington
"Dat Der" Rope 25
Neumyer Trailer Park Shoot Out 26
Direction for Isaiah, Jordan and Tazsanay 33
Indian Creek Road 36
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy. . ." 49
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy. . ." 50
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy..." 51
Joe Cavallaro III
Letter to Inmates, Yankton Federal Prison Camp
Memorial Day, May 26, 2008 52
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Salvation in a Bottle: Doom Malt Liquor 55
4 p.m. Count Page 3
5 Nights in Vegas
Night Golfing, Brothels, Gambling, Romance 63
Jason E. Davis
The Great Hunters 80
"C,o H 15 N "
The Power of Methamphetamine 91
Joe Cavallaro III
The Beet Scene 92
Glen's Cave 97
Letter from Bill Kloefkorn 100
Chicken Noodle Soup 111
Bridgeman Street 116
Brandon W. Buster
From Freedom to Crimson and Blue 121
I Ain't No Yeller Chicken 126
Art Class Overview 128
Dane Yirkovsky, et al.
*Katelyn Jo Belieu* 133
February 21, 2008 - May 14, 2008
White Baby Kinda Baboon 135
Grandpa Ross 137
Brandon W. Buster
"My Confidant..." 144
"My Teddy Bear..."
Joe Cavallaro III
Page 4 4 p.m. Count
Blank Pages In Prison 148
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Count Time. Count Time. 151
Dear Jim and Students 152
The Light 153
Mario G. Covington
$&%@ Love 155
Something I Wrote For My Daughter 158
In County When I First Got Locked Up
Jason E. Davis
Unknown Sentinel 159
Behind These Walls 166
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Don't Pass Me By 170
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Trapped On A Parking Lot 171
Fearful Mind 172
To the Students in Dr. Jim Reese's Writing & Publishing
Class, Federal Prison Camp, Yankton, SD 175
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Father and Son 179
The Stand-off 181
Mario G. Covington
Thoughts from an Imprisoned Father 182
Mario G. Covington
Through the Viewfinder... 183
Joe Cavallaro III
Relapsing with a Photo 184
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
4 p.m. Count Page 5
Christinas in Prison... One More Time 185
Joe Cavallaro III
A Brief Reunion 187
A New Beginning 188
My Mya 189
Dear Dr. Jim, Joe, Juan, Josh, Hung, Mario, Lee,
Jason, Brandon, Ryan, Justin, Isaac, Fermin, Dane, and
Michael, et al. 190
Unexpected Snow 195
"This is it" 196
Joe Cavallaro III
Page 6 4 p.m. Count
This year marks the 20 th year of our AA Degree that
Mount Marty College offers to the prisoners at Yankton
Federal Prison Camp. Our beginnings were modest. We
knew our goals were good ones that could only benefit the
prisoners. Then we suffered through the loss of the Pell
Grant money in the middle of the 1990's, but somehow
we stayed with the mission of what we wanted to do.
This educational partnership with the Federal Bureau of
Prisons has gone beyond what we could have imagined.
For this cooperation in such a vital and restorative process,
I am grateful beyond words. Both the educational and
administrative prison staff and our teaching personnel have
watched with awe as the prisoners responded so well to the
opportunity to do college work.
We had to keep in mind that these men have lots of
baggage that is carried along as they do their courses. They
all carry within them the pain of how deeply they have hurt
and humiliated their parents and families, the destructive
choices they made, the fear for their futures, of finding
a job, and rebuilding relationships with loved ones. As
time went on, they realize slowly that they are rebuilding
something deep within them that had been crushed, beaten
down, defeated. It was something that had died within
them. This they slowly regain. We call it self-esteem, but
my experience tells me that needs a better and stronger
word to describe it. It is a place somewhere in the center
of themselves that was once innocent, decent, sacred, holy.
Slowly they feel that returning. To a person, somewhere in
their studying, they all speak or write about the restoration
of what was once good within them. A rejuvenation of
that inward sense of wholeness and integrity is gradually
built up. Because of that, they rediscover a confidence
and courage that assure them of that future job, those
reestablished relationships, the strength for good choices.
The publishing of this book is another landmark of
4 p.m. Count Page 7
what a strong educational process can do. Herein we find
all the heart, soul, and mind of good men who worked hard
in response to their inner resources. The inner workings of
these men have seen troubled and very painful times. They
recognize the power of that suffering and thus offer us the
wisdom that comes from that very suffering.
Personally I am very proud of what they have
done for this book. My everyday prayer for them is that
goodness and kindness will follow them all the days of
Sister Cynthia Binder
Associate Professor of Humanities
Mount Marty College
Yankton, South Dakota
Page 8 4 p.m. Count
Yesterday we put the table of contents of this
journal together in prison. Today I'm sitting in my of-
fice, looking at the group photo of all the authors you will
find is this inaugural publication of 4 P.M. Count — Yank-
ton Federal Prison Camp's creative writing journal. The
pride on the guys' faces tells me a lot. If we'd taken this
photo six months ago, we would have all looked like deer
in headlights — me probably more so than the rest. I had a
plan, and I can honestly tell you we've accomplished all of
the things I hoped to — what I envisioned these guys could
I didn't know a lot about where I was going to be
working every Tuesday for the next eight months. I knew
the Yankton Federal Prison Camp was the only Federal
Prison in the nation without a barbed-wire fence. I knew
there weren't any second chances given to inmates. I had
heard most of the men there were incarcerated for drug-
related or white-collar crimes. What I learned was that
inmates at YFPC could obtain an Associate Degree from
Mount Marty College in business or horticulture if they had
graduated from high school or obtained their GED while in
When I came to the camp I was immediately im-
pressed — the place is immaculate. Beautiful flowers and
landscape — the men take pride in making the place look
as good as possible — it is their home away from home for
now. I was still hesitant though, because I was entering
into a world I wasn't quite sure about — which in turn made
my teaching all the more rewarding. From the beginning I
told the guys I wasn't interested in their past — rather, I was
interested in their future and the goals they had for them-
selves and, most importantly, for their writing.
During our first three-hour session one of the guys
asked me what the difference between poems and prose
was. I threw out my plan and realized we had to start at the
beginning. From there I established a crash course in writ-
4 p.m. Count Page 9
ing — realizing I had some very talented students from the
get-go and some students that were eager to learn. What a
rewarding environment that is. Students that want to learn.
I knew they would show up for class each week and to my
surprise they not only were there, but they had their home-
work done and stories and poems ready to workshop. As
a teacher, I was truly moved by the eagerness — their raw
nerve and inimitable voices.
As in any workshop setting, constructive criticism is
tough to implement. These men, their teacher included, are
competitive. On some occasions we all disagreed — which
in turn made my teaching (I hope) and their work (I know),
better. I'd be lying to you if I told you I wasn't intimi-
dated at times, but that's par for the course. What all of
us learned was that each week we could walk away from
workshop and think about our discussions, our criticisms,
our suggestions and take 'em or leave 'em.
The funding from the NEA allowed me to invite
other writers from throughout the country to join us so that
the students could get a wide array of opinions and ideas on
craft. These award- winning writers helped workshop and
wrote response letters back to us, which you will find in
This journal you are holding in your hands is
proof that a weekly writing and publishing class can un-
lock a world of potential — one that can provide the tools
for personal growth and prosperity. Programs like these,
funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, give these
guys hope — give them something to share with family and
friends and make them richer for the show. I do hope such
programs continue throughout the country.
Page 10 4 p.m. Count
4 P.M. Count
Stand up it's count time.
Hats and headphones off.
I reminisce of my mother preparing
to go grocery shopping. Looking in the fridge
Her list in hand, We need eggs, milk, bacon....
Time to make sure all the cattle are accounted for.
Where are we going to go?
Red light flash — stand up fast.
Count by number — no time to slumber.
Recount! Bed book count ...Listen for your name and
respond with your number. Say nothing but your
registered number. Nothing else!
Hundreds of thousands of Federal Inmates being counted
across the nation.
4 P.M. Count one more time — one less count —
one less day.
A daily reminder of humility. Here, we are all just
Another day is put behind us — time to relax —
time to unwind.
It's almost mail call. Will I be lucky today? Has someone
4 p.m. Count Page 1 1
thought about me? Who's first? A-H? S-Z? Man, this crap
is getting old.
What is so hard about counting? Really how hard can it
I'm trying to watch this game!
A cool — too fresh — slap in the face.
Get this over so I can go to chow.
I got fifty-six.
Recount. This time stand where we can see you!
Page 12 4 p.m. Count
4 p.m. Count Page 13
Be a Man
A cow s horns can become dangerous not only to humans,
but to other cows. They can get their horns hung up in a
gate, or even inadvertently poke another cows eye out.
Because of this, their horns need to be removed when the
cattle are young and the horns very small. One method
used to remove the horns is to burn them off. It is the least
expensive and also, least time consuming — something dairy
farmers have little of. The tool used to remove the horns is
shaped like a curling iron used by women to curl their hair.
The iron is electric and heats up to a red-hot temperature.
After a young calf is secured in a head-gate — equipment
that secures the calf's head and will not allow the calf to
move — the iron is pressed over the horn and held for a
full twenty seconds, burning out the source of the horn s
growth, the root.
When the eyes of them black and white calves roll back
until I can see the white in them, I cringe, and it hurts in
the spot where a man don't let no one else see. Grandpa
says we have to de-horn the calves or their horns will be
a nuisance, and I can understand that. He says we have to
burn 'em off because it cost too much to do surgery, and I
can understand that, too. But I don't understand the pain
in my chest, twisting my insides up when that searing hot
iron touches the calf's horn and she bawls and bellers and
it strikes a chord deep down inside me. Grandpa presses
down with the iron and the muscles and veins of his scarred
and leathered forearms ripple. He looks right into my eyes
through the smoke of burnt horn and flesh billowing up
around us, and his face says what his lips won't. "Be a man
Isaac. This is business."
Page 14 4 p.m. Count
Arkansawing for Asparagus
Jason E. Davis
Dad and Bubba Bean
sitting on the hood of the 86'Chevy Caprice
moving at a snail's pace
down the gravel road
searching for wild asparagus.
Stopping to reload on more Bud Lights
waving to Sheriff Kline as he
drives by, nods and looks the other way.
4 p.m. Count Page 15
The Squirels' Nest
A cozy corner hangout, checkered black-and-white floor
A digital CD jukebox blaring Hank Williams Jr.
The smell of stale empty beer cans.
Foosball players hollering, as the ball slams into the hole.
Suntanned farmers belly up to the bar.
Harley Davidson motorcycles coming and going, living to
The family collie, racing in and out of the patio door.
A beautiful bartender serving drinks from behind an oak-
The ringing of an old cash register, as a round of Quervo is
Pool balls breaking, as the cue ball falls into the hole.
Cooler doors sliding open, sliding closed.
Bell ringing on the door, as patrons enter and exit.
Cheer and excitement of customers, as the alcohol takes
My mother and step-father playing host to the regulars.
The beeping of the dartboard, as a dart is thrown, a game is
A warm breeze blowing, while hanging out on the deck.
Daydreaming about memorable times, here, at Shirley's
Now, the windows are broken, no neon lights to be found.
The doors boarded up, while the deck sags to the ground
The parking lot covered in knee-high weeds — a ghost town.
The cracked sign hangs askew, threatening to fall.
Inside, all billiard games, long ago removed.
Page 16 4 p.m. Count
The cool-looking tile, now brown and water stained.
Old trash, broken glass covering the floor.
All in the past, never to exist again.
Sad country music, playing only in my head.
All reduced to rubble —
four paved lanes lie in its wake.
4 p.m. Count
25 February 2008
To the Yankton Writing and Publishing Class
Thanks for the letters; it's good to hear from you guys. And
thanks for your thoughts and appreciation for the time we
spent together in your class on the 12 th . It was a pleasure
to meet you all and spend some time talking about writing,
and I really enjoyed the chance to read a few things there.
You guys are a great audience.
I noted several letters referring to our talk about dreams
and the subconscious, and I think that's an important area
for writers to explore. Creative writing takes a person
into an imaginative state that seems to me very similar to
the state of dreaming. The only difference I see is that the
imagination often seems more under conscious control, but
that's not always true. Sometimes a writer gets so caught
up in a story that when he finishes it, it's like waking up
from a dream — he can't remember what he just wrote —
like when you wake from a dream you know you had but
you can't recall. Other dreams are unforgettable and worth
exploring in writing. I'd be interested in seeing yours,
Some people believe dreams and writing come from
the same place in the subconscious. And I think that's
probably true, but only when the writing can somehow
bypass the tight control of the conscious ego. It's like the
ego just wants to tell what it already knows, because it fears
the unknown. And so the ego tries to censor anything new
and different that tries to rise from the subconscious and
enter the writing, because the ego doesn't already have a
comfortable understanding of it. But the things the ego is
so intent on censoring are the very things the subconscious
wants to explore, the new creations that can lift a story out
of the ego's old comfortable but boring ruts.
So in that sense, Ryan, I often have an idea about how to
Page 18 4 p.m. Count
begin a story, or maybe an idea about ending it, but I don't
outline it too tightly, because I want the story to take me
wherever it wants to go instead of me holding it back. If I
let the story lead me past the ego and into the subconscious,
the story can teach me things I don't already consciously
know. It's like the letters you guys sent. They bring up
things I haven't consciously thought about before. Instead
of saying, "I don't know," if I let my mind go and at least
try to answer, I begin to learn things I wasn't consciously
aware of before. They might not be the most accurate
answers for anyone else, but they tell me how I see things
right now. My answers might change as I continue to learn
in the future, but right now they're what I believe. So your
letters offer me the opportunity to find out what I think
about these things right now, and give me the opportunity
to learn some things I don't already consciously know. And
that's what education is really all about. So I thank you
guys for challenging me with your questions, giving me an
opportunity to learn some things here.
It's often one of the most difficult things about writing —
finding a way to get past the fearful censorship of the ego.
But I think it's important, because as the subconscious
opens new avenues for creation in writing, it also seems
to open new avenues for learning in the writer. And I
think we need to discover those subconscious parts of our
stories and of ourselves in order to become the writers and
human beings we're capable of becoming. So I guess for
me, Joshua, writing is an attempt to find understanding and
purpose in life, and reading is another way of attempting
that. And Mario, I guess that's how I view writing, as
an attempt to create something meaningful, though the
meaning may vary with the person. We really can't control
the meaning others might find in what we create. I think
that whether we're writing or reading, when we're working
with words it's like holding up a mirror that shows us some
of the deeper parts of ourselves. And if we're learning and
growing, we're changing, and what we see in the mirror
4 p.m. Count Page 19
is bound to change too. Some of those old Bible stories I
read years ago mean very different things to me today. The
same words, but deeper meanings.
You bring up a good question, Justin, about how to describe
a character or a place while writing about an event. I'd
say, try to tie it in naturally somehow instead of separating
it from the rest of the story in a paragraph of its own.
Describe a bit of the character while he/she is performing
some action in a scene, or describe a bit of the setting while
some action or another is taking place in it. Just work to tie
it in as naturally as you can.
About details, Brandon, I'd say they should always seem a
necessary part of the story or poem, something important to
the scene you're creating. A certain amount of background
always seems necessary to create a setting for whatever
scene you're presenting. And I like your idea, Isaac, of
trying to keep things fun for the reader and for yourself,
and I'm glad to hear you're giving poetry a shot. It sounds
like you're putting together a collection, Michael, and
revision is always ongoing. I'd say the next step is to get
some practice at presenting your poems aloud in the class
and try to line up a reading where you can present your
work, maybe at a local library or bookstore when you get
I really liked the place names you mentioned in your letter,
Jason: Ketchum Bridge and Skunk River. It sounds like a
great place to write about. When you finish Man and His
Symbols, Lee, you might want to check out some of Joseph
Campbell's writings about myth; one I remember is titled
The Hero With a Thousand Faces. And you're right about
the creativity in dreams, Joe; see what kind of writing ideas
they can give you.
I feel fortunate to have been able to share a class with
you guys, Juan. It sounds like you've got a lot to write
Page 20 4 p.m. Count
about you and your brother growing up together. And I'm
glad you enjoyed the poems, Josh. Scott, thanks for the
kind words. And Hung, I appreciate your thoughts on my
reading there. I really enjoyed visiting and working with
you guys, and the letters you wrote got me to thinking,
which got me to learning. So my thanks to all of you as
well. And I hope something in this letter is helpful for
each of you in some way. For me, whether I'm reading
or writing, it's like holding up a mirror. Words bring up
thoughts from my subconscious, and show me something
Jim, thanks for the invitation. I really enjoyed the visit and
hope it was helpful for the class. You've got a great group
there. Maybe we can get together again some time.
Thanks again to all you guys. And best of luck in the class
and in the future.
You all take care,
4 p.m. Count Page 21
Mario G. Covington
"Boy, cut those onions smaller than that!" That's
what momma would say as she prepared Thanksgiving
dinner. "Hurry up, there's still bell peppers and cabbage
to be cut." Yep, that was me and momma's holiday act.
Every holiday she cooked, I was the prep cook. I didn't
enjoy getting up at five-thirty in the morning, cutting
onions; crying like someone who has just won the lottery,
but I enjoyed watching momma prepare holiday meals,
and I learned to appreciate this time that mom and I spent
together because this was a time that I didn't have to share
momma with anyone.
Momma is a buxom woman from the South,
Memphis, Tennessee, and she stands about five feet, six
inches tall. She has a chestnut complexion, and when she
smiles she lights up the whole room. But she also has a
frown that will chase the sun behind the clouds. Overall,
momma is a beautiful, caring, and loving woman who cares
for her family.
I'm the oldest boy of four children — two boys
and two girls. I've been helping momma in the kitchen
since I was eight years old. I once asked her, "Why isn't
Rachel — my oldest sister — required to help in the kitchen?"
She said, "Son, your sister doesn't have a clue about
cutting vegetables." This made me feel good, knowing
that momma chose me to be her dicer. It's now been three
years since I've been helping momma in the kitchen and
I've gotten pretty good at cutting and dicing fruits and
It's a tradition in my family that every head of
a household host a holiday at their homes. This isn't
something that was voted on; it's just something that
my family has inherited over the years. I think it was
unconsciously started by my grandmother. At the beginning
of the year four aunts and an uncle would choose his or
Page 22 4 p.m. Count
her holiday. I had a fairly large family: momma had four
children, my aunts had seven children between them, and
my uncle had two children. So there were thirteen children
and eleven grown-ups, which included grandma and her
two brothers and their wives.
This particular year momma chose Thanksgiving
as her holiday. She always became agitated when it was
her time to host, maybe because she wanted everything to
be perfect. And since I was her helper, I was the one that
received most of the agitation. Everything I did was too
slow, or not good enough, but I survived. When the family
arrived, everything was to momma's liking, and I could tell
because momma would light up the room with that electric
Momma had the table packed with food and she
wouldn't relax until everything was done to her liking.
She would say, "Son, one day it will be your turn to serve
dinner for the family." I said, "Momma, I can't do this.
Look at all of this food you made; I can't even cook!"
Momma said, with that mesmerizing smile, "Sure you
can, and you will. I've been up since three in the morning
preparing dinner for the family. I made candied yams,
macaroni and cheese, cabbage, green beans, greens, potato
salad, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, gravy with chicken
gizzards in it, ham, turkey and dressing, and chitterlings."
Momma made everything from scratch. She would keep
the leftover corn bread in the freezer for at least a year,
and then she would make dressing out of it to go with the
turkey. Boy was it delicious! The dressing was my favorite
food that momma made for the holiday. I remember looking
at momma with a sense a pride, joy, and admiration, like
looking at someone who had saved a person's life. I was
brought out of my thoughts by momma's haughty voice.
She said, "For dessert I made a chocolate cake, a coconut
cake, eight sweet potato pies, six lemon meringue pies, two
banana puddings, and two peach cobblers." All of these
pastries were made from scratch as well.
Momma said that down South is where the real
4 p.m. Count Page 23
cooks come from. Out of all of her desserts, momma's
chocolate cake was my favorite. I received one of these
tasty chocolate cakes every birthday, and I wasn't required
to share it with anyone! The lemon meringue pies were the
family favorites. Momma couldn't make enough of these
pies; it was always the first dessert to disappear. She would
always say to me, "Put one of those pies away until the
family leaves." I always said when I got older I would put
these pies on the market, that's how good they were.
After the family finished eating, we would all
spread our wings: my uncles would be watching the
Cowboys football game, us kids would be playing Atari,
or some board game, and momma and the rest of the
grown-ups would be dancing to music by the O'Jays, or the
Temptations. That was the great thing about momma; she
loved to see her family happy. She loved to have her family
together, happy, and having fun.
When the holiday was over, my sister and I were
left with the challenge of cleaning the kitchen. Most of the
family members took leftovers home so there wasn't much
food left. But that's okay, we'll do the same thing at Uncle
Lewis' house for Christmas, and me, well I can't wait until
next year for "Momma's Holiday!"
Page 24 4 p.m. Count
"Dat Der" Rope
When I was nine, my dad and I went to my grandpa's farm
as we had done for as long as I could remember. In front
of his house he had converted some old 500-gallon water
tanks to hold his baby calves. He always liked to keep an
extra special eye on them. That day he said one of 'em was
getting too big so we had to take her down to the farm. He
handed me the rope and said, "Whatever you do boy, don't
let go of dat rope." I held on tight to that rope; my pride
for my grandpa's respect clamped my fingers tighter than a
rusted pickle jar. Grandpa and dad walked behind, I turned
my head, a shit eating grin spread across my face, shining,
at their glowing approval. The loud beller announced the
sudden shift in my world as the calf spooked. Its muscular
legs pumped like the pistons in a diesel truck, mine
straighter than a first time skier slaloming across the gravel
road until I tumbled, face forward, dragged across the
gravel, pulled behind the jack hammering hooves, ignorant,
to the shouts of "Boy, let go, let go of the rope!" echoing
from the duet of running feet behind me. My fingers
slipped, the rope scraped along my soft city hands until the
last thread was beyond my grasp. Tears flowed as the calf
ran on. Grandpa and dad approached, questioned if I was
all right, but all I could do was cry because I had let go of
dat der rope.
4 p.m. Count Page 25
Neumyer Trailer Park Shoot Out
My brother and I banded together like only brothers
could this one hot, summer day in Oklahoma. Josh and I
were trailer park raised in Yukon, Oklahoma. We look a lot
alike, even to this day, except Josh has always been a few
inches shorter than I: brown hair, blue eyes, scrawny like
our dad but have our mother's good looks. Our birthdays
are only 363 days apart, Josh being younger, so we have
had our share of knock-down-drag-outs, but he is my best
We lived in a three bedroom trailer that was brand-
spanking-new, and we were lot number one out of three-
hundred. We sure thought we were something. Mom and
Dad had recently switched our rooms because we had too
much stuff. Our room was the master bedroom and bath
with a walk-in closet, stand-up shower stall, and a bathtub
that I could still lie down in. This trailer was actually a little
piece of heaven in mobile home terms. Josh and I did have
separate beds but had to share everything else like toys,
clothes, and friends; mainly Josh would wear my clothes,
and I would beat him up for it, even though they didn't fit
me any more.
Willy was a boy that lived on our end of the trailer
park. He was either staying the night with us, or we with
him. We were very afraid of Willy's mom, Almeda. She
is kind of a big woman but very pretty with her dark
complexion and long black hair. Every kid in the park
knew she was the toughest mom around. During the hot
Oklahoma summers, Almeda went barefoot everywhere. I
remember one summer, Willy, Josh, and I cracked an egg
on the pavement, and it actually started cooking. While we
were spell-bound by the frying egg, Almeda walked up and
said, "What are you boys doin'?" She was standing on that
pavement without any shoes on, and it didn't even bother
Page 26 4 p.m. Count
Willy, Josh, and I were all such good friends
because of Oklahoma Sooner football and the 80's rock
bands we listened to. When the other park kids were blaring
Michael Jackson, we were head-banging to the likes of
Quiet Riot and Motley Crue. Our hero was Brian Bosworth
before the whole steroid scandal at Oklahoma University.
All three of us even sported the Bosworth mullet with
shaved lines on the side of our heads; we wore cut-off jean
shorts and those crazy half shirts all summer long. We were
truly different from the other kids.
Josh and I were paid an allowance by our folks
every week; we had to do chores like take out the trash,
rake and mow the yard, and clean our room. I would always
blow my money on candy and such, but Josh always saved
his money. When Josh was nine, this blonde, over-weight
lady named Carol that lived down the street sold him a
Daisy pump action pellet gun. She was having some kind
of yard sale when Josh walked up and inquired about the
gun. Carol said, "Young man, you can't buy that unless I
speak to your parents."
Josh replied, "Ma'am, my dad is home right now.
You can call him if you wanna."
Carol called the number Josh gave her, and Willy
answered the phone in his deepest voice, "Hello?"
Carol replied, "I have your son over here at my
trailer tryin' to by a gun. Is that okay?"
Willy says, "You mean Joshua? Yeah, sure. We
already talked about it." That was all she needed and she
sold it to Josh. He was soon on his way back with the Daisy
pump action pellet gun.
Josh, Willy, and I didn't have one clue about pellet
guns. We just thought you pumped it up, pointed it, and
shot, which is true, but we didn't have any pellets. There
was no way we could ask our parents to get some; we
weren't even supposed to have it in the first place. All we
did with it was pump it up and shoot the air at ant hills and
All of the kids in the trailer park knew that we
4 p.m. Count Page 27
had this pellet gun. One kid, Howard — we called him
Howeird — was absolutely fascinated with it. We didn't
really like him very much, but he was always trying to fit
into our tightly knit group. I didn't like him because he
lived on the other side of the trailer park, wore glasses, and
didn't even like rock and roll; just typical kid stuff.
It was really hot one afternoon, so Josh and I were
hanging out in our room. Mom and Dad were at work, so
Josh and I were the only ones home, and Willy came by. He
was our only friend that was allowed over without our folks
being home. Willy started shooting the pellet gun at the
various action figures that littered our room. He must have
shot it twenty times before Howeird came walking into the
room. Howeird said, "What are y'all doin'?"
Josh and I were playing Atari, Motley Crue was
screaming "I'm a live wire," and Willy pointed the gun at
Howeird and said, "Say good night, Howeird."
Howeird was still standing at the door when Willy
pulled the trigger, and Howeird 's hands immediately flew
up to his forehead. He said, "I'm hit! You shot me!"
We started laughing because we thought he was just
joking around. He sure made it look real, and I was fairly
impressed. After the moment passed when things stop being
funny, he was still slightly bent over holding his head.
When Howeird pulled his hands away, they were covered
in blood. There was so much blood. Willy, Josh, and I said
a few choice words in unison which young boys should not
be saying. Apparently there had been a pellet stuck in the
chamber the entire time.
Willy and I rushed Howeird to the bathroom
sink for a closer inspection while Josh hid the Daisy pump
action pellet gun in our super-secret-hiding-spot (the
bottom of our toy box). Willy wetted a washcloth and wiped
Howeird 's blood away from the wound. I was starting to
come up with some kind of plan to tell our parents: he got
beat up, fell out of a tree, something! This plan fell apart
after inspecting the wound. The pellet must have turned
side-ways in mid-air when it hit Howeird and left a perfect,
Page 28 4 p.m. Count
hour glass cut right between his eyes. It was such a great
shot that I secretly wanted to give Willy a high-five.
After we got the bleeding to stop, Willy put two
small band-aids in the shape of an "X" on Howeird's head.
Josh said, "You've gotta go home, Howeird, and you can't
tell your folks you were here. I don't know what you will
tell 'em, but you weren't here." Poor Howeird got kicked
out of our house, having to walk to the other end of the
trailer park, carrying his skateboard and pushing his bike.
He wanted to call his mom for a ride, but we wouldn't let
Mom had put this off-white, shag throw rug in
front of the vanity in our bathroom. That is exactly where
Howeird was standing and there was quite a bit of blood on
it. Willy, Josh, and I started pouring shampoo, toothpaste,
Comet, pretty much whatever cleaning agent we could
find on the blood stains and started scrubbing, but they
would not come out. We were only ten years old, including
Howeird, except Josh was nine, but we were more worried
about Mom finding out than the well-being of Howeird. I
ended up taking the rug down the street and throwing it into
On my way back to the trailer, Mom pulled up and
said, "Hop in honey." My mind started reeling as I climbed
into the car. Hopefully Josh and Willy were ready for my
mom to be there. I was about to start freaking out.
Mom pulled up to the trailer, and we got out of the
car. I could see Carol digging in her dumpster to see what I
had thrown in there. Boy was she in for a shocker. It didn't
even enter my little mind that she would be down to talk to
Every day when Mom got home from work, she
would give Josh and me a hug and ask about our day at
school. She went straight to our room to talk to Josh and
noticed the rug was gone. She asked, "What happened to
I, being the genius that I am, said, "What rug, Ma?"
She replied, "The bathroom rug?"
4 p.m. Count Page 29
Off of the top of my head, without any kind of
rehearsal, I told her, "I'm sorry Ma, but I spilt Kool-Aid on
it and throwed it out."
She said, "Well, go and get it out of the trash, and I
will get the stain out."
Willy, Josh, and I were near fainting when there was
a knock at the front door, and Mom went to answer it. A
few seconds later, Mom yelled, "Boys! Get out here. Now!"
We didn't know what to do and moved down the
hall like a slow moving pack of wild dogs looking for the
dog catcher. I wanted to yell RUN! We could almost make
out the conversation between Mom and Carol, and she was
showing Mom the rug and saying, "This looks like blood,
Mom asked me, "Justin, do you want to tell me
what really happened?"
I couldn't speak! Josh saved me by coming up with
the best lie I have ever heard. He said, "Howeird and I were
boxing, with the gloves on, and I bloodied his nose. We
didn't want to get into trouble."
Halfway through Josh's wonderful moment, Willy
nudged me which made me realize Howeird and his mom
had just stepped up on the front porch.
Howeird still had his crude band-aids on, and his
mom looked furious. She was a heavy-set woman that
always wore a bright yellow T-shirt. Her short, curly brown
hair and huge glasses let people know she was a force to be
reckoned with. Her face was beet red with anger, and the
first words out of her mouth were, "Karen, did you know
my boy's Tergic to lead? What kind of ship are you sailin'
down here?" She said it in the most accented Oklahoma
drawl a person could ever have. Carol quietly put the rug
down and left.
Mom was still clueless as to what was really going
on, but Howeird 's mom sure filled her in. Howeird told his
mom everything! I couldn't believe it. Boy, was he going
to get it at the bus stop in the morning. Howeird and his
mom finally left after Mom assured her that the pellets were
Page 30 4 p.m. Count
not lead (even though she did not know for sure), and she
would handle it from here.
After Mom closed the door, she said, "Get that B.B.
Without even thinking, I replied, "What B.B. gun,
Ma?" Apparently that is the wrong thing to say to any
mom, especially after some kid just got shot between the
Mom has always been very understanding when
Josh and I would get into trouble, which happened a lot. I
think she even laughed, behind closed doors, at some of our
antics and outlandish childish lies. This time, she freaked
out. She said, "I SAID! Where. . .Is. . .The. . .B.B. . .Gun. . .?"
I didn't want to say anything because I knew I
would only say another lie. Luckily, Josh spoke up and
said, "I'll go and get it, Ma."
While Josh was getting the pellet gun, Mom called
Willy's mom. When Mom got off of the phone, it seemed
like only seconds passed before Almeda walked through
the front door. She gave us that disappointed look that all
mothers have and said, "You boys are not allowed to hang
out with each other for a week. The only time you can see
each other is at the bus stop and in school." She meant it
Mom asked, "Where did you boys get that B.B.
I wanted to explain to her that it wasn't just some
ordinary B.B. gun, it was a .177 caliber, 400 feet per
second, Daisy-pump-action-pellet-gun; this was the cream
of the crop when it come to little boys and pellet guns, but
I didn't think it would be wise to school my mother at this
Willy was the first to speak up, "I talked Carol into
selling it to Josh." Then Josh and Willy told Mom and
Almeda everything. Remarkably, things didn't turn out
that bad for us. Mom and Almeda decided to take the pellet
gun, ground us for a month, and they marched us down to
Carol's trailer to tell her what we had done. I was shocked
4 p.m. Count Page 3 1
because this was the era that boys got the belt for being
bad, but we didn't get one spanking. I guess being honest
isn't such a bad gig after all.
Page 32 4 p.m. Count
Direction for Isaiah, Jordan and Tazsanay
You are my children and above all things
I will do for you what I will do for no other, even if it takes
The years of hard work to provide for my family
involve blood, sweat, and tears with no guarantees.
We must go through life where there is one guarantee.
Whoever is born and has breath will one day be deceased.
Pray that there are no traps to eliminate me from
Hopefully I will travel further than those who were on this
quest before me.
People change like the weather.
My love for you never changes — it's unconditional.
I will appreciate and protect you whether you're good or
bad, wrong or right —
this is my plight.
I've learned many things from those who were before me —
hope, determination and patience come in handy.
I give to you what I can if you ever become lost in your
This will help you through the trials and tribulations you
will be facing.
These words I express come from the heart.
The time will come when you will move on and we will be
4 p.m. Count Page 33
Keep in mind the times you and I have spent together
along with what you can do to become prosperous and
Respect, love and trust yourself to the best of your ability,
Trust in God first, before man or anything.
Page 34 4 p.m. Count
He was taken from the seemingly ironclad jaws of life,
into the murky indefinite waters of demise.
That cool June night in 1986, on his bike,
wrecked by an old pickup truck with Iowa plates,
driven by a man driven by inebriation.
Shiny new red Harley Davidson on Kansas Highway 32-
Pretty long-blonde-haired woman on the backseat —
Two families, one without a mother, one without a father-
A future life-long drunk from Iowa
got away with his life, but wrecked away his sanity.
Replaying foggy glimpses of memory
that remain embossed on his conscience from that chilly
they drive him toward his bottle of slow death.
4 p.m. Count Page 35
Indian Creek Road
I was on my way to an old train depot I located on
a map at the local library. It had been abandoned for many
years and I thought it might hold some old treasures, such
as coins, jewelry, or any type of artifact. I started out early
that Saturday morning wearing my favorite faded blue-
jeans and Grateful Dead shirt, topping off my attire with
my one and only lucky green fishing cap. The temperature
was in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze out of the
west and the sun already peeking over the hills.
Cruising down the highway, enjoying the
peacefulness of being alone on the road, I had my elbow
leaning out the window and my coffee cup sitting on the
dash, its steam causing the windshield to fog up. Joni
Mitchell was in the CD player singing about being Stardust
on the road to the garden.
from the sunshine.
The polished chrome wheels captured the sun's rays and
reflected them like a precious jewel. Black leather diamond
tuck interior made the truck even more beautiful. It sported
a high performance 327 out of a Corvette, coupled with a
Chevy drive train.
Harry, my stepfather, who considers himself a
perfectionist, had restored this truck and loaned it to me on
this particular day Harry bears a passion for golfing and
restoring old trucks. Being a Chevy man like myself, you
couldn't help but envy other late models such as the one I
On the seat and floorboard next to me was my
White's Spectrum XLT metal detector along with my back
Page 36 4 p.m. Count
pack carrying the tools needed to dig up any treasures I
might discover. I'm hoping today to turn up a 1909-S VDB
wheat penny or a 1937-D threelegged buffalo nickel. In
fine to very fine condition, either of these would be of great
value and a big prize to any collection.
Hunting for lost treasures is a real passion of mine
and a break from drawing portraits or painting. I really
love grabbing my equipment and heading out to wrestle
with God's country. Getting so involved in prospecting, I
would have a tendency to lose track of time and usually
end up camping out or getting a motel room, not wanting to
travel back at such a late hour. Knowing my track record, I
was always prepared by keeping a tent, lantern, and other
necessities in my possession.
I love the excitement of the Spectrum tones dinging
when combing the six-inch coil across something metal.
The needle on the view window indicates the type of metal
discovered. Digging it up to see exactly what it is can be
very exciting. It's not uncommon to dig up lots of old
wheat pennies, jewelry, or even old toys.
Three miles out of Marion, Iowa, traveling north
on Highway 13,1 came up over a hill. I saw the pond
approaching on my right side, a place I visited many times
as a youth. Across the highway from the pond, a quarter-
mile down the gravel road is where I lived when I was nine
years old. Fields were tall with corn, but I was still able to
see the rooftops of the three old barns and the house we
Deciding I wanted to have a look around for old
times' sake, I made a quick detour; I had all day to hunt.
Taking a left off the highway, I turned onto Indian Creek
Road. Slowly, I rolled down the road kicking up very little
dust and gravel, not wanting to chip the paint job. As the
cornfield inched by, I could see the stalks heavy with dew
glistening in the sun. The old white farmhouse and faded
red barns began to come into focus. Arriving, I turned in to
the dirt driveway and parked.
Getting out of the truck, I leaned up against the
4 p.m. Count Page 37
front fender and, crossing my legs, I started examining
the ruins of an old forgotten past. Rolling down my
shirt sleeve, I pulled out a pack of Marlboro menthol
cigarettes, tapping the pack against my hand to draw one
out. Reaching into my pants pocket, I pulled out my black
Bic lighter and struck the flint wheel twice before it took.
I cupped my hand around the flame to shelter it from the
slight breeze. As I drew a long drag from the cigarette and
blew out the smoke, I began to remember a place where
questions ran deep.
The old two-story house still had some remnants
of old paint chipped and curled, exposing the grains of
the bleached natural wood. The eaves and spouts were
rusting and barely hanging on. The roof over the porch
was sagging and the deck severely warped. Many of
the windows had been broken out; a couple of the black
shutters were loosely hanging crooked. Bushes under the
front living room window had grown wild and mother's
flower beds had long ago been invaded by weeds.
While I was observing the surroundings, Pepper
came running from around the
corner of the house. He jumped up
on his back paws and placed his
front ones on my chest. I flicked my
cigarette off to the side and knelt
down to pet him and scratch behind
his ears. We were both so excited to see each other, like
old long lost friends. Pepper was a black and white Border
collie with a touch of brown on his chest. He loves to be at
your heels, either trying to trip you with his paws or nip at
you to get your attention to play.
I decided I would get my Spectrum XLT out and
have a look around the old farm before traveling on to my
original destination. Prior to taking out the detector and
equipment for the hunt, I wanted to look inside the old
ruins of the house.
Crossing the brown lawn, I carefully stepped onto
the low slanting porch, afraid that I might fall through; I
Page 38 4 p.m. Count
reached for the screen door that no longer had any paint
or screen left in it. As I pulled on the flimsy door, it broke
from its top hinge and twisted to the point of breaking. I
was able to catch it before the whole door came loose. I
then opened the old hand-carved oak door, surprised it was
not locked. It made a loud screeching noise that echoed
through the house.
Stepping across the threshold, entering into my
past, I felt a sense of longing. I began feeling like I was
being possessed and now being stalked by that entity. Later
I realized that this entity was me, or someone I once was.
The house smelt very musty and moldy. My eyes
began to focus on the contents inside. The yellow and green
floral wallpaper was peeling. Cobwebs were hanging from
the light cover and in the corners of the room. On the wall
hung the wooden fork and spoon that were used on our
backsides whenever we got out of line. Mom's little helping
hand, as she used to warn us.
The wooden floorboards had a good covering of
dust; you could see tracks from rodents that had no doubt
come to occupy the place as their residence.
Looking to the right through the entryway, I could
see the old black cast iron potbelly stove in the corner of
the kitchen. I began to remember the night we had brought
down a couple of mattresses from our beds. It was a cold
night and we slept there on the floor. The only heat we had
that night was from the old stove fueled by propane being
pumped in from the tank out back of the house. We could
afford to fill the tank only once a month, so in the winter
we had to save what we could. I remember that night so
We were playing this game where we would lie in opposite
directions with our feet at each other's head, write letters or
words with our fingers on the bottoms of our feet and we'd
have to guess what was written. The memory of this gave
me a longing for those days. I guess it was the closeness
of our family at a time when all we had was each other.
Coming from a family of seven children, my mom and dad
4 p.m. Count Page 39
did their best to provide, but poverty was present.
Dad was always busy, but in his free time would sit
in his Lazy Boy recliner with his Old Milwaukee beer and
Winston cigarettes watching re-runs of Laurel and Hardy.
Most of the time mom was the one to help with our chores
and spend time being adventurous with us kids. She was
our Mrs. Robinson, buzzing on her caffeine fix of Pepsi.
Glancing to my left, I saw the stairs that led to our
% bedrooms. Walking over to them, I carefully
applied weight, testing them on my way up,
afraid they might give way. They screeched
M and cracked, echoing through the house.
™^ Slowly, I reached the top; turning to my left
was the bedroom I had shared with two of my brothers.
Stepping inside, I saw an old portable record player on
which I used to play the Beatles and Stones. Beside it was a
Gibson acoustic guitar that belonged to my brother Kenny.
It had seen its better days and suffered from overuse. I
closed my eyes and the old guitar started to play an old
country tune, reminding me of an old game we used to play.
Kenny would strum a few chords while we would all try to
guess what the tune was. Most of the time it was the same
song, either from George Strait or Hank Williams Sr., he
would play while trying to master his talent.
I noticed on the other side of the room my brother
Darren's red cowboy hat hanging on the post of one of the
bunk beds, its white trim
and string still hanging
down with the little bead
you would slide up to
fasten tightly to your head. Hanging with the hat there
was a holster that once carried two pistols. Darren had
them hanging there at night for security while he slept.
The pistols were the only things my brother kept on him
while playing Cowboy and Indians. He wouldn't have been
caught dead without them and probably packed the pistols
when we moved.
Page 40 4 p.m. Count
Looking out the broken window next to the bed, I
could see dead insect carcasses in the sill. Staring across
the rows of corn, I could see the rusty iron bridge stretching
over Indian Creek where we used to play and run along
the tree line. Mom was always telling us to go find a tree
to climb when she wanted us out of her hair, so that was
where we headed off to. From atop a big oak, I could see
I began to envision the day my mother walked into
the house from shopping; she bought my brother Dave
and me a Remington .22 rifle. We had been pestering her
for over a year for this gun. A smile cracked my face and I
ran up and gave her a hug like no other. The pestering had
instantly started again until she took us out to shoot it. The
following weekend, our mother took us down the tree line
to do some shooting. That was the day I shot my very first
gun and a rabbit. I felt like I had achieved adulthood.
* * *
I decided to go outside and have a look around and
as I was leaving the bedroom I stopped and looked into
the closet. I had carved "Dane-n- Jenny" inside of a heart
hidden on the top shelf and wondered if it was still there.
Jenny was a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl that lived down
the road about a mile and we would sneak off to meet at
the pond. One particular night we were both sitting on
the wooden dock with our silhouette reflections from the
moonlight mirroring off the ripples of water as I leaned
over to kiss her. She was the first girl I had ever kissed.
Being so in love with her (so I thought at the time), when
4 p.m. Count Page 41
we moved I was sick and heartbroken for what seemed like
* * *
Leaving the bedroom, I stopped to look into my
sister's old room. I noticed an old doll that belonged to my
oldest sister Cori lying on the floor. It was missing an arm
and one eye was open staring somewhere above and far
away, its long eyelashes covered with dust. Noticing it had
had its hair cut in different layers, I instantly remembered
the day this occurred. That day, I walked in on Cori cutting
her hair as well as the doll's. I took the scissors away from
her and left them both with unfinished hair cuts. Leaving
the doll untouched, not wanting to disturb it, I wondered if
it was waiting for me to leave so she could close her other
eye and continue to be at peace.
* * *
Reaching the bottom of the stairs and heading to
the back door through the kitchen, I began to smell what
seemed to be German chocolate cake. It was a birthday
favorite of mine; one that mom and grandma would always
bake together. They always baked two cakes because I
shared a birthday with my brother Dave who was a year
younger than 1. 1 didn't care much for having to share a
birthday; it kept me from getting more presents. I know
my brother shared this same feeling because we had fought
about it many times.
The best part about a birthday at our house is that
it was celebrated with a big party. Grandma would show
up in her big white Cadillac with something you always
needed. I loved to go visit her place. She was never without
some kind of sweets and always baking desserts, one of my
favorites being her sugar cookies smothered with frosting
Page 42 4 p.m. Count
and colored sprinkles.
Grandma had a grey tabby cat named Tippy, but I
named him Terrible Tippy, the cat about which every dog
has nightmares. I didn't care much for Terrible Tippy and I
guess he didn't care too much for me either because he was
constantly scratching or biting me. Grandma also had some
pet fish, my favorite being a red-tailed shark. The fish were
seemingly attracted to me as I would find their food and
severely over- feed them.
Sneaking off to my Uncle Gary's bedroom was
a world of its own. He was always building something.
He had war planes hanging from the ceiling, army tanks,
trucks, and men set up like a battleground. He even had
an electric train set up in the midst of the room, equipped
with a community of buildings, houses, and people. The
roadways were surrounded with forests and automobiles.
I would imagine getting lost in the world he had created.
Waiting for him to come home and bring it all to life for me
was even more spectacular.
* * *
Crossing over the threshold onto the back porch,
there was an Old Milwaukee beer can, one that no doubt
belonged to my father who died in 1976. Noticing it was
the old pull tab style and solid tin, I just kicked it out of my
path and found my way out to the backyard. In the distance,
I could hear birds singing and saw pigeons flying around
I noticed right away that Pepper was
lying next to the swing set, still standing in its ;
original position; one swing was attached by I
a rusty chain screeching as it swayed in the
breeze. My sister Marcia used to sit in that
swing for hours singing and talking to Pepper
along with her imaginary friends. Mom had to
bribe her with candy or some kind of treat to
get Marcia to go out to play. She would never
leave mom's side and still clings to her today.
4 p.m. Count Page 43
I can see her there now, a sucker in her mouth,
wearing her yellow sundress and long brown hair flowing
behind her as she glided in the swing, carrying on her
conversation paying me no attention.
Next to her swing was a big worn out tractor tire
full of sand, a place where her twin brother Marvin would
play. He enjoyed building a big city with roadways he
could travel about with his Hot Wheels. He carried out
glasses of water with him to make rivers and lakes and used
the mud to help construct bridges while building his world.
Walking over and looking down into the sand tire, I
noticed a shining object. Upon inspection, I realized it was
one of Marvin's Hot Wheels.
He surely must
have misplaced it because
to this day he still has a
huge collection of them and
Matchboxes collected over the
years. I reached down digging it out of the sand and after
dusting it off, I put it in my pocket. Seeing it was in good
shape, I couldn't wait to surprise Marvin when I got home.
As I was bent over, Pepper began licking my face.
Before I was able to get to my feet, he leaped up placing his
front paws on my shoulder, knocking me off balance. As I
fell backwards, he was able to get the advantage he needed
to continue to soak my face with drool and his tongue was
finding its way to my ear.
Gaining my position and getting to my feet, I
noticed a BMX bicycle
leaning beside the water
meter attached to the house.
Most of its original black
paint had disappeared. The
handle grips and pads were
still there, but the tires were
flat and weather rotted. Rust
had visibly taken over the rims and chain. The bike had
Page 44 4 p.m. Count
belonged to my brother David and at one time it was the
fastest around. He has many trophies to support this claim.
I proceeded to the barns to have a look around.
Pepper and I headed off like best of friends. On the way, I
stopped to have a look at the old black 1963 Fury Plymouth
two-door hard top. It was sitting on blocks buried in a mess
of weeds. Seeing that rust had won this battle, I stuck my
finger through a hole in the door just below the side mirror.
Wiping the dust off the driver's side window, I noticed how
the interior had deteriorated and mice had taken over. There
were cans and bottles lying on the floorboard. Opening the
door with some effort, the hinges came to life squeaking
Reaching down to pick up a piece of yellow faded
paper, I realized it was a gas receipt from 1972. Unfolding
it in amazement, I saw the price for gas was 53 cents a
gallon at the Deep Rock filling station where my father
worked. Looking through the glove box and finding a
slinky, green stamps, cigarette coupons and a map, I closed
the door to let the mice resume their residence.
This took me back to the day my father let me drive
for the very first time. I
was in the driver's seat
controlling the wheel,
while he was right beside
me managing the gas
and brake pedals. I could
smell the stale smoke of Winston cigarettes and the Old
Milwaukee beer coming from his breath as he coached me
along. I remember thinking I was the luckiest kid in the
world as we cruised down Indian Creek Road, wishing my
friends could have seen me man-handling the old Mopar.
At one point, my father started to accelerate at my request;
I had never concentrated any harder than I did that day,
feeling as if I was going 100 mph, in actuality probably
peaking at 30 to 40 mph. Every once in a while he would
grab hold of the steering wheel to keep us from going into
the ditch as we approached a corner. This was truly one of
4 p.m. Count Page 45
the greatest moments in my life.
* * *
Heading back towards the barn with Pepper running
ahead, leading me somewhere in particular, I followed
him obediently. He was leading me to the barn where all
of us kids played hideout in the hayloft. I could see where
the door of the barn had fallen off and was now resting up
against the side of it. The red paint had faded to an orange
and flaked miserably.
As we approached the barn and stepped inside,
there was just enough light beaming through the doorway
to make it visible. The gaps in the side of the walls had
light streaming through them, giving the appearance of
Jacobs's ladder. It smelt of stale, moldy hay and pigeon
droppings, very much like it did back in our playing days.
Hanging from the rafters was the block and tackle with an
old frayed rope that once held us kids as we jumped off the
loft and swung until we decided to let go and land in the
hay below. Instantly, I could hear the echoes of laughter
and joy that engulfed our playtime. It rang so clear, as the
barn was now playing a recording of time past.
I climbed up the ladder to the hayloft to see if the
fort that my brother Kenny and I made was still intact. We
had hidden it so that it was undetectable by merely looking
in its direction. You had to climb over the bales and crawl
back to the corner and lower yourself down into a big open
cavity to reach it. I was a little skeptical to do this, afraid
that maybe some creature had decided to move in, not
wanting to startle it. I made sure to make as much noise as
possible while making my way to the fort. After carefully
maneuvering, I made it to where the fort was supposed to
be. Locating the opening, I found it was still there. Looking
into the darkness of the fort, I decided not to crawl inside
because the only light I had was my Bic and I figured that
wouldn't be a good idea.
Climbing back down from the loft, I noticed some
old traps hanging on the wall. I walked over and started to
mess with them and figured they would never be usable
Page 46 4 p.m. Count
again without some much needed TLC. I remember using
them a lot to catch opossum and raccoon or whatever else
wandered into them. I never trapped to eat; I just enjoyed
catching things, but I never let my parents know what I was
I once trapped a young opossum and, feeling
sorry for it, I saved its life and decided to keep it for a pet,
unbeknownst to my parents. We had an old silo in which
the mortar and bricks started falling away, so my family
used it to store old pieces of lumber and metal. I figured
this was a good place to keep my new pet opossum. I
would have to wear these big old gloves to handle him and
to protect my skin from his random biting.
My relatives came to visit one weekend and when I
showed it to my cousin she ran inside and told my parents.
My uncle came outside to see the opossum and it started
hissing. I wasn't scared because I was used to his behavior.
As I started to put on my gloves and pick him up, my uncle
told us to go back in the house. After our relatives left, I
went to see my pet and it was nowhere to be found. Later, I
learned that my uncle had taken a 2x4 and killed it.
* * *
Walking out of the barn, I noticed it starting to
get cloudy. Looking at my watch, I realized I had been
walking around the homestead for two hours. In order to
resume my original journey, I figured I should probably
get going. I took out another cigarette and lit it up before
making it back to the truck. Something scared up a couple
of pheasants in the cornfield next to me. At first, I thought
it may have been me, but when I began looking for Pepper,
he was nowhere to be found. I started calling for him,
looking in all directions and he still hadn't come. Stopping
for a short time, taking a drag from my smoke, I gave a
couple more calls for Pepper. I wondered where he had run
off to. By the time I reached the truck Pepper still hadn't
surfaced. I was feeling like my escort had been a ghost and
I was his honored guest. Without being able to say goodbye
to my host, I climbed into the truck just as the sky broke
4 p.m. Count Page 47
into a thunderous rain.
* * *
Driving away looking back in the rearview mirror,
I began thinking that I was walking around with another
person inside of me and was left with only tears of a child
who has grown and lost his dreams in the blink of an eye.
I would never be able to discover any treasure with greater
value than the one I uprooted those last two hours.
4 p.m. Count
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy..."
My little princess,
It wasn 't until after I entered this prison system that I
became aware that I was your father The lifestyle and
behavior I took part in left nothing for certain. During my
first year away from home, incarcerated within these walls,
I was blessed with the news of my paternal bond with you.
The miracles that God allows to transpire through even
the roughest of times are to be thankful for, and I am most
Abby Lyn, you are my youngest daughter and I smile
every time I think about you. Such a tiny little baby
girl with a heart of gold, you seem to be so forgiving
and understanding. I suppose that s natural for you,
as you know love from all directions in your life. Your
grandparents have kept you safe, and in the home you
should have, while mommy and I regain control of the
insanity we inflicted on ourselves through our addiction.
I'll spend years in the confines of this place, trying to
make the necessary improvements that will grant me a
place in your life. It was because I surrendered to the
power of my addiction that I fell so far away from you.
Before you are able to fully understand all of this, I will
return to your life, and provide many precious moments for
both of us.
Expressing love to you has been possible through frequent
visits here at the prison, as Grandma has made this
possible. Your mommy has reinforced the fact that "Daddy
Joe" is coming home someday, and this makes you smile.
Funny as it may seem, you began calling me Daddy Joe as
soon as you knew my first name, and it kind of stuck.
Let me assure you that I love you so very much, and
you have my heart, young lady. The life that we will know
together is approaching soon, and to be honest, I can 't
wait. This experience away from you has certainly made
me aware of my mistakes, and given me direction towards a
better future, so long as you are in it.
I love you little lady. See you soon. "Daddy "
4 p.m. Count Page 49
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy"
My little man,
As my third child, and my only son, you have given my
world the well-rounded effect that was needed. Your great-
grandfather, grandfather, and I have carried the name
given to you, which is a tradition you may continue, when
you have a son.
Joey IV, I pray that you re-install integrity to the name
I defamed, by breaking the law and coming to prison. My
mistakes are many, and I'm focused on living them down.
My release date is in sight and with the lessons I've learned
through this time away from you, I plan on living a bright
future that includes both of us.
Your grandparents have rescued you from foster care,
after your mother and I so carelessly lost you. Thank God
for the miracle of family love which has kept you home,
where you belong. Your mother s parents have been your
Your smiling face brings warmth to my heart every time
I'm allowed to see you during a visit here at the prison.
It installs faith in our future and the value of these times
couldn 't be measured. I see myself in your existence, and
this I cherish.
I love you, little man, and I can 't wait to have the
opportunity to share our lives together. The Good Lord has
reasons for what takes place during the journey of life, and
we must remain faithful to this. We all are such a small
part of the big picture.
My future is you! See you soon. "Love, Daddy"
Page 50 4 p.m. Count
"Scrapbook Letters from Daddy..."
My most precious baby girl,
There are so many things I want to tell you, about how
lucky I feel to be your daddy, and almost every time I try,
I lose my way. Oh, it s not because there isn 't much to say,
more so just the opposite.
What you 've done by entering this world has made me
the man I've always wanted to be. You might ask yourself
"What does this mean, " and in time you will know as you
grow older and realize the relationship you and I share.
Since your arrival to your mother and me, the pendulum
of life has swung in such a way that I'm not familiar with.
One thing for sure, it's in the right direction, and the quality
parents that you need will be most apparent in your life.
I want you to know this Taylor Made: you have given me
reason to belong to the very life I live, and I know as time
goes on this will present itself. If there were something I
could say to let you know my deepest feelings, and only use
one word, it would be "thanks " for being my daughter I
You have entered my life at a time that was put aside "just
for you " by God Himself as He knows when this would
be correct. During my younger years, I don 't think that I
could 've possibly been the father to you that I plan to be
now, so I'm thankful.
Your mother is a beautiful person, and your creation
makes us the most fortunate parents ever, as we have been
Ill be home soon. You are my world!
I Love You Taylor. "Daddy"
4 p.m. Count Page 5 1
Letter to Inmates, Yankton Federal Prison
Camp, Memorial Day, May 26, 2008
It's cloudy, raining lightly, and I'm thinking about the
soldiers I've known, and being grateful to them for being
willing to die for the kind of freedom this country has
always offered. I just read your letters for the second
time, and thought about the time we spent together. I'm
impressed at how many of you wrote, and how literate
and well-organized your letters are: this ability to express
yourself in a letter, clearly and concisely, will be a definite
asset when you are back out here competing for jobs.
I'm also happy to know that you appreciated my visiting
class, and the things I had to say. I find it strange to think
that anything I say might help anyone, when I think about
how I've fumbled along living my life.
You could probably tell I was nervous, in spite of Dr.
Reese's encouragement, and you all helped me relax by
the way you received me. I've worked in several different
types of prisons, for different lengths of time, and have
several times been involved in situations that were difficult
for everyone involved, so I was a little twitchy at first.
Seeing how polite and attentive you guys were was very
reassuring. Thank you for making me feel comfortable.
And you're right: I thought long and hard about what might
be practical advice for you, both as writers and as men
incarcerated. I didn't want to just trot in from the outside
world and blather on. I haven't been in jail except as a
visitor, but I think the experience is like giving birth or
having your best friend die: unless it's happened to you,
you don't know what it's like.
Or, as Woody Guthrie put it, "You can't write a song about
Page 52 4 p.m. Count
a whorehouse unless you been in one."
I did ask Dr. Reese about you, and spent time trying to
figure out what would be most useful to you, so I'm glad
you understood that. I didn't want to say the same things
to you as I said to a bunch of college kids who have barely
started to live.
Not all of you will become writers in the sense of being
published; not all of you want to be. But I hope all of
you will keep writing as a way of helping yourself to
understand what's happening in your life, and a way
of remembering the things that are important in order
to improve it as you continue to live it. Don't just use
writing to remember mistakes so you can avoid them, but
recall the times when things went better than you thought,
people who were good to you, things you have seen that
encouraged you. You wouldn't believe you could forget
some of the most dramatic things that happen, but you
will. It's easy to remember the bad: I can remember almost
every detail of the night my husband died. But I have to
work at remembering his kindness, his courage, what he
did and said when he was defeated. And even if you don't
understand something now, you may understand it later
if you've written it down. I've done a lot more writing
that is for myself alone than I've done for publication. I
enjoy writing, enjoy trying to convey an idea to someone
to whom it's new or strange- but a lot of my writing is
trying to figure out what I think about something that has
happened to me, or to figure out how to keep living after,
for example, my husband died. That's the important part:
figuring out how to keep on living, enjoying life, being kind
to other people, not blowing up in futile anger.
Writing helps me figure out what to do about injustice:
sometimes you can't do anything. But sometimes, writing
about the problem helps me understand what I can do to fix
it, even if it's just voting, or writing a letter to the editor to
4 p.m. Count Page 53
say what I believe.
My best wishes to all of you, and I hope writing will help
you pass the time until you are free, as well as helping you
improve your lives.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Page 54 4 p.m. Count
Salvation in a Bottle: Doom Malt Liquor
With a click and barely audible hiss, the lighter in
Jacob Isakson's hand jumped to life, shooting out a small,
intensely hot flame. The small blue flame easily lit the
large Cuban cigar perched between his lips as he slowly
worked it back and forth across the tip.
As Jacob puffed away, savoring every sweet
inhalation from the cigar, thick white aromatic clouds
billowed out surrounding his head. He couldn't help but
think back to what the sales person at the smoke shop had
"Mr. Isakson, believe me when I say, you will love
these; not only are they rolled from only the choicest leaves
in all of Cuba, but it is claimed that they are rolled up on
the thighs of beautiful young Cuban women," the young
clerk said with a devilish wink and a snicker.
Jacob had laughed along with the eager sales person
and had bought the cigars because they were expensive,
not because he believed his sales pitch. But now as he
settled back into his plush, leather sofa and was indulgently
puffing away on one, he swore he could taste the sweet
flesh of the young woman each time he put it to his lips.
Setting the tasty Cuban down in the crystal ashtray
on the marble-topped coffee table, Jacob picked up a copy
of the newspaper to see what lay inside. After only briefly
reading the financial news, Jacob folded it carefully and
with a contented grin placed the paper back on the table
next to the ashtray and resumed smoking his cigar.
"Another Hostile Takeover By M.O.D. Inc.,"
one headline had read, while another pondered, "Where
will M.O.D. Inc. Business Blitzkrieg End?" Yet another
headline screamed, "Financial Analysts Worried about
Financial Fallout Locally!" The articles all told stories so
familiar to Jacob that not only could he have quoted the
lines from each without reading them, he most definitely
4 p.m. Count Page 55
could recognize the names of the whiny reporters who had
written each if he was told a few lines from them first.
Jacob took pride in the fact that he did his job
exceptionally well. He didn't necessarily love his job
at M.O.D. Inc. as head liquidator of the companies and
corporations they acquired. What he loved was the power
and comforts that came with the job, regardless of the fact
that people said they were financial predators who singled
out smaller businesses. He loved buying them and then
breaking them apart, making as much profit as possible
with little or no concern for the people hurt in the process.
Jacob believed these claims to be greatly exaggerated and
probably spread by their competitors to sully their public
"All simply the cost of doing the business in this
modern age," he had told himself on many an occasion.
And even if there was any truthfulness to the claims, Jacob
really didn't give a damn. He sat on his plush Italian
leather sofa in the middle of his sprawling five thousand
dollar a month apartment, puffing away on a cigar that
tasted so good it had to be a sin, and knew that it was all
worth it at any cost.
At the moment that Jacob was at his most smug
and self-content, a faint chill crept into his body. A small
shiver ran up and down his spine and patches of goose-flesh
broke out all over his arms. The coldness that was barely
noticeable seconds before seemed to be taking root in his
very bones. Since it was mid- August and his apartment
was climate controlled, Jacob found the sudden chill
disconcerting and hoped he wasn't getting sick.
With a brief shudder, Jacob put down his cigar and
got up from the couch, walking over to the bar to pour
himself a brandy. He dearly hoped that a simple drink
would chase away the chill that was now spreading rapidly
within him with each passing moment. The rich amber
liquid flowed from the cut crystal decanter with quiet
sounds as Jacob poured himself three fingers' worth. Now
feeling more than just a little cold and shaking noticeably,
Page 56 4 p.m. Count
Jacob set down the decanter and picked up his snifter full of
brandy before walking back to the couch and sitting down.
Throwing his head back and taking two massive
swallows, Jacob downed the brandy he had only moments
before poured, then sat there coughing and choking on the
vapors. Jacob waited desperately for the liquid's warm
rush to surge up through his body's core to relieve him
from the cold that now wracked him so unmercifully. For
one blissful moment the warmth that he had craved washed
over him, blotting out the cold.
But with a rapidness that was so overwhelming it
scared Jacob to death, the cold came rushing back stronger
than before. He got up, barely able to move because his
muscles were cramping from the cold, shooting bolts of
pain all through his body with each step.
Finally, making his way to the thermostat, Jacob's
heart dropped. He felt as if the thermostat was mocking
him, with its comfortable reading of sixty-eight degrees,
while he stood there feeling like a side of beef in a meat
locker. The cold and fear so completely blotted out Jacob's
senses that he couldn't think of what to do next. Call for
help was the only idea that popped into his head. Jacob
wasn't able to do much more than knock the phone from
its cradle and ineffectively poke his cramping and shaking
fingers at the buttons once he reached it. Releasing a wail
so full of desperation and pain that it could have curdled
the blood, Jacob fell quaking to the floor.
The wail was still passing over his lips as Jacob
awoke with a start from the recurring dream that had once
again quickly become a nightmare. Being awake was not
an escape for poor Jacob at all. Along with still being
mind-shatteringly cold and wracked with pain, he was once
again anchored to the true hell that was his life.
Rising slightly to his knees in the confines of the
packing crate he now called home, Jacob began sifting
through the fast food wrappers, empty cans, and other filth
that littered the floor around him. As in his dream, he still
desperately craved succor from the cold. But now that
4 p.m. Count Page 57
desire was viciously coupled with a need to escape from the
awfulness of his surroundings. These days that relief was
best found in the all-numbing completeness of a bottle.
To his dismay all he could find were bottles that
were as empty as he felt inside. With a harsh utterance that
was barely understandable due to the loud chattering of his
teeth, Jacob gave up his fruitless search. In his mind he
cried, "God, help me please, make this suffering stop!" He
then proceeded to scramble out of the rear flap of his crate.
Once out of his hobo condominium, Jacob became
suddenly aware of a fifty-five gallon drum that someone
had started a fire in. The dancing flames from inside the
barrel beckoned to Jacob like a siren's song promising him
relief from the bitter cold if he would only come a little
closer. Shuffling over as fast as his cramping limbs would
take him, Jacob began luxuriating in the waves of heat
radiating off the barrel's open top.
Once the worst of his shakes from the cold had
resided and he could focus on his surroundings, Jacob
noticed a man standing close by also enjoying the barrel's
heat. He didn't remember the man being there a moment
ago when he first saw the barrel, but, then again, as cold
and miserable as he had been, Jacob could understand how
he had missed the stranger.
The man was attired similarly as Jacob was,
mismatched thrift store clothing and other apparel all torn
and caked in grime. Yet, unless Jacob's eyes were deceiving
him, the man's skin, hair, and nails were immaculately
clean and even seemed to be shining faintly in the fire's
glow. Maybe it was the damned hallucinations from the
lack of alcohol starting up again. He really wasn't sure; all
he knew was that he needed to get himself a drink, and fast.
"Evening friend, cold enough for you?" asked the
stranger. There was a glimmer in his eyes that made them
twinkle ever so slightly. He then smiled boldly with a
mouth full of perfectly straight and amazingly white teeth.
The smile looked to Jacob like a freakish
combination of a game show host and great white shark.
Page 58 4 p.m. Count
The twinkling glimmer in the man's eyes was the same
kind Jacob often saw in the eyes of the wackos who
came around claiming they could talk to God. Given the
strangeness of the man before him and his present lack of
booze, Jacob was sure that he was most probably imagining
him. But just in case he wasn't, he blurted out a mumbled
reply while unconsciously cringing from him.
"Tell you what makes me forget about the cold on a
night like this," replied the man, ignoring Jacob's obvious
discomfort and weak response to his greeting. "A nice
bottle, yes indeedy, that's the ticket on a night like this,"
said the man, instantly grabbing Jacob's full attention. The
man then reached down on the ground next to him and
plucked a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag that Jacob
was positive wasn't there before. The stranger took a long
pull off the bottle and, smiling that disquieting smile of his,
offered it to Jacob.
"God please," Jacob prayed as he reached out to
grasp the bottle. He hoped his hand would actually grasp
it and not pass through, proving all this to be nothing more
than an elaborate hallucination. Jacob almost cried when
his fingers clasped the bottle, and he greedily put it to his
lips, taking several huge swallows. Immediately Jacob felt
the warmth of the booze flow through his insides followed
by a strange sense of calmness. It seemed to be washing
over him, growing stronger like the cold had done in his
When Jacob finally came around from his rapture,
he noticed the man seemed to have disappeared. For a
moment, he once again thought maybe the man had been a
hallucination, but the bottle in his hands and the wonderful
sensations coursing through his body said otherwise. "Oh
well, more for me," Jacob said, surprised that his teeth
were no longer chattering and he could now speak clearly.
Basking in his good fortune of being both warm and having
the potential of getting mind-numbingly drunk, Jacob took
another pull from the bottle. He was once again rewarded
with another swell of heat and a sense of well-being.
4 p.m. Count Page 59
With a sense of blissfulness so foreign to him these
days spreading all through his mind, Jacob allowed his
thoughts to drift back to how he had come to be in this
place living the way he was. It had all started one day when
he was sitting there on his couch, smoking that wonderful
cigar: happy and completely smug. At the moment,
when the cold usually started to creep into his body in his
nightmare, the phone had in reality rung.
"Jacob, oh Christ man, turn on your T. V. to CNN,"
blurted out his co-worker, Bret, before he even had a
chance to say hello. "You won't believe what's happening,
it's horrible. What will we do?" Bret frantically spewed
into the phone, not giving Jacob a chance to respond.
Bret quickly said, "Damn, Jacob, I got to call some other
people," and hung up the phone, never giving Jacob a
chance to utter a single word.
After hanging up the phone again, Jacob grabbed
the remote off the table and turned his huge flat screen on,
flipping the channel to CNN. As the anchor person relayed
the breaking news to the viewing public with her trademark
chipperness a single word escaped Jacob's lips: "Shit!"
Apparently the I.R.S and the F.B.I had been
investigating certain persons in and associated with Martin,
Oberholtz, and Dietrich Inc. for creative bookkeeping and
other nefarious activities. None of which Jacob had any
clue about, but he was sure would affect him anyway. It
was at that point when Jacob had gotten up and poured
himself the first of what would become many strong drinks.
Once the smoke had cleared and the perpetrators
had all been hauled off to prison, M.O.D Inc. was still
around, albeit in a highly weakened and vulnerable state.
It didn't take long for the proverbial sharks to start circling
once the blood was in the water and the feeding frenzy
commenced with abandon. The company that had once
purchased and so uncaringly torn apart others was itself
purchased, torn to pieces, and sold off.
And to Jacob, the greatest irony of all was when
the once proud head liquidator was himself liquidated.
Page 60 4 p.m. Count
No new companies wanted anybody remotely associated
with M.O.D, regardless if they had anything to do with the
scandal, so Jacob was out of work. He turned to the booze
to cope with it all, putting the final nail in the coffin of
having any career at all.
Snapping back from that distant past, Jacob took
another long drink off the bottle, hoping it would begin to
blot out his thoughts and suddenly unhappy feelings the
same way it had erased the cold. In fact, after he finished
taking his drink, Jacob noticed that he was sweating and
seemed to be getting hotter by the minute. "What the hell
is in this stuff?" Jacob asked himself.
Pulling down the brown paper bag that was
wrapped around the bottle, Jacob revealed the bright red
label that read in shiny silver lettering, "Doom malt liquor."
Jacob looked on in disbelief as he started to read the small
print on the back of the label.
"Made with the waters from the River Styx, tears
from the souls in the sixth ring of hell, and the concentrated
pain and sorrow of those you hurt in your life." Jacob
thought it had to be one of those new gimmicky drinks
they were always coming out with these days: Black Death
Vodka, Tarantula Tequila and the hundred other weird
names he had heard. Or, at least that was what he hoped as
he tilted the bottle back, taking another drink.
Polishing the bottle off finally, Jacob threw it into
the barrel with disgust. Aside from making him feel so hot
that he was starting to become uncomfortable, the booze
hadn't made him the slightest bit drunk. In fact, he seemed
to be thinking more clearly and feeling more vividly than
he had in years which really terrified him, since all he
could think about was his painful past. Tearing off several
layers of clothing in an effort to cool down and having little
success, Jacob looked up to see the stranger standing back
in front of him smiling. With the heat still building stronger
and stronger inside of him, Jacob cried at the man, "What
have you done to me, what the hell is happening?"
Still smiling that perfect little smile of his, the man
4 p.m. Count Page 61
replied, "Why, God has given you what you wanted. You
begged him to make your entire suffering stop and this is
the way that it is going happen," calmly stated the stranger.
Jacob swore he heard a slight ring of enjoyment in the
voice. "You will be purified by fire and I will take your soul
to heaven," yelled the man, tilting back his head, laughing
As the heat once again reasserted itself upon his
conscience, Jacob opened his mouth to scream but no
sound came out. Instead a bright plume of flame and
smoke shot from his mouth, terrifying Jacob out of his
mind. The pain was unbearable and more intense than
anything he had ever felt in his worst nightmares or waking
hours and that was the way he supposed it was meant to be.
Jacob's flesh began to burn and flake off his body, dropping
him to his knees. Right before his eyes popped and melted
down his face, Jacob saw the last and most beautiful thing
he would ever see in his life.
As Jacob watched, the clothing of the stranger who
had promised salvation through pain ripped apart and a
large pair of wings burst from his back. "Come now, it
is our time to go," said the angel as he stepped forward,
slamming his hand into Jacob's chest, pulling out his still
burning soul. With his task now completed, the angel gave
several powerful flaps of his wings, propelling himself
skyward towards heaven.
Page 62 4 p.m. Count
5 Nights in Vegas
Night golfing, Brothels, Gambling, Romance
I took a moment to gather my senses. I just got
off the plane and was standing in the Las Vegas airport
terminal; I could hardly believe I was really here. I had
heard all manners of stories of excitement, pleasure,
adventure, and fun-a place where anything is possible:
A hedonistic paradise. It was now time to find out if the
stories were true.
Day 1 While playing blackjack at the Las Vegas
Hilton I stumbled onto a little known secret. I was sitting
on my behind playing blackjack for six hours and was
getting restless to do something that required movement.
For some reason I said out loud, "I sure wish I could play a
round of golf right now." An elderly, bald, heavy-set player
whose breasts were so big that he would need a C-cup bra
to hold them in place, quickly said, "Why don't you do
it then. There is a course ten minutes away from here." I
looked at him like he was insane, for it was midnight and
pitch black outside. From the expression on my face, he
figured I thought he was full of it or drunk. So, he quickly
continued, "It is a nine hole, lighted course with a driving
range; it is the only one in town."
I had never heard of night golfing. It did not seem
possible. I still did not believe him. I proceeded to stare
into space with a puzzled look on my face. I was trying
to ascertain if it was possible. Then, suddenly, the dealer
(Mark) snapped me out of my trance by stating in a firm
voice that the man was correct. That was all I needed to
hear. I immediately thanked Mark and the old man and
abruptly bolted from the table to get my golf clubs. I hailed
a cab and was there in fifteen minutes. The place was a
sight to behold. There were a couple dozen stadium lights
lining the par thirty-six nine-hole course. A large section of
4 p.m. Count Page 63
North Vegas was lit up like a stadium.
For the most part, it was the same as playing in
the daytime, with a few exceptions. I thought it would
be hard to see the flight of the ball. I figured I would lose
several balls. That was not the case. Strangely, it was
easier to follow the flight of the ball because the lighting
was constant and evenly disseminated. However, depth
perception was poor. I could not gauge the distance or
trajectory to my intended target with much accuracy. Often,
I would hit a good shot only to find that when I got to the
ball it was too far or short. I found this annoying. The most
noticeable difference was looking up into the sky to see the
moon and stars instead of the sun and clouds. I never got
used to that. It did not seem right!
Day 2 I had just got through taking a brutal beating
at the gaming tables and was feeling especially down and
dejected. I needed a quick fix, some pleasure, something to
cheer me up. After contemplating my options, I figured I
had five choices: Get a massage with a happy ending, pick
up the phone and custom order an escort, go to a singles bar
(meat market), pick up a hooker in the lounge, or go to a
legalized brothel on the edge of town. I took the easy, legal,
and unique route-I went to the brothel.
When I arrived I was a bit nervous; I did not know
what to expect. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the
outside of the building looked dumpy and unattended. As I
walked through the door, the first thing I saw was about ten
women gathered around in what appeared to be a lounge
area. This relaxed me even more. Then I was greeted by an
old, overweight, gruesome looking woman who escorted
me to a small, isolated office in the back of the building
(she was so creepy that if I had not just seen the ten women
in the lounge, I would have bolted out the door and run for
We talked business for ten minutes. There was an
amazing amount of paperwork to read and fill out. I was
surprised they did not hand me a 1099. There was one
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disturbing waiver. It exempted them from any liability if I
later claimed to have contracted any disease from my visit.
After the business was completed, we got to the good part:
picking a girl and the amount of time I would have to be
The price range for the women was based on age.
Not surprisingly, the younger women cost the most and
the older women cost the least. I chose a thirty-year-old
woman. I had never been with a woman who was older
than I so I was excited about the prospect. I had three to
choose from. I was handed a book that had several different
pictures of the three women: One Asian, one Swedish, and
one Latin. Some of the pictures were quite revealing. I
definitely knew what I was going to get! I chose the woman
of Asian descent; her name was Candy.
Finally, it was time to pick the amount of time I
wanted to spend with Candy. I chose thirty minutes. It
seemed like a comfortable amount of time. The business
I was escorted to a room. I opened the door to find a
smiling, bright-eyed Candy sitting on a couch. The lighting
was dim, and there were no windows. The room was clean.
Off to the left I spotted a dumpy bathroom with a shower.
The furnishings and decor were similar to that of a seedy
motel or a low end motel chain.
As she was introducing herself, she quickly got
up and walked toward me. We extended pleasantries for
a few minutes and then it was time to begin. She was
almost through taking off her clothes (exposing a nice,
shapely body that was far more inviting than the pictures
suggested), when she stated that she makes virtually all her
money on tips. She looked directly into my eyes and, in a
soft, sexy voice, said that she would go beyond the normal
activities and pleasantries if I would be willing to tip her.
I was no idiot. I was so worked up with anticipation that I
screamed "Yes" instantly.
Thirty-five minutes later I emerged from the room
with a huge smile on my face. I felt good again, even
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though it just dawned on me that I had parted with more
money (two hundred dollars plus a two-hundred-dollar
tip) to alleviate my depression than I lost to get depressed
in the first place. I had no regrets. I was feeling great. I
accomplished what I had set out to do: I no longer cared
that I was thoroughly thrashed at the gaming tables for
hours on end just before I arrived. My adrenaline was
flowing. I was ready for more excitement.
Day 3 I was hanging around the gaming area in
the MGM Grand Hotel Casino when I felt the urge to try
my luck at blackjack. I reached into my pocket to discover
that I had around three hundred dollars. I quickly found
an open seat at a three-dollar minimum table (the lowest
in the casino). The table was occupied by six players. At
first glance, I quickly and rudely cataloged each player. It
was a varied group: one old, one young, one wholesome,
one strange, one beautiful, and one obnoxious. I sat in the
middle spot directly facing the dealer. None of us players
could have predicted the wild, unexpected, and exciting
turn of events that would soon transpire.
After playing for an uneventful twenty minutes,
a new dealer, Jane, was assigned to our table. Jane was a
lively, middle-aged woman with a bubbly personality. She
stood five feet seven inches tall; had short, curly hair, big,
beautiful, white teeth and a pretty smile. Jane appeared
happy to be joining us.
Meanwhile, I found myself being entertained by
Joe, Marcy and Elisabeth. Joe had a distinct southern accent
and an overbearing, obnoxious personality (he could not
keep his mouth shut). I can safely say Joe had issues that
a lifetime of regular therapy could not correct. He wore a
huge cowboy hat, smoked a cheap cigar, and was slamming
down drinks as fast as they arrived. Marcy was an anorexic,
frail, grey-haired elderly lady who had virtually no muscle
tone; she looked like a skeleton with skin. She would
regularly make strange faces and gestures, like popping her
eyes out of their sockets when she was anxious or smacking
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her lips which made an annoying, repetitive, slurping
sound. At all times she had a lit cigarette in her hand which
hovered over an ashtray. Strangely, the cigarettes rarely
reached her lips. She was my favorite. Elizabeth was a
pleasant, middle-class, middle-aged housewife who was
just happy to be in Vegas. She was polite, friendly, and a
little reserved. Her presence added a bit of normalcy for
Jane was also a friendly dealer. For the first fifteen
minutes at the table she gave out more chips (money) than
she was taking in. This enabled us to gather some chips
and start to feel positive about winning. Most of us were
starting to slightly increase our bets. The group was coming
Soon afterward, to our surprise and delight, Jane
completely fell apart. For the most part, she either busted
or ended up with a weak hand (seventeen or eighteen). This
trend continued for quite some time. As we accumulated an
abundance of chips, we significantly increased the size of
our bets from the three- to five-dollar bets that we generally
were betting when we started playing, to consistently
betting twenty-five to one hundred dollars a hand.
Eventually, we had what seemed to be an endless supply of
chips in front of us. We felt invincible. I was having a blast.
The casino was taking a beating, the bosses were
pissed off, and a crowd had gathered behind us. Glancing
around the table, I roughly calculated that there were eight
thousand dollars in chips for the good guys (us). I had
about fifteen hundred. The pit boss (in charge of all the
games in his area) and the floor man (assigned to watch
about eight games in the pit boss's section) were hovering
over Jane's shoulder staring intently at the table and her.
Jane was clearly not enjoying this. Her smile disappeared,
she suddenly became mute, and her hands were shaking.
She was acting as if someone were holding a gun to her
head. Adding to the allure of the situation, a group of
spectators, fifteen or so, were crowding the table straining
their necks to get a better look at what was happening.
4 p.m. Count Page 67
In the distance, we saw a lone dealer walking our
way. This was extremely unusual. Usually, several dealers
appear at once at assigned intervals to relieve fellow
dealers. It soon occurred to us that the casino was bringing
in their ace in the hole-a house dealer. (To be classified
as a house dealer one must consistently and mercilessly
relieve the customers of their money.) We knew Jane was
going to get pulled. However, realizing that if Jane started
to deal another hand she would have to finish it, we quickly
but neatly stacked a pile of chips into our betting circle
in the hopes that Jane would start to deal. It worked. Jane
turned over a card before Mr. Death arrived. The last hand
was in progress. Joe bet around eight hundred dollars,
Marcy five, Elizabeth two, and me six.
What a monster of a hand it was. Everyone's eyes
were glued to Jane's left hand as she turned the cards face
up. Elizabeth's hand was completed first; she had a twenty
(two face cards). A great hand; she was in heaven. I was
next. I was forced to stare in total disgust at the sixteen
Jane had just dealt me; sixteen is the worst hand I could
possibly have gotten. I started to feel nauseous and ill.
Marcy had a garbage hand also: She had thirteen. She
showed her displeasure by sucking in her face through her
cheek bones and gums which caused her lips to pucker up,
while attempting to pop her eyes out of their sockets; she
looked like a fish. Joe was cursed or blessed, depending
on how the cards would eventually fall with a total of ten
(he was virtually forced to double down). Soon he would
have sixteen hundred dollars in neutral territory. For the
first time since I met him, he was speechless. Now for the
moment of truth-Jane slowly turned over her card: seven
of hearts. Not bad, but not good either. Statistically, Jane
should have a ten card under the seven to total seventeen.
This would not be considered a good hand, but it would
It was time to play our hands. Elizabeth signaled
to Jane that she did not need a hit. I had a big decision to
make. Logic dictated that I should have taken a hit with
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sixteen versus a seven (one should always take a hit in this
situation). However, I did not have a big enough set of balls
to ask for a card (at the moment, they felt like they had
shrunk to the size of a grain of sand). I could not stomach
the sight of a bust card being turned over and Jane scooping
my money away. I was a coward. I signaled to stay pat.
Marcy, with her pathetic thirteen, signaled for a card-she
had bigger gonads than I (even though biologically
she was barred from having a set). Jane turned over a
six of diamonds (nineteen). Marcy's fish face instantly
transformed into a happy, glowing crazy old lady face. Joe
eagerly pushed the chips necessary to match his original
bet into the betting circle which signaled to the dealer that
he wanted to double down (take one card). Jane was not
kind-it was a four of clubs. Joe slammed his hat to the
ground and yelled at the top of his lungs, "God damn it."
All seemed bleak for Joe and me, but the hand was not over
It was time for Jane to reveal her hole card. Tension
filled the air. There was a moment of silence. Jane turned
over a nine of clubs (sixteen): Garbage. Thank God! Loud
and obvious displays of relief resonated all around, except
for, of course, the casino staff. Mr. Death, the pit boss, and
the floor man were livid. What a pathetic scene that was.
One would have thought that it was their personal money at
The next card would either bring us extreme
jubilation or an overflow of despair and despondency.
I could not bring myself to watch. I turned my body to
the left and stared in the direction of the ceiling. I was
physically ill. My insides were turning, my pulse was
racing, and I felt nauseous and weak. I thought to myself,
"What is going on? I am winning. Why do I feel like I
am having a nervous breakdown?" Suddenly, the crowd
erupted. Jane must have turned over her card. They were
clapping, hollering, and laughing; one would have thought
they had just won the lottery. Jane must have busted. I had
to look now. What a sight it was. Jane had a seven turned
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over. I won! We won! It was over. All the tension that had
built up inside of me was gone. It was replaced by joy,
relief, and satisfaction.
That was it; we were all through. None of us wanted
any piece of the new house dealer who was sent by the
greedy, evil casino bosses to take back what they perceived
as "their" money. Before Jane left, we tossed several
chips in the middle of the table to show our appreciation.
Between the chips that we were betting for her all along
and what we had just tossed her way, she must have
accumulated, in a locked box to her right, over a thousand
dollars in chips. As happy and grateful as Jane was to have
gathered that much loot, she was a thousand times happier
to get the hell out of there! All Mr. Death could do was
convert our chips to larger denominations and watch us
walk away. The mighty house dealer was reduced to being
a clean-up boy. That was a beautiful sight to behold.
After the convergence of the chips was done, there
was no need for any of us to hang around. Elizabeth, who
appeared to be in shock, gave her husband a long, loving
hug. She was still not sure if it was a dream or really
happening. Tears of joy and astonishment ran down her
cheeks. The scene was moving. They casually walked arm
and arm toward the cashier's cage. Marcy, too, started
to walk away. She grabbed her huge purse (the size of
a canyon suitcase) and her cane and slowly meandered
toward the exit doors. She never made it. Halfway there,
she plopped her purse and cane beside a slot machine and
was getting situated to have a go at a one-armed bandit. Joe
felt important now; he decided to hang around the area so
he could brag and tell stories to anyone who would listen.
He was in heaven. The bullshit that came out of his mouth
could have filled a house.
I found myself staring at four pink five-hundred-dollar
chips and a few black one-hundred-dollar chips that were
safely nestled in the palm of my hand. I had never in my
wildest dreams thought that I could get so lucky. It was as
if the stars all lined up in just the right spot to allow for
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this magical turn of events to take place. I am grateful that
I was a part of it-it was an exhilarating, entertaining, and
Day 4 While I was sitting around the pool soaking in the
eighty- six degree sun on a windy, clear day, I stumbled
across my next adventure. I was scanning through several
tourist brochures when I came across an advertisement
that was to my liking. I was going to take an ultra-light
plane ride. There are several types of ultra-lights. The one
the brochure displayed was ridiculously small and was
an open-air model (no material covering the occupants or
much of anything).
As I was nearing the small, isolated airport in the
heart of ranch land at the base of the mountains about
twenty miles west of Vegas, I spotted, from my rental car,
an ultra-light cruising around overhead. My adrenaline
started to flow. I could hardly wait to get up there. My right
foot turned to lead, and, before I knew it, I had arrived.
When I arrived, the ultra-light was landing. The
landing was frightening to watch. I saw a little, skinny,
scraggly-bearded man clutching his right hand on the
joystick (the control that steers the plane). The plane was
landing on a bumpy, beaten, pitted, dirt path that was being
used as a runway. As the plane approached it appeared to
me that there was an engine, wings, tail-fin, double seat
and three pathetically small wheels-nothing else. Nothing
holding it together-just parts. It was coming in fast; it did
not look safe. The plane hit the runway. As the pilot was
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attempting to compensate for the rough stretch in front of
him, it occurred to me that it must feel like an amusement
park ride. He would hit a bump and the plane would react.
It would bounce off the ground, hit the ground, tip left,
right, rock back and forth. In various combinations, this
pattern continued until the plane was almost at a stop. I was
surprised it did not crash.
I was not sure I wanted to do this anymore-it
looked dangerous. However, after talking to my pilot Earl,
who just happened to be the pilot of the ultra-light that
I just watched land, and asking him several questions, I
decided to give it a go.
The take-off was reasonably smooth. I was
surprised. I barely felt the impact of the rugged terrain of
the so-called runway. Before long, we were off the ground.
We were climbing at a slow, even rate. I felt surprisingly
relaxed. After a few minutes of climbing, Earl halted
the ascent and leveled off the plane. We were cruising at
around forty mph but it felt like we were not moving at
all. I could feel gusts of wind swirling and cutting around
the plane, yet the plane held steady. After a few minutes
of cruising, I felt comfortable. I was taking in the sights. I
was enjoying being alive. Earl must have sensed this, so he
asked if I wanted to man the joystick. I quickly said yes.
He gave me quick, concise instructions. Soon afterwards,
my left hand was controlling the plane. It felt strange.
No sooner did I take the helm than a huge gust of wind
attempted to blow the plane sideways, but, to my surprise,
a slight nudge of the joystick halted the wind. All remained
steady. I maintained a steady ride for a few minutes when
I felt the urge to do more than "hold" the joystick. I asked
Earl if I could do something more with the controls. As he
was pointing to his left, he said, "Do you see that barn over
there?" "Yes," I replied. He continued, "Let's take a closer
I slowly and cautiously started to turn the plane in
the direction of the barn (better safe than sorry). It took
awhile to get a feel for the joystick. Eventually, I tricked
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the plane into heading in the direction of the barn. I said to
myself, "That was easy." Then it dawned on me that it was
time to start the descent to the barn. I was not confident
about that. I figured if I messed it up we would nosedive,
lose control, and crash. But with some coaching from Earl
and Earl's hand ready to replace mine on the joystick if
something went wrong, I apprehensively started the descent
toward the barn. It appeared that we were picking up speed
at an alarming rate as we got closer to the ground, but
in reality we maintained the same speed. Thank God for
that! It was cool. I was proud of myself. The descent was
accelerating and fun-I felt powerful. I leveled off the plane
one-hundred yards above the top of the barn. We continued
to fly at the same altitude for awhile until I asked Earl to
return us to the high, scenic altitude that we were cruising
at before, for that is the place I wanted to be.
After returning to a high cruising altitude, I wanted
to take in the whole experience. No more fooling around. I
decided to let go of all my inhabitations and expectations.
Soon afterward, I realized that the view was
magnificent and that I was experiencing something special.
As time went by, I could feel myself getting lost in the
endless sky, becoming an insignificant object in the vast
open air-a feeling of being at peace with myself and being
removed from reality. I felt free! No worries, no stress, no
responsibilities: Nirvana. This is the feeling I was hoping to
achieve. This is why I was here.
Day 5 My trip was almost at an end. I had one evening
left before I needed to head to the airport to catch my
1 :00 a.m. flight, so I planned a simple evening. I would
first play, what is generally considered the most exciting
game in the casino, craps. Then I would go to the buffet
and gorge myself on the multitude of sweets, meats, and
whatever else caught my eye, and, with whatever time I had
left, drive around Vegas to take in the sights. I am eternally
grateful that my evening did not go as planned.
I started the evening at the craps table in the Landmark
Hotel Casino. I had no sooner gotten myself situated in
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a nice spot standing next to one of the base dealers when
two young women approached the table. One woman
reminded me of a Barbie doll and the other of a plane Jane
(I later discovered that Barbie's real name was Margo and
Jane's real name was Susan). They must have just come
in from lounging by the pool because Margo had sandals
on and was wearing a skimpy two-piece bikini. Susan was
wearing tennis shorts and a short-sleeved tee shirt. Margo
had bleached-blond hair that hung down to her shoulders, a
magnificently golden tanned body, and smelt intoxicating.
When the women got to the table Margo leaned over to
display her huge, healthy, shapely chest (scantly covered by
her bikini top that over 90% of her breasts were exposed)
and in a childlike manner and voice stated that they had
never played craps before and asked if anyone would be
willing to teach them. The game came to a screeching halt.
The craps game was now an afterthought to the employees
assigned to run it. Male players, dealers, and supervisors
were all vying for Margo 's attention. They were also
waiting, hoping, praying that Margo would make a sudden
move so her breasts would have an opportunity to break
free from their restraints so they could be viewed by all in
their full glory.
With all of the attention given to Margo, Susan was
abandoned and left to fend for herself. Partially because
I felt sorry for her and partially because I was impressed
that she maintained a happy face and demeanor throughout
her friend's display, I offered to show her how to play. She
looked me directly in the eyes as she was pondering her
answer. After a few seconds of contemplation, she said,
As she was walking to join me, I took the opportunity
to take a more detailed look at her. Susan's appearance was
nothing like that of her friend Margo. It was uneventful.
She did nothing with her hair (straight, basic cut), wore
awkward-looking glasses, had no distinctly womanly scent,
and her tan line was patchy and red. Her body was not
shapely; she was a four foot, eleven inch twig.
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Susan and I were playing for a couple of hours and had
our share of drinks. We were getting extremely comfortable
being around and talking to one another. Eventually our
conversation turned to our experiences in Vegas. I started
first. I told her about the ultra-light ride, night golfing,
winning at blackjack, and a few more things I thought she
would find interesting. She listened intently. Susan was
starting to come out of her shell. She was getting excited
listening to me describe my adventures. She asked all
manner of questions. Since Susan was so receptive to my
stories, I decided to tell her about my visit to the brothel.
Susan was amazed and happy that I shared that experience
with her. She found my experience to be interesting.
At this point Susan felt totally comfortable around me
and eagerly started to share her adventures in Vegas. She
enthusiastically went on to explain that she had gone on
a four-hour ATV tour the day before, a helicopter tour of
the city and the Grand Canyon, and a bungee dive off the
top of a forty-story building. Wow! I never would have
thought that of her. But there was more. After sharing
some boring stories about her shopping adventures, she
completely caught me off guard. She started to share a
personal, intimate experience that she had: Susan received a
professional massage with a happy ending. As she put it, "I
received the massage from a tall, strong, handsome, Latino
hunk named Miguel."
After a few minutes of explaining the experience, it
was becoming obvious that she was no longer just simply
explaining it. She had begun to relive the experience.
She was gazing into space, her eyes were glistening, and
she was oblivious to the world around her-she was in
a trance. Susan soon started vividly reliving (out loud)
specific moments from her experience, "His strong, warm,
oil-drenched hands firmly gripped my right thigh, then
slid forcefully up and down and around penetrating deep
into my flesh as I squirmed inside anticipating where he
would turn his attention next." After a few minutes of this,
Susan snapped out of the trance and soon realized what
4 p.m. Count Page 75
she had said and how she had acted. Clearly embarrassed,
she quickly but gently placed her head on my chest and
wrapped her arms around me. I was in shock. What was
happening? Why did she lose it like that? Was she insane?
Did she forget to take her medication?
After the initial shock wore off, I figured out what had
happened. Susan was so introverted, conservative, and
unworldly that all the experiences of this trip overwhelmed
her: an emotional overload. In our earlier conversations,
Susan mentioned that she had led a sheltered, uneventful
life; she was never asked to a dance in high school, had
limited experience dating, had low self esteem, was teased
by classmates regarding her appearance, and did nothing
out of the ordinary.
It soon dawned on me that Susan and I were much alike
in our desire to experience life on our trip. We were here to
live, let loose, have fun, gather life experiences, and grow
as individuals. Both of us were doing things in Vegas that
we would probably not do back home. We were living
for the moment, to escape the routine of our normal, duty-
laden, responsible, and patterned lives.
I spent the remainder of the evening in Susan's hotel
room. The clock was ticking. I was determined to make
the next two hours the most memorable, exhilarating, and
meaningful memories Susan would have of her adventure.
It was time to leave for the airport. As I was about
to enter the elevator, it was time to say goodbye. There
was not much to say. We had mentally, physically, and
emotionally said good-bye to each other over the last
two hours. The elevator door opened. We embraced one
last time. As the door was closing, we gave each other a
friendly wave and smile. When the door closed, for all
intents and purposes, my Vegas adventure had come to an
I would be hard-pressed to remember what I had for
lunch last Tuesday or what I did on any given weekend a
year ago; yet, I remember vividly and fondly the events of
my vacation some twenty-five years ago.
Page 76 4 p.m. Count
History or course of the development and evolution of a race or
genetically related group of organisms.
-Webster s Third New International Dictionary-
„ - & '*"' '"■■■ ' ,x ^*mik. * ** ** >l> ,
We cannot hope Phylogeny will explain the morphology of
- W.P. Kent-
My body lies motionless there, interred under six feet of
earth. It formed for nine months in the womb, destroyed in
a minute or two. If people can see me no more, my name
will erase from their minds, the projects I started to do,
forever will come to a pause.
Some chores I left halfway complete, most hopes and
dreams never achieved, I took them with me to the grave,
forever locked up in my head.
My mind is discovering new worlds, so strange, I'm just
floating out here. I think I'm appointed a guide, who
knows, I might be on my own. What language do I have to
4 p.m. Count Page 77
speak? Who tells me which cloak I must wear?
When is it my turn to go see "The One" we must all answer
Enigmas and questions abound, can anyone give me a clue?
Is this place as real as it seems? Perhaps I'm just having a
My soul knows such places exist, it feels right at home with
this crowd. The beings that pass by my side, they all seem
so bright and advanced. Some don't look like humans at
all, I wonder what planet they're from?
I'm thinking, is that how we'll look when we have evolved
I sit here and doubt fills my mind. Is this the next phase in
my life? Will I still develop some more? Or is it the end of
Adios, I must leave you for now, they're telling me my turn
is up. I'll try to discover the truth, and vow to enlighten
you some, but just in case we can't touch base, they
promise, you will get your chance.
Amazing! It's out of this world! No words can describe
what I'm seeing!
Page 78 4 p.m. Count
Jason E. Davis
Out for weeks at a time
home for about the same.
Going from the Port of Miami to
Camp Pendleton, Brownsville, Edmonton.
Accident up ahead
Driving from sunup to sundown
is the way it's got to be.
Hauling everything from Army tanks to
cotton pickers, that's how I live my life.
Bear sitting at mile marker 218
Getting up on top of the load
and spreading the tarp as far as it will go.
I have to be careful, watch where I step
no room for mistakes with miles to travel.
Coast is clear,
I love my time on the road
but I am really needed at home.
The worst part of this all
is kissing the wife goodbye.
4 p.m. Count Page 79
The Great Hunters
It was opening day of the Missouri deer hunting
season and I'd hardly slept all night. I woke up at 4:30
a.m. My older brother, Zeb, was already up. Samson, my
younger brother, was still snoring, so I went over and gave
him a brotherly punch on the shoulder. "Hey knucklehead,
get up!" I said to him. Instantly, he was wide awake,
bug-eyed and looking like he had slept less than anyone. I
remember my first deer hunt; I probably acted the same, but
this was my third hunt and Samson's first. At last, he was
twelve years old and could go deer hunting.
The last couple of years had been hard on the little
guy; heck, they were tough on me too. Dad, Zeb, and I
would pile into Dad's white '79 Toyota pickup and head
to Missouri to go deer hunting. I hated leaving Samson
behind. My brothers and I did everything together: chores,
hunt, fish, ride bikes, play video games, fight, smoke
cigarettes, I mean everything! So to watch him stand there
with Mom underneath the basketball hoop in our driveway
and wave, holding back tears, doing his best to act like a
man at ten and eleven years old, was tough on me, as well.
He wanted to come along, and I knew the feeling. I too had
to stay back in Iowa with Mom while Zeb went on his first
two deer hunts.
This time, however, we were all together. Our
grandparents lived in northwest Missouri and owned about
a thousand acres of land; quite a bit of it was brush, timber,
and forest. My dad had hunted the area his whole life and
started us boys out doing the same.
We needed to be in our stands by daylight, but it
was tradition for Grandma to fix us breakfast. We sat down
at the kitchen table and started eating. The television on the
counter was turned to the morning news, but was on mute.
Every time our spoons scraped the bowls we ate out of or
the chairs we sat in creaked, we'd look at the culprit and
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frown. I don't know what they were thinking, but I thought,
"Dang, can't you guys be quiet! They can probably hear
us," thinking about the deer out in the forest, as if they
could hear through walls and from miles away. Even
Grandma was affected by our anxiety. She treaded lightly
across the kitchen linoleum, being sure to pick up her navy
blue house slippers with each step, turning the water faucet
on low as she rinsed dishes, and quietly shutting cabinet
I was young and so were my brothers: twelve,
fourteen, and sixteen. That had a little bit to do with why
we were acting the way we were, but not everything.
Someone once told me that deer hunting has the power
to come over people and possess them, to make them do
things they wouldn't normally do. I suppose this was one
of those times. As for Grandma and Grandpa, I reckon they
sensed we had a mild case of buck fever coming on, so they
just fueled the fire by playing along.
After a bowl of hot oatmeal at a quiet kitchen table,
we prepared to leave, bundling up in our winter clothes.
Grandpa made sure we had our orange vests and hats on.
He had been the recipient of a terrible hunting accident
many years before while out quail hunting with friends. He
felt lucky to still have his legs and always preached hunter
safety to us boys.
Finally we were out the door. Grandma quietly
called us back to throw a couple hand warmers in our
pockets. Then they both whispered, "Good luck."
Each of us climbed up on one of Grandpa's Honda
Big Red three-wheelers, guns lying across our laps. We
hunted with high-power rifles; I hunted with a .243 and
both Zeb and Samson hunted with a .308. Samson sure
did look awkward over on his three-wheeler. He wasn't a
very big kid, about 5' 2" with finger-length shaggy brown
hair, big eyes and an even bigger smile. That three-wheeler
dwarfed him but he sure knew how to ride one. We grew up
riding them, blazing trails through every acre of Grandpa's
land, acting like new-age Lewis and Clark explorers.
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As we fired the engines to life, I cringed at the
loud beat of their exhaust. Here we were trying to be all
quiet and sneaky, only to send earth-thumping sound
waves across the pre-dawn sky. Zeb quickly wheeled away
heading south. He had about a mile ride across a tilled
cornfield to get to his stand. Samson and I went the other
direction, our headlights cutting through the darkness. It
was about a two mile ride to my deer stand and Samson's
was about a mile north of mine. Heading down Grandma
and Grandpa's long lane, side by side, I looked over at
Sam. He had a grin on his face that expressed pure glee,
and eyes that looked like headlights themselves. He was
excited, no question about it.
We pulled out on the blacktop and sped up to about
thirty miles per hour, tires humming their symphony on the
asphalt, and then turned onto an old dirt road. I didn't have
far to go and wheeled into a vacant farm house my family
calls Cecil Brown's. Grandpa owned the property. No one
had lived there for years, but I suppose some guy by the
name of Cecil used to. It was a medium-sized white house
and an ordinary passer-by probably would have thought
someone lived there. Grandma kept it that way, lawn
mowed and neat. A small shanty was out back and two
great big maples towered over the house in the front yard.
I parked underneath those trees, relieved to shut off the
obnoxious motor. I could still hear Samson heading down
the dirt road to his stand, playing the throttle like it was a
musical instrument. Silently, I cursed him for disturbing the
peace, (knowing there was nothing he could do about it),
yet thinking to myself, why don't you just scream at the top
of your lungs, "READY OR NOT, HERE WE COME!"
I could barely see through the darkness, but I knew
the area. Setting off for my deer stand, I crossed Cecil's
yard and entered a forty-acre hayfield I had to walk across.
In the distance I heard Samson kill the engine and now it
was silent, almost scary silent. The crunch of dead grass
and clover under my feet slowed my pace down to a tip-
toe. During the day I wouldn't have thought twice about
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crossing an open field alone, but in the dark, well, I just
froze up. My head was on a swivel and I truly felt like I
was being watched. What was that? I heard something and
stopped. Listening intently, training my ears to every sound
of the night, I quickly scanned my brain for what could be
out there: deer, dog, a loose cow. I thought to myself, What
if it was another hunter? What if I'm being hunted? My
heart was beating like a bongo drum and a cold chill went
through my core. Not even the gun in my hands could calm
the storm of apprehension blowing over my body. I nearly
turned and ran, then thought, Run? You can 't run nimrod.
Suddenly I felt stupid tip-toeing around like a child. My
clenched nerves released their grip on my legs and I started
off for my stand.
All of a sudden, "whoosh," a covey of quail took
flight from right under my feet. "Eegh!" I heard myself
scream as I danced the dance of the startled and hit the
ground like a fallen tree, rifle tight to my chest. My heart
was in my throat as I realized what had just happened.
I swear I could hear those quail laughing their little tail
feathers off as they flew for cover. "Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha,
we got him didn't we; he was so scared; I bet he crapped
his pants!" Feeling like the fool I must have looked like, I
took off walking with a confident stride that belied the way
I truly felt.
Finally, I got to my stand and quickly climbed
up the tree. The sun's rays were beginning to peek over
the horizon and my eyes adjusted to the early pink and
orange light. I was perched in a massive oak and my deer
stand looked more like a club-house for kids than a stand
to hunt out of. Dad had made it a few years prior with 2
X 4 lumber. It had a four- foot square floor and a built-in
seat, with the trunk of the tree to lean back on. Braces had
been built in on my left, right, and in front of me to use as
gun rests. I sat in my tree, snuggled in the deep corner of
the hayfield I had just walked across, forest covering my
backside, left and right, and hayfield all out in front of me.
Deer liked to come out in the hayfield to graze on grass and
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clover. One of the many trails they used to enter the field
ran right underneath my stand.
After an hour of scanning my surroundings, my
mind began to drift. I sat there staring at the names carved
in the giant oak I was perched in. Everyone who had used
this stand before me had left their mark: Dad, brother Zeb,
cousins Jimmy, Jay, and Josh. I pulled out my buck knife
and began carving the name of the greatest hunter of them
all. Putting the final touches on my name, I looked up.
Holy shit! There s deer in front of me. Where 'd they come
from? The thrill of the hunt was coursing through my veins
as I looked them over. One, two, three, four deer were
standing right there, three does and a little button-buck. I
had told myself that this year I was going to get a trophy
buck, not just any buck, a big one. I sat there for a time
marveling at the beauty of the four deer, wondering where
their leader was. Before long, they drifted away.
I went back to daydreaming, thinking about how
exciting, yet calming deer hunting was. One minute I'm on
the edge of my seat, palms sweating, and teeth chattering;
ten minutes later I'm relaxing, just enjoying the morning.
And boy was it ever a beautiful morning. The last couple of
years had been uncharacteristically cold for the area. Not
that year though; the sun was shining at fifty degrees and
the wind was barely blowing. I was just sitting there when
suddenly. . .
"Whack, whack, whack, sh, wham, sh, sh!"
Something behind me was running through the forest floor,
straight at me. I came out of my stupor and sat straight up,
back rigid, and thought, Whatever it is, its coming swiftly
It has to be the trophy buck, coming to look for his three
does. Get ready daydreamer. Act fast; you '11 have to shoot
him on the run. There he is!
"What the hell!" I said out loud, as three turkeys
came running past. I couldn't believe it. I sat there
hating the red-headed little ostriches as they tore across
the hayfield on some unknown mission. The thought of
blowing their heads off actually crossed my mind, but I
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thought of what I did two years before while deer hunting
and decided against it. I slipped back into the dreamy state
thinking about that incident as the turkeys headed into the
timber on the far side of the hayfield.
My first year deer hunting started out as a total
disaster. It was unbelievably cold on opening day, so Dad
parked his truck about a half-mile from my stand and then
he walked three times as far to his own. He said if I got
cold to go warm up in the truck because he left the keys
in it. Well, sure enough, after only a couple hours I was
freezing and went and warmed up my toes in the truck and
got jacked up on Dad's coffee. On my way back to my
stand a little squirrel came along, jumped up on a clump
of dirt protruding from the snow and started chirping at
me from about ten yards away. I don't know why, but I
suppose because I was young and dumb, and just wanted
to shoot something, or maybe I can blame it on all Dad's
coffee I drank in the truck, but for whatever reason, I shot
it. Two feet of pure-white snow covered the ground and that
squirrel painted a pretty gruesome picture all over the top
of a fifteen foot circle. As my shot echoed through the land,
I quickly thought about what I had just done. I couldn't
believe I had acted so impulsively. I got down on my
hands and knees and cleaned up the area as best as I could,
covering the crimson canvas with fresher, whiter snow.
Then I took off for my stand.
It wasn't long before I noticed Dad walking up, all
six feet, one inch of him, short brown beard and hat that
says, "The Buck Stops Here!" He wanted to know if I had
shot a deer. "Yeah," I lied, "I shot at one, but missed." Dad
responded, "Well where was he at? I got better trackin' eyes
than you and I'll spot the blood if there is any." I lied again
and said, "He was right over there," pointing a finger across
the hayfield at some timber about fifty yards away.
I felt bad and wanted to tell him what had really
happened, but knew he would be pissed, and quite frankly,
I was petrified thinking he would stick his size twelve
Timberland up my ass if he knew the truth. Dad couldn't
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find any deer tracks, let alone any tracks with a blood trail
behind them. Finally he called off the search. I think he
began to wonder if I didn't just shoot at an imaginary deer
by the way he was looking at me and questioning my story.
It was getting close to lunchtime, so we headed back to the
As we got close to the spot where I had the run-in
with the squirrel I picked up the pace, hoping Dad wouldn't
notice the spot in the snow where it looked like someone
had been making snow angels. Being the way Dad is, he
doesn't miss anything and he didn't that morning either. He
slowed up when he saw the snow angels and walked over
to the spot. "This is strange," he said, as he started kicking
around in the snow. I stood there willing him with my
mind to stop investigating. Then he saw something in the
snow and kicked it out with the toe of his boot. It was the
"What in the. . ." He looked at me and said in his
deep authoritative voice, "Did you shoot a damn squirrel
this morning!" Knowing my lies could cover my backside
no longer, I owned up to it and received one hell of an ass-
Coming back to the present and thinking about the
turkeys, I decided it was a good thing I didn't make that
I pictured the look on Dad's, Zeb's, Samson's, and
my grandparents' faces when I came back to the house
with my Missouri record trophy buck. They 're gonna be so
jealous. Yep, they sure are.
"Boom!" a shot rang out in the distance and brought
me out of my trance. Wow, that was close. It must have
been Samson, I thought to myself. He was only a mile
away, so either one of us could clearly hear the other if one
fired a gun. I was happy for him because he had been so
stoked for this hunt. He and I shared a bedroom and every
night for the last two months he had talked himself to sleep
asking about deer hunting. "What's the furthest you've
ever shot a deer from? Have you ever seen one as big as
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the one Zeb got his first year? What's the best deer hunting
rifle, a .243 or a .308?" I must have answered a thousand
questions, or at least I tried to.
"Boom! Boom! Boom!" three more shots were
fired. Now I was starting to wonder what in the heck was
going on because that was surely Samson again. I climbed
down the tree and started walking to the three-wheeler,
trying to figure out why he would need to shoot four times.
Heck, the clip only held four bullets. Surely he didn't
shoot more than one deer. Then I started thinking he may
have killed my trophy buck and would get the honor I was
"Boom! Boom!" again shots rang out. Now I was
off and running, holding my hat on with one hand and
the rifle in my other, picking my boots up high so they
wouldn't snag in the grass and clover. "Boom! Boom!"
again the crack of the rifle sounded.
My jealousy turned to fear as I ran to Cecil
Brown's. I was out of breath, heart bursting, thinking he
had to be in a gun fight over there. I jumped on the three-
wheeler and raced like Dale Jr. down the old dirt road,
dodging pot holes, hitting some, splashing mud and water
all over myself.
Arriving at his deer stand, I jumped off screaming
his name. "Sam! Samson!" His stand was empty and I was
just about to start freaking out when he yelled, "Isaac, over
here. I got one." I ran into the timber following his voice.
Finding him, I said through each gasp of breath, "What the
hell happened? I heard you empty two clips."
"Yep," he said, like it was an ordinary way of hunting deer.
Then he looked me up and down and said, "Jees, what
happened? You look like you fell in the creek."
"Never mind me, why'd you shoot so many dang
times?" I demanded. Samson responded with that big smile
of his, "Hey, don't get your camouflage all in a bunch. I'll
tell ya what happened. A buck came across the clearing
on a trot. Bang! I put one in him," he reenacted the scene
with the gun at his shoulder. "He staggered from the shot,
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but then was off like a banshee." Samson slowly started
walking, presumably to where the deer was. I followed.
He started in with the tale again. "I took off after him. He
stopped and stared back at me from about fifty yards out; I
put three more in him. Staggering like a drunk, he started
running again. Can you believe that bro? Four shots and he
still wouldn't go down!"
I started to calm down as he's telling me this; all I
could think of is how Dad always told us boys not to chase
a deer after you shoot one. "He'll just run further." Clearly
Samson had a bad case of buck fever.
"I chased him over this way and put four more
in him. That's when he dropped," he said, standing there
looking proud. Wow, are you all right little buddy? I
thought to myself. Instead, I said, "Okay, well, let's get
the deer and drag him out." We headed in that direction.
Samson led the way, chest out, a man now that he had
killed a deer.
I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive to find out
just how big Samson's buck was. I mean, what if he killed
my trophy, my Missouri record. He'd get all the accolades
and I'd be left with what? Nothing! I started to picture it, all
the family sitting around talking about the big bucks they
had shot and Dad looking over at me saying, "Hey Isaac,
tell 'em about the time you shot that squirrel."
Walking up to the dead deer, I was relieved to
see its small rack, but also felt queasy. I had never seen
a blood-red deer before. If I didn't know better I'd have
thought he killed it with a machete. Its hair was matted this
way and that, looking like a newborn calf after its mother
licks off the afterbirth.
Samson plopped down beside it and held up the
head by the antlers. "Nice one ain't it," he said. It was a
small six point, each antler no bigger than a man's hand and
I thought, not really, but said, "yeah," not wanting to hurt
the man's feelings.
Now we needed to get the deer to the three-wheeler.
We were a couple of corn-fed, Iowa farm boys that grew
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up slinging hay bales and buckets of corn around, but
dragging that deer the length of two and a half football
fields, through brush and trees, wasn't the easiest thing to
accomplish. Each of us grabbed a side of the antlers and
started pulling, hips and heads low, butts out, just like my
football coach taught me to push a sled.
After fifty yards, we puckered out. Samson plopped
back on the ground and leaned up against his scarlet deer,
trying to catch his breath and said, "Damn, there has gotta
be a better way to do this." I was huffing and puffing too
when I thought of the answer. "Hey, why don't we just gut
the deer out now? That'll get rid of at least thirty or forty
"All right, good idea. You ever done it before?" he
questioned. "Sure I've done it. I've killed two deer, haven't
I?" The truth of the matter was that I had never gutted a
deer by myself. Dad showed me how in previous years, but
I wasn't going to admit that. After all, I was the big brother,
and the expert.
We rolled the deer over on his back to start surgery,
and I tried to remember what Dad had previously told me,
but no words of advice were coming to mind, so I just
started in like I knew what I was doing. I did remember
Dad making one long slit and then pulling all the gory guts
out with one pull, clean as could be, making it seem easy.
My procedure didn't quite go like that. Samson ended
up on his hands and knees, head and shoulders inside the
carcass, butt sticking up in the air, retrieving entrails. By
the time we were finished, I was amazed that we could
possibly butcher that deer any more than it already was.
Sam didn't look much better. In fact, with all the blood he
managed to get on himself he looked like the deer just gave
birth to him.
Finally we got the deer to the three-wheelers and
barely managed to get the dang thing up on the back end.
Then we headed for the house.
As we rode up the lane, the loud thump of the three-
wheeler's exhaust trumpeted our victorious return. We
4 p.m. Count Page 89
pulled up to the house as Grandpa and Grandma came out
smiling, camera in hand. Their proud faces slowly turned
to astonishment, first looking at Sam, then to me, finally
to the deer, then at each other. I looked down at my mud-
splattered self, then over at Sam and his identical twin, the
bloody deer; I opened my mouth to explain but Grandpa
cut me off. He turned to Sam and said with his old Missouri
drawl, "Boy what happened? That deer redder than a dick
on a dog! Your dang finger get stuck on the trigger or
what?" Samson had not stopped grinning since the moment
we pulled up to the house and his happiness and pride were
just too evident. I hopped off the three-wheeler and went
over, slapped him on the back, pointed at the deer and said,
"Grandpa, that deer must have been the toughest deer to
ever cross your land. If it hadn't been for Samson's precise
accuracy, he'd of had to shoot it at least eight more times."
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"C 10 H 15 N"
The Power of Methamphetamine
Joe Cavallaro III
Is it possible for the demon of addiction to
ever find residence in your precious existence?
Your beautiful life is so innocent now. ...
Childhood dreams and playful laughter and
eyes so trusting only your mommy and I can see.
You were born under the influence of a substance
you know nothing about, and I fear the demon will prevail.
As I watch you grow, I can only hope that your choices
steer you from the places I found myself.
Will you ever turn your back on the ones that love you
and dance with death?
Allowing the beast to live and dwell in you and all that you
Breaking the chains of my own addiction has awakened me
to the possibilities
of your uncharted future, and I wonder. ...
The power of God will be the
only victory possible
For any of us who surrender to
this satanic power.
Stay strong, my child....
4 p.m. Count Page 91
The Beet Scene
My grandma was famous for her beets, and
everyone in the family ate them for holiday meals. She
would never let anyone know her cooking secrets, but I do
know that she used a lot of brown sugar. One time, when I
was older, I asked her about her famous beets and she said,
"I put love into all of my recipes."
Grandma was a red-headed woman, who was
named after her Aunt Zelpha Jean. She was like most
red-heads - sharp, intelligent, and feisty. She never had a
problem with back-handing anyone who got out of line,
especially when it came to the use of poor table manners.
Her house rules were always obeyed without question, even
having the kids set the table for holiday meals.
Every year Mom and Dad would take us kids from
Oklahoma City to Grandma's house in Heizer. Heizer is a
small unincorporated town in central Kansas just north of
Great Bend. The town might have three hundred residents
but not a single paved road.
Grandma's house was a five-bedroom, two-story
white house that sat on half a block. It was framed with
tall maples and juniper hedges. The house was actually
passed down to her by her parents, my great-grandparents.
They had lived there for nearly thirty years before my
grandmother moved in.
It was usually a madhouse at Grandma's during the
holidays. She would slave away at the meal, so it would
be finished before the relatives arrived. It was a lot of fun
getting reacquainted with cousins that I had not seen for a
whole year. We would run through the house until Grandma
would order us outside. For some reason, we always ended
up fighting with each other and having to be separated.
I will never forget my dear great-great Aunt Zelpha
Jean. Everyone called her Aunt Jim for short because her
father wanted a boy but never got one, so he just started
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calling her Jim. She was a registered nurse when she was
younger, but she lost her only child, John, to polio and
never stepped another foot into a doctor's office or hospital
again. She lived well into her eighties but was never quite
the same after her tragic loss. This particular Thanksgiving,
she was in her mid-seventies, and we were all delighted
to see her. At her side, as always, was her husband, Uncle
Earl. They looked like any other older couple. She was
short with white hair; he was average height and bald.
Every time I saw them, they had on these polyester suits.
Aunt Jim's was always pink with a white blouse. Uncle
Earl would wear a brown polyester, flannel-looking sports
coat, with flat brown slacks and a tan, button-down dress
shirt. Their clothing looked like the stuff from a thrift shop.
Not that they shopped there, I just think that they hadn't
bought any new clothes since the 1950's.
I must have been around ten years old, and
Grandma told me to put out the little place cards on the
table. Yes, she even had assigned seating. She also said,
"Justin, you get to sit at the grown-up table this year." I was
astonished at her remark!
My cousins were not even impressed with my
graduation. I tried to make them jealous by saying, "I'm
a grown-up now. Y'all ain't cause y'all still have to sit at
the kiddy table." None of my egging on worked. What did
they know? They were just little kids that had to sit at that
crummy blue card table with the folding chairs.
The grown-up table sat about twenty and looked
prestigious to me. At every place, there were two forks,
two spoons, a butter knife, a plate, a cloth napkin, and two
drinking glasses. The kids never got to drink out of two
glasses in one day, much less in one meal.
After everyone was seated, we started passing the
food around. There were turkey, ham, sweet potatoes,
mashed potatoes, brown gravy, green beans, carrots, olives,
and my grandma's famous beets. Aunt Jim was sitting on
my left and Grandma on my right. As the dishes came my
way, I helped Aunt Jim with loading up her plate. I felt like
4 p.m. Count Page 93
I was truly living up to the "grown-up" role because our
plates were piled to the breaking points.
Before anyone could eat, it was time for a moment
of silence followed by one of my Uncle Mike's prayers.
Mike is my mom's tall, lanky, bald brother and is always
making jokes and jacking around, so it is hard to take him
seriously. Every time he spoke to the family, it seemed like
it was off the seat of his pants. His prayers were usually
something like this: "Well Father, thank you for all of
this food we are about to eat. . .Urn. . .God, please let those
Dallas Cowboys win today. . .Urn. . .You know, we have all
come from a great distance to be here today. . .so thanks
for getting us here safely. . .Urn. . .Please protect us in the
future. Amen!" I remember thinking that I will lead prayer
one of these days and do a much better job. We finally
started eating after everyone thanked Mike for saying the
Aunt Jim dug into her pile of food like she had
never eaten a day in her life. I still firmly believe if she
would have had a shovel, she would have used it. She had
already eaten half of everything on her plate, including the
beets. The whole table was stunned into silence. Grandma
was the first to come out of the trance and say, "Jim, you
sure are hungry."
As Aunt Jim was shoveling another fork full of
beets into her mouth, she replied, "Zelpha, this is the . . .."
That was all Jim managed to say because she started
choking. This time the whole table was staring in horror,
especially me! There were a few comments like, "Aunt
Jim are you all right?" I thought to myself, how is she
going to answer you? SHE IS CHOKING, PEOPLE! The
words, "Somebody help her!" were about to come out of
my mouth until she did the most remarkable thing I had
ever seen. She let out this burp like someone does that has
swallowed too much water at the swimming pool. Along
with this burp, not only did the contents of her mouth come
out, but everything she had already eaten as well. She was
very lady-like about it because not one drop landed on my
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grandma's linen table cloth. It all landed back on her plate.
I have always had a weak stomach when it comes
to matters like this and usually get sick after watching
someone else get sick. I silently said to myself, "Don't
look. What ever you do, DON'T LOOK!" I couldn't help
myself. My eyes were drawn to it like a tracker beam. The
plate was nothing more than a pile of mush and red swirls.
After I was able to pull my golf ball-sized eyes
away, I noticed that everyone at the table was still eating.
Surely they had seen what I had just witnessed. No one was
even looking to the corner of the table where Jim and I sat.
I remember looking at the top of my Uncle John's
bald head, and I actually caught him sneaking a peek at the
disaster zone across from him. Then he just shoved another
fork full of food into his mouth. I thought, if being able to
eat, after watching someone get sick at the dinner table,
meant you were a "grown-up," I wanted to go back to the
The most amazing part was when dear old Aunt
Jim picked her fork up and was preparing to dive back in.
Luckily, Grandma stepped in and said, "Oh, Aunt Jim!
Here, I'll fix you a new plate."
"Zelpha, I'm just fine. Now you sit down and enjoy
your dinner, and I'll just eat this." Aunt Jim said.
I think Jim was very embarrassed about her
predicament, and everyone was able to pick up on that
by acting as if nothing had happened. Honestly, they
were all waiting for the scene to unfold in front of them.
Aunt Jim and Grandma were both very bull-headed. I still
cannot believe that there was actually a little bit of a tug-
o-war over the plate of gruel. Thankfully Grandma was
the stronger of the two and wrestled the plate out of Jim's
grasp. I almost let out a gasp of relief over Grandma's
Since we were at Grandma's house, with her rules,
everyone was expected to ask her to be excused from the
table. I had to wait for her to come back. Worst of all,
sometimes she would say, "You may not be excused from
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the table. You can sit here so everyone can enjoy your
company." Then she would give you that grandmotherly-
loving-smile of hers. I really tried to finish eating, but I
could not get past the geyser, like Old Faithful, that came
out of Aunt Jim's mouth.
When Grandma was done fixing Jim a new plate,
she sat back down and actually started eating again.
Everyone was eating! I just knew if I asked to be excused, I
would be told, "Finish your plate, honey."
I felt like screaming, I just can't do it, Grandma!
I just can't! She must have sensed my discomfort and
leaned over to whisper in my ear, "You may be excused
from the table, Justin." I almost cheered with delight as
I was leaving the room. I left my full plate of food at the
kitchen sink and went outside to play fetch with Ted, my
grandma's chocolate lab. The rest of the day was spent
with my cousins asking me questions about the events that
transpired at the "grown-up" table.
At the end of the day, with all of the relatives
gone, the "beet scene" (that's what the family calls it now)
was brought up while I was watching television with my
grandma, parents, brother, and sister. Apparently, Aunt Jim
wanted to help Grandma and Mom with the kitchen work.
Mom said Jim was absolutely bewildered with all of the
food left on people's plates. She said things like, "Look
at this plate Zelpha! Why didn't people eat their holiday
meal? I'll never understand these young people."
At the next Thanksgiving Day gathering, Aunt Jim
must have been trying to make some kind of new tradition
or something because it happened again. Grandma quit
making beets for the holidays after this episode. I guess the
moral of the story could be: Don't try to talk and eat my
grandma's famous beets at the same time. Ever!
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An old man named Glen Pinkerton told me a story
of a cave that was nestled deep in the Ozark Mountains of
southern Missouri. Glen was an old native of the Ozarks. If
I ever met a real hillbilly it was him. He owned an ancient
cedar sawmill that he had made a living off of for forty
years. All the years I knew him, I never saw him wear a
pair of shoes. His feet were completely black and covered
with sticky cedar sap, evidence of the many years of his
trade. I don't know if Glen owned only one pair of clothes
or if he just had a bunch of the same outfit. The only
clothes I ever saw him wear were these blue overalls. He
didn't even bother with wearing a shirt underneath. To top
off the outfit he wore an old brown leather hat.
I met him when I was about five years old and every
time I saw him he had a story to tell. He told me about
noodling for catfish on the old White River and claimed
one particular catfish of about thirty pounds nearly took his
life in no more than six and a half feet of water. He said,
"You wouldn't believe how strong one of dem cats is till
one latches on to your arm an goes to rollin'. It don't take
you long spinnen round like that before you can't tell the
difference from up and down. That old cat had me worried
for a few, if my breath wouldn't have lasted longer than
his fight, I wouldn't be here to tell you 'bout it." I believed
every word too because he had the scars on his arms to
During and shortly after the great depression he said
he made ends meet by trapping furs with dead fall traps.
As he told me of the dead fall traps he walked me through
the woods and it didn't take long until we came to a rocky
cedar glade where he flipped a big flat glade rock up on
one end. While still holding one end of the moss-covered
rock he reached into his pocket and pulled out three
delicately carved wooden sticks and demonstrated how to
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set the primitive trap. He even bought me a youth model
Remington .22 rifle when I was six years old and taught
me how to hunt and live off the land. But of all the stories
and lessons I learned, I wanted to hear more about this
He told me all about it, but said "You're too young
to climb off in a cave yet, boy." He claimed he used to go
so deep into it that he would come out under the White
River. He said, "At one time I was gonna open'er up to
da public, but she was too far outta da way for anyone to
come." He even claimed to have poured a concrete slab
over the sink hole and made a doorway entrance. I learned
the directions to the cave after hours of persuasion. He
had told me to walk up old dry holler until I found a pond
and then head up the hill from there. He said, "When you
reach the top of the hill, take a left on the old logging road
and stay on it until you find a huge red oak tree with three
trunks. Then head over the hill towards cedar creek. Make
sure you walk straight or you'll miss her and watch where
you're walkin' or you'll just fall plum off in it." He had
promised to take me and show me his secret cave when I
got older, but he never got the chance. Glen passed away
when I was nine years old.
Over the years I missed Glen's old stories. I
wondered if there really was a cave up there on the side
of that hill. One day, ten years later, my curiosity got the
better of me and I grabbed a maglight, batteries, rope and
water and set out to investigate this legend once and for
all. I soon learned he was right about one thing: it was
sure out of the way. I followed his instructions and when I
found an ancient oak with three trunks I began to wonder if
it was more than just a legend. When I went down the hill
I didn't expect to find anything at all, but I almost found
it the hard way. I came one step from falling right in it. I
sat at the top edge of the sink hole and looked down at a
rather eerie looking doorway at the bottom of the hole. The
doorway was covered in moss and had a small tree growing
up beside it. After I sat there and thought about old Glen
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Pinkerton and how long it would have taken him to pack
that much concrete this far back in these hollers I decided I
better have a look.
I took out my rope and tied it off to the nearest
sturdy tree and began to work my way toward the moss-
covered door way. When I got to the doorway and tied
myself off I took out my flashlight and decided to have a
look inside this cave that I had waited over ten years just to
see if it existed. As soon as my light came on I knew why
Glen had told me I needed to wait until I got older before
he would show me. There was a hole about ten feet around
that went straight down at least fifteen feet. This dropoff
did not stop me; I pressed on into the cavern.
Once I reached the bottom, I took in all that was
around me. The floor of the cave where I stood was a
crimson clay bottom sprinkled with black, which I soon
discovered was bat guano. I heard dripping sounds up
ahead of me; as I followed the sound my flashlight soon
illuminated the beautiful stalactites reaching for the bottom
and the stalagmites protruding from the floor. It is truly
amazing how dripping water enriched with minerals can
create such breathtaking formations. I continued to explore
this beautiful cave for hours that day and many days since
then, but to this day I have never found the end.
I solved the mystery of this long-forgotten cave and
every time I go there I remember my old hillbilly friend
Glen Pinkerton. I will never forget old Glen. He was a man
from an era long gone, but never forgotten.
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Letter from Bill Kloefkorn
I have been trying to recover from a bout with bronchitis,
and at the moment I think I am going to win on points. But
the bout gave me time to read and consider the comments
your students addressed to me, and now I feel well enough
First: I thank all of those who took the time to write and to
type the comments. I very much appreciate their directness,
their honesty, their clarity. It is especially gratifying to learn
that they are enjoying the class, and that some of them are
beginning to enjoy not only the reading of poetry, but the
writing of it as well. For me, the two — the reading and the
writing — go hand-in-hand. If I am in a writing slump, I put
down the pen and take up the book — a collection of poems,
say, that I have never read, or maybe one that I have read
several times but want to return to. Or maybe I browse a
periodical that arrives in the mail (I subscribe to only three
or four). And sooner or later I come across a poem that hits
me in the gut no less than in the neocortex. Here is the most
recent example, a poem by Linda Pastan in the Spring issue
of the Virginia Quarterly Review.
I remember when my body
was a friend,
when sleep like a good dog
came when summoned.
The door to the future
had not started to shut,
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and lying on my back
between cold sheets
did not feel
like a rehearsal.
Now what light is left
comes up — a stain in the east,
and sleep, reluctant
as a busy doctor,
gives me a little
of its time.
Now, in my head, I am working on a poem that, should it
happen, will owe its birth to Linda Pastan's poem. And as
I continue to think about my own poem, I know that I can
return to "Insomnia" for further encouragement. I'm not
sure what it is about the reading of others' work that so
frequently sets off a spark. One possibility is that a word or
a phrase or a figure of speech hits home. "The door to the
future" that opens the third stanza is so appropriately trite;
it reminds me of the motto that my senior class adopted:
"With the ropes of the past we will ring the bells of the
future." Ah, such high hopes! But what happens when the
ropes break? Anyway, the mind reacts to words and lines
and metaphors in curious ways, and a rough draft of a
poem begins to pester the imagination. Another possibility
is that the poem reminds the reader that restlessness is a
common concern, that we are fallible creatures who suffer
from one thing or another, and one way to cope is to write
about the ailment with dignity and forthrightness, giving
the subject a treatment free of whimpering and whining
and self-pity. I have insomnia, the poet says, but by Christ I
yet can manage to wrangle some early-morning sleep, can
have it visit me — like the overburdened physician — for a
few minutes or hours. I can't cure my insomnia, perhaps,
4 p.m. Count Page 101
but I can handle a metaphor with grace and freshness. Well,
I read such a poem and it encourages me to confront my
own challenges as gracefully and as freshly as I possibly
can. Reading the work of others, then, is a major type of
I also want to thank those who did not send a response but
perhaps thought about it. I am grateful for the intention as
well as the deed.
Now here are some more specific responses.
Joe Cavallaro: These sentences stood out: "I've never
thought too highly about my own abilities to write. But as
I progress through this, my confidence is building. I would
have to give thanks to Dr. Reese, and the guest speakers
I've met in class...." Yes. indeed. And while you are at it.
Joe, give thanks to yourself for having the insight to realize
that your confidence is growing. Your comments make it
obvious that you can write. So do it.
Juan Zuniga: The Nebraska State Poet is an
honorary designation — no pay from the state, and no
demands. I like that. I am therefore free to continue to do
what I did before I was appointed — namely, write as well
as I can. and represent writing respectfully and with vigor,
whether I am talking to a class of fourth-graders at Pershing
Elementary in Lincoln, a clutch of graduate students at
Bumfuck University in New Jersey (I made that up), or an
attentive group of writers and artists at a Federal Prison
Camp in Yankton. South Dakota. And it pleases me that
you too think that irony is "one of the great wonders." The
fattest man in my little hometown earned the nickname of
"Slivers. " Small-town irony. Slivers thought it amusing,
and forgave us for being so amazingly clever. And. yes,
Jesus did own a dog. A pit bull. Its name was Rover.
Hung Dao: Hey, I like what you said about
substituting a good habit for a bad one — that is, my
dropping the bottle and in its place picking up the pen. And
you are correct when you say that it isn't the age of the
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writer that matters; it's the writing itself. I absolutely agree.
I have written poems with third-grade students that were
much better than many of the poems written by geezers in
elderhostel workshops. Write whatever seems right to you.
I am glad that you remembered this advice. Don't forget it.
Justin Brooks: "Can you give me any little hints
on being able to understand poems more?" Good question.
Hint #1: Don't be discouraged if a given poem doesn't
connect. Give it a chance, then another, then maybe one
more. Then move on to something else. There is more than
one type offish in this vast and impenetrable sea. Hint
#2: Read and talk about a tough poem with someone who
likewise has some difficulty understanding poems. Read
it to him. Have him read it to you. Mull it over together.
Maybe he can help you into an understanding of the
poem; maybe you can do the same for him. If this doesn't
work, shrug your shoulders and move on. As I said earlier,
there is more than one type offish. ... Hint #3: Seek out
a wide variety of poems — long ones, short ones, poems
for children, poems about dogs, poems about love, poems
that rhyme, poems that do not rhyme, poems that have
been around for a long time, poems that are contemporary,
and so on. Google some poems by Dave Etter. And Hint
#4: Don't feel that "understanding" a poem is the same as
solving a poem. A good poem suggests more than it spells
out. And what it suggests to you might be quite different
than what it suggests to someone else. Okay?
Todd Bowlin: You wrote, "Your poetry showed me
a poetry I could understand." Excellent. Several of you said
this, and each time I hear or read it I am pleased. Poetry
does not have to be scholarly or difficult to be thought-
provoking. Robert Frost's poems, many of them, are very
understandable, yet they invite us to think about the ways
in which the poems connect with our own lives. Have Jim
Reese read you "After Apple Picking," for example. Better
yet: Have him Xerox a copy for each of you, then the next
day talk about the extent to which the poem makes sense.
And, yes, we Kansas boys must stick together, whether we
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hail from a village or a city!
Ryan Nordstrom: Ah, revision! How Many?
How many, that is, for a short story or a piece of non-
fiction — since those are the genres you are most interested
in. Well, I do a lot of revising, both as I move along and
later, after I finish a rough draft. But "reasonably clean"
doesn't satisfy. It's like saying, "Well, I have this vehicle
in excellent shape, except for the carburetor." Nope. Better
keep tinkering with that carburetor if it takes until Hell
freezes over to get it precisely adjusted. I know this can
be frustrating. You just have to be tenacious and a trifle
bullheaded. I like to give the draft a cooling-off period,
maybe half a dozen of them. Put it aside. Shoot some pool.
Take a hike. Sing the opening songs of five of your favorite
songs. Record the first names of the girls in your high
school graduating class. Then return to the rough draft.
I know it is easier to offer this advice than to put it into
practice. But the story's eventual existence depends upon
you endurance. And good luck!
Isaac Searcy: You posed a very basic question:
"How exactly do you go about starting your poems?" I
can't do justice to this question without writing a book, but
I can maybe give you one specific example. I begin many
of my poems by reacting to something that has fired my
imagination, something that provokes me into thought,
something that I believe needs to be further sustained or
denied or quibbled with or whatever.
Yes, I told one of your classmates earlier, Jesus did
own a dog. The question, as I noted in class, was posed by
Snoopy, but Charlie Brown didn't respond. So the question
hung in the final frame of the comic like a challenge. Okay,
then, I'll challenge it and say in my opening lines "Of
course he owned a dog. Wasn't he, / after all, / human? Or
was he less human than / divine, too divine, that is, / to
stoop to the level of picking fleas / from the lopsided ears
/ of rover?" And where might I go from there? Damned if
I know. But somewhere. I'd go somewhere. Maybe this:
"Of course he owned a dog. / Never mind that no dog is
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mentioned / in the Scriptures, so many words having been
/ devoted to the higher achievements — water / walked on,
Lazarus resurrected, / fish and bread multiplied / enough
for the multitude, / water into wine." You write, hoping for
momentum. You read what you have written. You read it
again. Something clicks. You write some more. "Yes, yes,
I know: He hobnobbed / with the poor, but foresaw / that,
for all our efforts, / the poor would be always / with us. He
must therefore / have known that man's best friend / would
be, for those legions of needy / wretches, a necessary if not
holy / consolation, must therefore have displayed / his own
canine companion, a description of which / must have been
deleted / by scholars who viewed the lower animal / as the
lower animal. Saying this, I herewith /join a long if not
honorable line / of extrapolators. Give unto us a break, the
poor / must have said, and Jesus, Rover / at his feet like the
faithful friend / his master's father breathed the breath of
life / into, must have told his faithful friend / to demonstrate
what it means to be obedient, / to roll over, that is / when
commanded, and play dead." That's it, maybe. Then you
fine-tune. But the poem, whether good or ill, is the result of
a reaction to something that ignited the imagination. I know
this is a long-winded example, but it's nonetheless shorter
than a full-blown book. I hope it helps.
Fermin Venzor: I might have mentioned, in class,
that my younger brother taught at PPCC for many years
(GO AARDVARKS), and he might have been there
when you graduated. You ask why I didn't title any of the
poems in Alvin Turner. Well, I tried titles, but they seemed
awkward — because I want the book to suggest that Alvin
is thinking about his life somewhat randomly (so in one
poem he is in the distant past, then in the next poem he is
in the present as his mind moves rather freely over time
and space) — and titling the poems seemed to me to make
the process unduly formal and rigid, as if he is deliberately
titling his thoughts. So I simply numbered them, more or
less for the convenience of the reader. But in other books I
do have to wrestle with titles, as you say you wrestle with
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them also, and sometimes it is difficult to find one that
truly fits. Two suggestions: 1) Don't settle on a title that
explains things too explicitly; give the reader the privilege
of doing some thinking for him or herself. And 2) Consider
something simple, if it fits — maybe the date of the event the
poem deals with, as for example "Early October" or "One
Sunday Morning, 2001" or "Yankton, After a Heavy Rain,"
or "On Highway 14 Just South of Valentine." You get the
point. There will always be those pesky poems that just
don't want to be titled. Call the first of these "In Praise of
the Poem that Refuses to be Named."
Brandon Buster: I went into the Marine Corps
shortly after I graduated from college. Then I taught high
school for one year, after which I returned to college to
complete a MA degree. I had a professor who encouraged
me to write. I wanted to write the great American novel,
but instead I wrote the not-so-great American novel — for
my master's thesis — and fortunately it was not published.
But I'm glad I wrote it. You can learn a lot, sometimes,
by plunging in and finishing the project. And, yes, I know
what you mean when you say that "some poems and prose
pieces seem inundated with detail. ..." Too much, maybe,
or at other times too little. I'd suggest including plenty
of details, and then use your best judgment as you select
this detail and reject another. Your being aware of this as a
problem should give you an edge when it comes to solving
the problem. And, no, this was not the first time I had been
in a prison environment. I am not very thoroughly schooled
in such environments, though I have conducted a couple
of workshops in a penitentiary in Ohio, and I have taught
some classes at the penitentiary here in Lincoln. Willie
Otey, the last inmate to be executed in Nebraska, was one
of my students. He wrote some good stuff. Thanks for your
questions. I was impressed with the attentiveness of your
class, and with the responses to what I was saying.
Michael Clennon: Yes, indeed: A series of poems
can provide an extended story, a story that somewhat
resembles a novel, except that there are some rather
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wide gaps that the reader is expected to use his or her
imagination to fill. Alvin Turner is such a book, and I have
half a dozen others that fit into this category. (Jim Reese
has read all of them.) I am pleased that you returned to
HuckFinn; it is a wonderful book. And I appreciate your
comments about evaluating what you read and/or write.
My suggestion: read and write thoughtfully, but don't strain
too much to evaluate. And, finally, I hope you will continue
to question things and look at subjects from a variety of
angles. To consider several perspectives is one way to
discover fresh and exciting outlooks — and these, in turn,
can be reflected in your writing.
Dane Yirkovsky: You are a genuinely talented artist.
I'd swap half my acreage in Paradise for such talent. Now
you might consider doing a book with some original prose
or poetry to complement some original paintings. The book
in which I wrote some poems to accompany paintings done
by a Nebraska artist is titled Still Life Moving. I believe
that Jim has a copy. Borrow it. Look it over. Then do one
of your own. If you don't feel up to writing the prose or
poems, collaborate with someone. Do it. And good luck!
Lee Dagostini: You pose an interesting question:
"Why do poets not write much prose and vice versa?"
Many poets with whom I rub shoulders do write some
prose, but not many of them are very successful. And the
same goes for prose writers who attempt poetry. There are
exceptions, of course. John Updike is a superior writer of
both genres, but the list of such exceptions is not very long.
Why? I don't know. William Faulkner, surely one of the
finest novelists this country has known, tried his hand at
poetry, and failed miserably. His poetry is in his prose. It
seems that some imaginations are simply more expansive
than others, that the prose imagination prefers, or demands,
the extended hike over the ten-second sprint. I personally
enjoy trying both approaches. I sometimes write a poem
that satisfies me, as a poem, but would like to be more
developed as a story. So I give it a shot. That's what we do,
many of us. We give each genre an honest effort to see what
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happens. My high school basketball coach offered this bit
of wisdom: "Never up, never in." You don't make a basket
unless you put up a shot. Even then, you might not fluff the
nylon. But what does the best shooter on the team do when
he has missed a dozen consecutive attempts? He tries again.
Scott Kirk: Your concern about the many
complexities of certain poems is one that many others have
voiced; it obviously is a very troublesome aspect. But don't
let the complex (or more likely obscure) poem force you
into an over-reaction; that is, don't let it compel you to
make your own writing unduly simplistic. I frequently run
into poems that leave me stone-cold, or dazed, or clueless.
Maybe it's the poem, or the poet behind the poem trying,
as you say, "to out-do the next poet." It happens. Or maybe
I just don't have the wherewithal to understand what the
hell is being said or suggested. I am totally no whiz-kid.
I am not a certified academic. I am pretty much a country
boy with manure still clinging to his loafers. So I brush off
the poem and leave the manure where it is. I find poems
that seem to have been written by hayseeds like me, and
I read them and take whatever I can from them and try
then to write poems that I believe others like me can make
something of. I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence
with a poem that preaches; but on the other hand I don't
want to leave the reader standing alone in the darkness.
Does that seem like a reasonable compromise? Write your
poems in free verse or in conventional rhyme and meter
(better yet, try both approaches), and rely upon your own
sense of what is and what isn't understandable. You'll never
be able to reach everyone, but those that you do manage to
make contact with will appreciate that you and they are on
the same frequency.
Josh Hurst: One of your comments echoes those
that Scott and two or three others offered: ".. .sometimes
I have trouble understanding poetry when I read it, but I
thank you for making yours clear to me." You are welcome.
It is always good to hear that one's poems are being
taken in, not tossed out because of vagueness or lofty and
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obfuscated language. And you also said, "I liked how
most of your poetry comes from people, places, situations
that you have encountered throughout your life." Good.
So I recommend that you too write about those people
and places and events that were, and perhaps continue to
be, special to you. You must have had some intriguing
experiences growing up in the Ozarks. Don't sell any of
them short. If they are significant to you, and you write
about them clearly and freshly, they will be significant to
many of your readers. "Anything looked at [written about]
significantly will be significant," wrote critic and poet John
Ciardi. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Jason Davis: Now here is a sentence from your
letter that hit home: "I have written a few poems myself
and I had a very good time writing them." Bravo! That's
one helluva good reason for writing a poem — both process
and product can give you a sense of accomplishment, a
sense that you have created a type of order by putting
words together, whether the poem is light or heavy,
uplifting or deflating. And you ask how you might get
a poem started, get it off the ground. I talked about this
earlier when I attempted the poem that contends Jesus
had a dog. Read this section again, then maybe in class
you can talk about the approach, and about other possible
approaches that no doubt will come to mind as the
discussion moves along.
Justin Bollig: I reckon I didn't start writing poems
until I was thirty-seven because 1)1 lacked confidence, and
2) I was content to let the well accumulate as much water
as possible before depleting it. I started because I read a
couple of contemporary poets I hadn't read before, and
their poems connected, and I girded my loins and jumped
into the fray. Young or old or somewhere in between, you
start when you feel ready to start. The important thing is
to respect the feeling; don't deny it or delay it. You write
your first poem, and you revise it until you are satisfied
with it, and then when you write another you discover that
it is maybe just as tricky as the first one. And it remains that
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way. So you acknowledge this and keep at it. Don't let the
bastards grind you down, whoever or whatever the bastards
might be. It's your poem. You have the words to make the
poem work. And if you can add to this a personal devotion
to perseverance, you can surprise yourself. And others. And
the effect can be downright gratifying.
Mario Covington: Thank you for the following:
". . .you gave me hope that it isn't too late to succeed in
writing." This is a major, major realization, one that I trust
you will keep in mind as you put the pen to the paper.
You don't need to write an entire bookshelf of poems; you
should be pleased and proud if you write half a dozen, or a
dozen, or whatever. So write the poems and tell the stories
and share them with your world, however extensive or non-
extensive that world might be. And, again, I thank you for
your forthright realization.
Jim: I have not done sufficient justice to the comments and
questions, but perhaps some of the observations will help.
I hope so. You have an impressive group of students, and
they are equally fortunate to have you as their professor.
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Chicken Noodle Soup
I was vacationing in the countryside of South
Vietnam in 1997, and staying at my uncle's house about
a half hour away from Vung Tau. Everybody in Vietnam
gets up at six o' clock in the morning and takes a nap in
the afternoon. Personally, I do not require an afternoon
nap because this is when I am usually getting out of bed! I
believe the reason for napping is the afternoon temperatures
reaching triple digits, along with the stifling humidity.
I was sitting on the front porch when Vinny pulled
up on his little motorbike. His tall, undernourished, dark-
skinned, toned frame dismounted the motorbike and came
towards me. I noticed he was wearing a bright green polo
t-shirt with some ripped-up blue jeans and was bare-footed,
not wearing the customary slippers.
Vinny was the son of a friend of my uncles. He was
about my age or maybe a few years older, all of sixteen
years old. When he showed up unexpectedly, my uncle
told him to show me around the countryside.
Vinny asked me, "Are you hungry?" I replied, "Yeah, what
is there to eat?" "Chicken noodle soup!"
I did not care what we were going to eat because I
was starving. I ran in my room to grab some money and
put my slippers on before hopping on the back of his little
bike. We rode north on the main paved road for about ten
minutes until we reached the jungle of Vietnam. The dirt
road in Vietnam was not brown, but dark, a dirty red color.
Within minutes, trees surrounded us. It reminded
me of an argument we had a week prior. Vinny pointed
out a group of trees and told me they were rubber trees. I
laughed and stated there is no way those trees are made
of rubber; they are real trees, made of wood. He then
explained to me that the trees produce rubber, hence are
called rubber trees. The rubber was actually sap from the
trees and Vinny along with his mother collected rubber
4 p.m. Count Page 111
twice a day to earn a living.
Each tree had a deep carving down the middle,
running from top to bottom, and there was a small piece of
metal inserted at the base of the tree (about a foot from the
ground) for the sap to drain out and into a coconut bowl.
As we were getting deeper into the jungle of rubber
trees, the foliage created a canvas that crowded the sunlight
because the trees and shrubs were very thick. Vinny shut
off the engine and let the bike glide us to a stop. When the
bike was at a complete stop, I hopped off. I thought he had
to go urinate or something because there was no restaurant
or any people in sight!
I then asked him, "What are we doing here?" He
said, "Catching a chicken for chicken noodle soup!"
As I looked around, there were small families of
chickens roaming around feeding. Vinny reached in his
left pocket, pulled out a handful of rice grain and threw it
on the ground about ten feet in front of him. I observed the
flocks of chickens coming closer to feed. He then reached
in his right pocket and pulled out a homemade V-shaped
slingshot with a rubber band on it.
He asked me, "Which one do you want?"
I said, "The fat one right there," pointing to a severely
overweight chicken waddling to the rice grain.
It was about twenty feet away. I started to laugh
a little as I watched Vinny position himself like a hunter
holding a big shotgun, and I doubted he could hit a tree six
feet in front of him, let alone a chicken over twenty feet
Swoosh. "Blooocck-cllooocck. . ."
The flock of chickens scattered away, but the big fat
chicken lay on its side, unconscious. He told me to turn the
bike around to get ready to head back to his house while he
ran over and grabbed the chicken by its feet.
When I got the bike turned around, I looked back;
Vinny took his shirt off and wrapped it around the chicken's
head and body leaving the feet exposed, so he could grip
them. He hopped on the bike holding onto my shoulder
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for support with one hand and holding the chicken with his
other hand. Vinny yelled, "To my house!"
As we were heading back, the chicken became
conscious and started twitching. It started nipping at my
back, as its head was placed right between my shoulder
blades. I told Vinny to grab its head because it was making
me nervous and I almost lost control of the bike.
We arrived at Vinny's house ten minutes later; he
handed me the chicken by its feet and hopped off before I
could get the little motorbike to a complete stop. Vinny ran
inside the house and came out with a butcher knife in one
hand and a bowl in the other, explaining that he had to go
check on the two boiling pots of water that he had started
before he came to pick me up some twenty minutes ago.
He then told me to bring the chicken over and
made me hold it by its feet so he could cut its neck. As the
chicken hung upside down, it was twitching while Vinny
collected the draining blood into a bowl. After a minute or
so, it stopped twitching and Vinny told me to keep draining
the blood into the bowl as he ran into the kitchen to check
on the boiling pots of water.
I noticed that there was barely any blood coming
out of the chicken's neck, so I decided to let go of it and lay
it on the ground, assuming it was dead. As soon as I stood
up, the chicken rose to its feet and started to walk around in
circles with its head hanging on its neck, then collapsed.
Vinny carried a pot of hot water out of the kitchen
and placed on the ground. He grabbed the chicken by its
feet, brought it over to the pot of water, and dipped the
chicken head first in the pot. He let the chicken sit in the
pot for a few minutes and pulled it back out. He then
started plucking the feathers off the chicken, carefully
trying not to get scalded by the steam. He told me to go
into the kitchen and cut two onions in quarters while he
finished plucking the chicken.
As soon as I was done cutting the onions, he came
in holding the dead and featherless chicken. He threw the
chicken in the pot along with some sugar, salt, and msg.
4 p.m. Count Page 113
He told me to throw the chopped onions in the pot while he
went outside to get the bowl of chicken blood. When he
returned, he dumped the bowl of blood into the boiling pot
of chicken. He opened two packages of ramen noodles and
put them into two separate bowls. Vinny yelled, "Let's get
ready to eat!" I asked him, "Aren't you going to cook the
noodles first?" He replied, "Don't worry."
He grabbed the bowl of noodles, brought it over
to the pot, and scooped two scoops of broth into the bowl
and a few pieces of chicken. When he brought my bowl of
chicken noodle soup, I just stared at the bowl of soup for
about five minutes. It looked dirty, the broth was brown,
and it smelled weird too. I tried to taste it and scalded the
roof of my mouth; it was so hot the chicken was literally
falling off the bone.
He asked, "Is it good?" I said, "Yeah, but it's too hot to eat,
I'll just let it cool down a little."
I was nervous at first just looking at it because it
was so filthy. I was thinking about the bird flu disease, at
the same time remembering that I did not see Vinny wash
the chicken before he tossed it into the pot. I doubt Vinny
even washes his hands before or after doing anything!
I tried to clear my head and concentrate on eating
because I was so hungry. I was blowing my bowl to cool
it down before tasting the broth with my spoon. It tasted
good, even with all the dirt and some feathers floating in
my bowl. I then used my chopsticks to pick up a piece of
meat and started blowing to cool it down. As soon as it
looked somewhat cool, I threw it in my mouth and started
chewing away. At first, I did not know what to expect, but
it tasted like sweet-filleted chicken breast in a soup.
It was one of the best tasting chicken noodle soups,
even though it looked foul and smelled very weird. Besides
spitting out the bones and the loose feathers, I did not care;
it was simply delicious. I took one bite after another; I
even sipped all the broth from the bowl. Vinny made me
two more bowls and ate two more bowls himself. He said,
"You know why it was so good?" I replied, "No" and kept
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on eating. He said, "Because it was free, that is why it was
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Brandon W. Buster
Grandma and Grandpa live in the last house on a
quiet dead end street which ends abruptly at their driveway.
The road itself is shy of a two lane and with cars parked on
both sides; you almost have to grease the sides of a vehicle
to get through. Fittingly, this is our place of refuge for the
holidays. Since we have a huge family, cars are parked
behind the house in a makeshift parking area that has
developed over the years. The overflow extends clear up to
the stop sign, bumper to bumper, lining both sides with tires
resting on a portion of the sidewalks. I often wondered
what the neighbors thought and could hear their expletives
as they struggled to find parking space other than their own
driveways. This gave the appearance of a block party and
it usually wasn't too short of that.
Inside the chaos was thriving. The men huddled
around the TV watching any football game they could
find and discussing in vivid detail their respective hunting
seasons. This was a time when we could razz one another
about missed shots, puny deer taken just to avoid getting
skunked and who was caught sleeping in their stands. We
all anticipated Uncle Steve's arrival with his freshly scored
trophy buck. I swear, every year he showed up with a
deer in the back of his truck. Personally, I think he slips
down to the game farm just outside of town and bags his
prize, but of course he will never divulge his sacred spot or
allow anyone to go with him. I have heard him make the
comment on several occasions that there sure are some fine
looking racks down at Bob's. I am going to take a stab and
say he was referring to Bob's Game Farm. When he finally
shows up he reeks of doe piss and has on war paint like
some scene out of the Rambo series gleaming from ear to
ear. His hair is an unnatural three-tone reddish, brownish,
orange color from a botched attempt at a dye job to cover
the solid grey. "Got a beer?" He asks. "I sure the hell am
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thirsty. I had to drag this monster quite a ways back to the
truck all by myself. We've got to get these back straps cut
out and thrown on the grill." He whips out a buck knife
that would make Crocodile Dundee squirm and begins to
hack out the straps.
The women are sipping wine, discussing who
is sleeping with whom, marriages and divorce, taking a
page from an episode of Jenny Jones. Grandma sits there
smiling and listening to all the gossip around her. To look
at her, you would wonder what was on her mind: her
white hair fluffy and those deep blue eyes shining like stars
through her spectacles. I just think she was thankful to
have everyone in her home and safe for the holidays.
Most of the food was already prepared and brought
to the big potluck. Everyone was known for something,
either a dessert, deviled eggs, or Grandpa's ham and beans.
The ham and beans were good, but they were known more
for the toxic gas they left in our wake. Thankfully, it
wouldn't kick in until later in the evening and the people
still around were usually on their way to a good buzz so it
became more of a sport than a nuisance.
Dinner was usually a blur. With so many people
in such tight quarters, it gave the appearance of a fend-for-
yourself atmosphere. Grandma would holler, "Come and
get it!" reminiscent of a cattle call as everybody stampeded
to the kitchen and entered the serving line. Tables were
lined up end-to-end with the main course, side dishes, and
finally desserts. Bonanza would have been proud of the
structure and the quantity of food. Chatter filled the air
and the smell of food lined the inside of your nose. If you
weren't hungry before getting in line, you would find a
reason to eat something. With plates piled high, everyone
returned back to their spot to begin shoveling down the
grub. Just like high school cafeterias, we all had our little
posse that we sat with. It was like an understood separation
from the group and nobody ever mentioned it. To an
outsider, it would have seemed very strange, but to us it's
the way it was.
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The present opening was fairly orchestrated and
to ease the length, we had a gift exchange. Back on
Thanksgiving, we would draw names and iron out the
details so that nobody was left out. We would always have
the situation where there was now an ex something or other
and his or her name would be methodically crossed off and
the new person was added; part of life I guess. This was
more for the kids than the adults, but we all liked to give
each other a little something as well. The camcorder was
rolling and paper started flying. The kids would hold up
their presents and politely thank whomever it was that got
them their gift. They would drag the toys into the basement
and begin playing with their new gadgets, instantly
becoming firemen, racecar drivers or teachers. For the
adults, the fun was just beginning.
We would do a thorough check on the alcohol status
and make one last beer run before the stores were to close
for the day. Luckily, Red kept his gas station open for this
occasion. I would usually be the one to make the trip and
every year when I arrived I was the only one in the station
with Red closing right behind me. He would be sitting on
an old armless stool watching a small black and white TV
which had rabbit ears extending four feet into the air, laced
with aluminum foil. He wore an old DX ball cap soiled
with grease and dirt, a lined flannel shirt with the stuffing
exposed around the elbows and a saggy pair of Rustlers.
His grey beard hanging down about a foot from his chin,
almost touching his protruding gut, made me think that
with a shower and a manicure he would make a good Santa.
I asked him, "Red, do you purposely wait for me every
year?" He said, "Kid, it's like clockwork, now go on ahead
and have a good time." "Merry Christmas Red," I would
say and slip him an extra hundred — no wonder he waited
Back at the house the tables were cleared and the
gambling was to begin. The front and back doors were
hinged open to allow the air to flow, in part to reduce the
temperature, but mainly to alleviate the stale remains of the
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ham and beans. Grandpa had an old double-barrel wood
burner in the basement with no thermostat and felt the need
to keep it stoked and spewing out the heat.
We would have one table for cards, euchre or pitch
and another table for Jenga. The Jenga table was much
more interesting and entertaining. Jenga is a game of
patience and a steady hand. Rectangular pieces of wood
are freely placed together in threes. The next section is
placed on top rotated 90 degrees. The object is to withdraw
one piece at a time and start a new section on the top. We
would all put one dollar in the kitty and stand around the
oval table. Drink in hand, one by one we would remove
the wooden pieces and begin to build the tower of Babel.
The last person to successfully complete a move would win
the pot, while everybody else would have to take a shot
of some liquor; the person who wrecked the tower took a
Everyone stood almost motionless as each person
took a turn. Eyes were focused on the tower looking for
and anticipating the slightest wobble. Once the piece was
placed on the top, you could feel the exhale and the drinks
were raised as if in a successful cheer to the victor. In the
background Grandma and Grandpa were nestled tightly
on the piano bench giving us their best rendition of old
favorites. Grandpa, being half in the bag, would be off-
key but then again, we were all a little off-key in our own
rights. He would blow into his harmonica and playfully
cuss whichever grandchild had left him a slobbery surprise.
Grandma, not one for much conversation, loved
playing the piano and singing, her fingers stroking the
keyboard like pistons in a well-oiled ten-cylinder engine.
It always added such a special touch to the evening. The
kids would slowly make their way up from the basement
and pull on the pantleg of mom or dad indicating it was
time to go. A few snores rang through the dining room as
someone would be passed out on the couch not wanting to
The night would come to a close and the busy dead
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end street would filter out and recede back into its original
shape. The neighbors could give a sigh of relief and allow
their lives to go back to normal. At the stop sign, before
turning off Bridgeman, I would take one last glance over
my shoulder. Seeing the smoke dissipate from the chimney,
I would watch the little house on the end take a deep breath
and then exhale, allowing itself to settle back into its
customary existence. I smile and realize how thankful I am
of my family and for the love that lines those interior walls.
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From Freedom to Crimson and Blue
Just what is a Jayhawk anyway? For many, a
Jayhawk is the mascot for Kansas University (KU) and has
been since 1886; it is a mythical bird that combines two
birds — the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to
rob other nests; and a sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. 1 Is
there more to this large yellow-beaked bird with crimson
and blue feathers, though? Is the Jayhawk more than
just the centerpiece and inspiration to the "Rock Chalk
Jayhawk" chant that sports fans across the nation know as
the KU fight song? The term Jayhawk has existed for over
150 years, and once inspired something that was much
more profound and meaningful than just simply the mascot
for KU. The Jayhawk once stood for a group of Kansans
who fought to keep the state a slave-free state.
I grew up thirty minutes east of Lawrence,
Kansas — the home of the KU Jayhawks — in Kansas City,
Kansas (KCK). KCK is located on the west side of the
Missouri River, and everything on the west side of the
river is known as "Jayhawk Country." Growing up I was
taught that nothing on the east side of the Missouri river
really matters anyway, because it is Missouri. In Jayhawk
Country, one is raised to be a staunch supporter and fan
of Kansas Jayhawk football and basketball — especially in
my family — and ever since I can remember, the Missouri
University Tigers were the KU Jayhawks' bitter rivals and,
hence, my bitter rivals, as a Jayhawk fan.
My earliest and most defining memory of my
family's fan fanaticism was in 1988, and I was not even
ten years of age. I remember my parents, uncles, aunts, and
cousins all on the couch, staring at the television, giving it
1 "Legend of the Jayhawk," under "Legend of the Jayhawk University
of Kansas," http://jayhawks.com/Traditions/Legend (accessed April 29,
4 p.m. Count Page 121
their most avid attention. I knew something big was going
on, and I, like any curious nine-year-old, did not want to
be left out. I asked my father what the big deal was, and he
explained to me that "our" Kansas Jayhawks had played
their way into the National Championship game of the
Years later, I would come to understand that the
NCAA tournament is a playoff bracket of the sixty- four
best college basketball teams in the nation, and that the
teams are placed in a bracket according to their school's
national ranking, with the highest-ranking teams playing
against the lowest-ranking teams, until there is one national
champion. That year, the Jayhawks' opponents were the
Oklahoma Sooners, the Jayhawks' conference rivals.
Throughout the game, I remember the excitement of
everyone around me vividly, with everyone on the edge of
his or her seat, eyes glued to the television, not wanting to
miss a single dribble or shot of the basketball. By the end
of the game when the Jayhawks were triumphant over the
Sooners the whole room was so animated and boisterous
that the knocked-over food and beers went unnoticed, as
"Oh my God, did you see that, I can't believe it, we're
national champs!" and pats on the back were passed
around. Danny Manning and "The Miracles" had made
their date with destiny, and that game sparked within me
many years of Jayhawk pride and my own fan fanaticism —
that is the year that I became a life-long fan. For years
after that day, being a fan of my Kansas Jayhawks was all
I was. Until recently, when I discovered what a Jayhawk
Through the years, many people outside of my
home in Jayhawk Country have asked me "just what is
a Jayhawk anyway?" Until recently, I had no answer for
them. One curious day I looked up the word "Jayhawk" in
Webster s Dictionary and it of course told of the mythical
bird that had a home at the Kansas University as a mascot,
and it said that "to jayhawk" is to make a predatory attack
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on, or to raid. 2 The dictionary also gave another definition
of something called a "jayhawker." It said that a jayhawker
was a free-soil, abolitionist guerilla in Kansas during the
border disputes of 1857-1859 with Missouri. 3
These men, these "jayhawkers," were settlers
from New England and members of bands of anti-slavery
guerillas that raided and fought against the pro-slavery
bands called "Border Ruffians" that were mostly from
Missouri, before and during the Civil War. 4 It all started
over the issue of slavery — newly settled Kansans did not
want it and slave-owning Missourians did. A good seven
years before the Civil War, the Kansas/Missouri Border
War was in full swing, and both sides were heatedly
exchanging violence over the issue of slavery, which gave
way to the term "Bleeding Kansas." 5 In Jan. 29, 1861, the
Free-Stater Jayhawks won out over the issue when Kansas
was admitted into the Union as a Free State, 6 but later that
same year in April, the Civil War started 7 and Kansas was
once again consumed by the Border War — only now as a
part of the Union. A regiment raised by Kansas Governor
Charles Robinson called itself the "Independent Mounted
Jayhawks" (later officially the First Kansas Cavalry and
then the Seventh Kansas Regiment) 8 , and they continued
the fight against the pro- slavery Border Ruffians.
Many bloody battles were fought over the issue of
slavery and many travesties were committed on both sides
2 "jayhawk," Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary (Boston: Hough-
ton Mifflin Co., 1994), 651.
3 "jayhawker," Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994), 651.
4 "Bleeding Kansas," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleeding
Kansas (accessed APril 29, 2008).
6 "Timeline of Significant Events on the Missouri/Kansas Border
1854-1865," under "Missouri/Kansas Border War" Network, http://
moksbwn.net/Timetable.html (accessed April 29, 2008).
4 p.m. Count Page 123
in the name of war.
During this back-and-forth battle, a band of 400
Border Ruffians on the morning of Aug. 21, 1863,
went across the Missouri River the 30 miles, to
Lawrence, KS, looking for blood. They looted the
town and massacred 150 men and boys, dragging
them into the streets, before they carried out their
message of blood. 9
This massacre and many like it — on both sides — had a
residual and lasting effect on the Kansas/Missouri border
that would be felt for generations.
By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the word
"Jayhawk" was associated with the spirit of camaraderie
and the courageous fighting qualities that characterized
the efforts to keep Kansas a free state. 10 So in 1890, when
Kansas University's first football team was formed and
they took the field, it seemed only natural that they call
themselves the Jayhawkers. 11 Few colleges or universities
today have such a meaningful symbol, one so deeply
associated with the struggle of the people who founded
Today, in this fan-frenzied world of sports,
something has been lost, something important, that defined
my ancestors and helped shape this great nation. Yes, a
Jayhawk is more than just a fictitious bird or mascot; a
Jayhawk is more than just a basketball or a football team. A
Jayhawk is also a symbol of the ideals that Kansans fought
and died for, the right of freedom for all, and the right to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are
the same ideals that America herself was founded on.
Twenty years after the Jayhawks won their National
Championship in 1988, the school had its most successful
9 "History of the Border War 1854-1865," under "Missouri/Kansas
Border War Network," http://moksbwn.net/History.html (accessed April
Page 124 4 p.m. Count
season — as far as the sporting world goes — by the football
team winning at the Orange Bowl and the basketball team
winning its first National Championship since 1988. As I
watched the victory celebrations of both teams and saw the
large yellow-beaked, crimson- and blue-feathered mascot
doing the "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" victory dance, I took
quiet pride in the knowledge that, unbeknownst to most
of the rest of the world, the symbol for freedom had once
again prevailed victorious — just as it had over one hundred
fifty years ago. I am still a fan of Kansas University
athletics, only now I take more pride in what it stands for to
be a Jayhawk.
4 p.m. Count Page 125
I Ain't No Yeller Chicken
I was about ten years old and my big brother Zeb
was about twelve when he shot a fox and it ran into a
culvert to die. He peered in and I looked too, he shook his
head, and I shook mine. "Ain't no way to get it out," I said.
"It's too deep." So we got a long pole and tied a wire hook
on the end and we hooked and pulled, but it was no use.
Then Zeb looked at me and I knew that look, so
I shook my head again and said, "Uh-Uh! Ain't no way
I'm goin' in there." So he called me chicken and called
me yeller and he must of knew what he was do in' cause it
pissed me right off.
"I ain't no yeller chicken," I said and got me a
flashlight and a pocketknife and we tied a roll of wire to
my foot and he said he'd pull me out if I got stuck. "I ain't
no yeller chicken," I said as I got down on my hands and
knees and crawled in that hole and the sides of the culvert
were cramped and the air was thin and "I ain't no yeller
chicken," I said.
The batteries in my flashlight were weak and the
wire on my foot was too tight and I was ten feet inside
when suddenly, I saw it, the red furry fox and I didn't know
if it was dead but the batteries in my flashlight were so
I crawled up and stabbed in the dark with my red Swiss
Army Knife and sure enough, it was dead, so I grabbed it
by the tail and screamed, "Get me out! Pull!" Because I
Page 126 4 p.m. Count
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Art Class Overview
The following Pencil Portrait Drawings are
created by students who have minimal or no prior
drawing experience. The classes are taught by inmate
Dane Yirkovsky with the Bureau of Prisons providing the
necessary materials. The art class curriculum is based on a
ten-week course, yielding five classes per year. A student
receives twenty hours of credit and is given a certificate
During each class, students are to assist each other
and are encouraged to participate in the future classes.
Artwork is displayed around the institution and the
class has become very successful in assisting inmates in
discovering their talents and skills during their time at the
Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota.
Page 128 4 p.m. Count
Audriana by Julian Lopez
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Lola by Tim Schwed
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Jadyn Danielle by David Gulledge
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Km,w^o Jrtt. :;m
by Michael Belieu
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*Katelyn Jo Belieu*
February 21, 2008 - May 14, 2008
In Loving Memory
Baby Katelyn. . .you were a gift from God, and I'm
so sorry we didn't share more together. The Good Lord
has reasons for calling you home to Him so soon in your
precious life and I'm afraid I don't understand.
The news of your arrival was so joyous, and being
your grandfather, a highlight of my life! The opportunity to
know you, and hold you in my arms, didn't happen since
I'm away right now, but I looked forward to it nonetheless.
From what I can tell, God must have wanted some
very special company to be by His side, when He received
you into the kingdom of heaven. From the pain of losing
you, this is the only comfort I can see, as I also will be able
to know you when I enter those pearly gates.
My faith in God is a crutch for me through all my
trials, like so many others, but it doesn't stop the human
side of me from asking "Why"?
You will be missed, young lady.
I Love You!
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by Dane Yirkovsky
4 p.m. Count
White Baby Kinda Baboon
Sasquatch is the stuff of legends, but real hybrids
are often the results of inter-species mating and are proven
to exist. For example, at South Luangwa National Park
in Zambia, Africa, it is found that when a Kinda baboon
pairs with a Chacma or a Yellow baboon, their offspring is
still a baboon - but it's considered a hybrid. Through DNA
research, white baby baboons signify at least one of their
ancestors belonged to a subspecies called Kinda. Kinda
babies, whether purebred or mixed, are often born white
unlike the usual baboon black color. It has been found that
mixed ancestry is a common occurrence at the national
For more information on this subject and the South
Luangwa National Park, see the December 2007 issue of
4 p.m. Count Page 135
Grandpa Ross by Dane Yirkovsky
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Brandon W. Buster
Receiving the call, I rushed to the VA
to be by your side. Several minutes
too late, your heart couldn't take
anymore. The unfairness of
life ever so present as the nurse
held up a hand flailing five digits
in slow motion, indicating our
remaining time together. Through
the glass, she returned to her normal duties.
How could anything else have been more
important? I talked, but got no response,
wondering if you could hear me. My words not
registering as reality reached up and slapped me
across the face. I slowly released your hand
musing over our better days, pondering
my life without you. Remembering those fishing
where all we seemed to catch was a good buzz.
I vowed to look after Grandma; I knew you would
want that. Exiting the room, I looked back as
the nurse covered your face with a thin white
sheet, denying me one final glance at the
man I have tried so hard to emulate.
* * *
V05 slicked back his hair.
A Camel non-filter stuck
to his lower lip as his raspy voice
slowly engaged in conversation
out of the left corner of his mouth.
4 p.m. Count Page 137
The right side of his face paralyzed from
a shock suffered while checking the
wiring during an inspection early in
his career. Pin-striped Key
overalls were his standard wear —
rolled up at the cuff in response
to his short, skinny, pale legs.
So often I can picture his tan, wrinkled
face with his right eye forcefully closed
his voice echoing with sarcasm; "Boy,
what were you thinking? That's about the
stupidest thing you've ever done!"
Sadly enough, he was always right.
Not a church-going man, but knew
most every passage in the Holy Book.
I can only hope now, his faith
has allowed him to meet the
Almighty and to watch over me.
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Morgan by Al Lindsey
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Ethereal by Kerwin Miller
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/::!i«': : "«? :
Marilyn Monroe by Roy Miller
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White-Bellied Sea Eagles by Dane Yirkovsky
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Signature Blonde by Dane Yirkovsky
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"My Teddy Bear..."
Joe Cavallaro III
Tomorrow is a big day, Mr. Bear.
We're going to see daddy again at the jail.
I feel like a slinky toy, because I can't sit still.
I know we'll be awake for hours tonight talking about the
fun we'll have on the trip tomorrow.
Mommy says it may take all morning just to get there and
we may stop for ice cream, if I'm good!
Remember the fun we had last time?
Want to read my book out loud?
Maybe we should go see if mommy's still awake,
Do you think I'm pretty, teddy bear?
What if we don't wake up on time?
Daddy will call if we're late because he told me he misses
I miss him too!
He's been away for so long, and needs some sugar hugs
That's the first thing I'm going to do when we get there!
Yeah. . . I'm going to give my daddy some sugar hugs, and
tell him I love him. . .
Because I do!
Are you crying? Don't cry on my dress!
I'm getting sleepy already. . .
Will you dream the same dreams that I do?
Let's try to sleep, so tomorrow gets here quicker!
See you in the morning!
Good night Mr. Bear.... (Smile)
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Girl with Teddy Bear by Dane Yirkovsky
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John Wayne by Dane Yirkovsky
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Hilary Swank by Dane Yirkovsky
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Blank Pages In Prison
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Why do you stare at the blank page?
Are you looking for a muse?
Gazing off into nothing,
thinking of that girl,
who once smiled at you.
Remembering the way she stretched her arms up,
lifting her pink tank top just enough to expose
her firm flat stomach.
She looked your way,
caught your eye,
Your heart races with primal lust,
sweat dripping — the need for passion.
If only you could find
something to write about.
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Jessica Alba by Dane Yirkovsky
4 p.m. Count
From the Inside Out
Page 1 50 4 p.m. Count
Count Time. Count Time.
As I gaze out my window looking at the pigeons fly by,
my mind begins to wander into the sky.
I sink deep into the clouds, feel light as a feather —
going far away from the barbed wire, and my body that is
There's a face I see, with green eyes and red lips that are
It's Joni, my lady; she's come to put her arms around me.
She gives me a kiss and walks out the visiting room door.
My eyes begin to water as her tears hit the concrete floor.
"Hold yourself together Michael; you can do this."
Hugs and kisses everywhere as families are being
I rush to the window to get a final glance
of her blonde hair, pink shirt and blue jean pants.
Blue.... jean.... pants
Joni has me stuck in a trance.
Her voice so sweet, a body girls envy, damn it man I miss
Over the intercom I hear, "Count time. Count time."
4 p.m. Count Page 151
May 25, 2008
Dear Jim and Students
It was a great gift for me to read my poems, along with Ms.
Roripaugh, to the students at the Correctional Center.
I don't think that there is a whole lot that I can say that your
students don't already know, from their own lives — each
of us has his or her own experiences that can be brought to
their work as writers.
Maybe what I do know, what it is that I've learned from
my thirty-five years of writing, is that writing out your life,
or devoting the time to any art or craft, is one good way to
help understand your life.
Learning to write well, or to build a fine cabinet, or become
a master electrician — to spend the time that it takes to
master something else outside of yourself, probably boils
down to this — you might come to better know yourself in
doing the work. If each one of us knows himself or herself,
we will in some sense be connected to all others, and this
will make us more human.
So, I applaud all of you who are working on becoming
writers or poets or both, because in this way you are each
helping to raise humankind itself to a higher level.
Thank you for letting me into your lives for a while.
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Mario G. Covington
In the Bureau of Prisons, there are numerous count
times. These are times when prisoners are counted in the
physical form like a herd of cattle. The way the officers
inform inmates that it's count time varies from prison to
prison; when I was in Texas, they made an attempt over a
muffled speaker by yelling, "Count time. " In other prisons,
officers personally inform the inmates that it is count time
by going from unit to unit. But in Yankton, they use a red
When I see it, most of the time it annoys me, it makes me
nervous. It's like watching the sun being chased away by
the clouds — one then expects rain, or driving down a high-
way at an abnormal speed only to slow down abruptly by
the flashing lights of a patrol car. The red light is a threat.
Range four stand up for count.
It shines four times a day. I cannot escape it or shake it.
I cannot help but notice it because I feel its presence. It's
equal to a fire alarm being activated or a microwave when
it reaches zero or a pressure cooker when it has reached two
hundred and twelve degrees. The red light is a conscious
Count time gentlemen.
When I look up and see it, I try to think of something
pleasant. I imagine taking little Mario and Latronis — my
sons — to the park. They love the sun and what it has to of-
fer: ice cream, swimming, swings and monkey bars. I think
of taking Jasmine and Epiphany — my daughters — shopping
and out to eat. They love spending time with me as I do
with them. I think of pleasant thoughts of the world be-
4 p.m. Count Page 153
ing free mentally and spiritually, where we as a people can
wander aimlessly at life as a bird does. I think of life with-
out war, drugs, and death, where we can have peace, love,
and eternal life as one under God. I think of Moses, and the
children of Israel being protected and led by the cloud.
The red light is the Alpha and Omega of my day.
Lights on, stand up for count.
Page 154 4 p.m. Count
by Hung Dao
It is tragic to see a forty-year-old man cry as he
hangs up the phone and walks away with his head down.
(Ring. . . ring. . .ring...) You have a prepaid call, you will not
be charged for this call, this call is from. ... An inmate at a
Federal Prison; to decline this call hang up, to accept this
call dial five now, if you wish to block all future calls of
this nature dial seven now.
"How are you doing baby, and how are the kids doing?"
4 p.m. Count
"I work three jobs! On Monday I get up at 5:30 a.m. to get
the kids ready for day-care, drop them off by 6:00 a.m.,
and try to get to work by 6:30 a.m. I get off at 2:45 p.m.
and then try to get to my second job by 3:30 p.m., during
rush hour. Then I get off work at 1 1 :45 p.m. and rush to
day-care to pick up the kids who are all tired and then try
to get them in bed by 1 :00 a.m. Then I have to shower and
cook something to eat and make lunch for work tomorrow.
Finally, I get to try to get to bed by 2:00 a.m. and then
start the cycle again at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. On the
weekends, I work at a restaurant from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00
p.m. That means I have to get the kids to day-care by 8:00
a.m. then pick them up at 10:00 p.m.
"I'm exhausted, the kids are getting sick, the bills
are going up, taxes are going up, gas prices are going up,
and the mortgage is going up! I don't think I can handle
this by myself much longer!
"I need somebody to help me take care of the kids,
stuff around the house, and especially with the bills! I
need somebody that can help me right now! I don't want
to leave you, but I don't have any options," she said in an
exasperated voice and then, the line goes silent again.
"I'm sorry babe, you know I want to be there for
you, but I can't right now. I want to be there for our kids. I
Page 1 56 4 p.m. Count
want to be there to help around the house. I want to be there
to pay all the bills. But mostly, I want to be there for you!
"You always have an option. My credit is still
good. Get another loan if you need the money or use my
credit card to pay for the bill. I'll pay it back when I get
out. Sell the cars with gas prices this high: I'll ride a bicycle
when I get out. Sell the house; I don't need a thirty-eight-
hundred square foot house if I don't have you.
"So what option do you want? Is it money that you
need? Or is it that you don't want to be with me anymore?"
Click, the phone hangs up.
I thought I was never going to be like one of those guys
talking on the phone begging his wife not to leave him,
until it happened to me.
4 p.m. Count
Something I Wrote For My Daughter
In County When I First Got Locked Up
Jason E. Davis
Happy birthday little one
eat some cake and have some fun.
So as you turn four and I turn too
please remember dad's love for you.
I wish I could be there for you this year
I hope to see you before your first beer.
All kidding aside, I want you to know
I wish things were different and didn't have to go.
You are in my prayers day and night
I love you Rylie K with all my might.
So a big happy birthday to my little one
eat some cake and have some fun.
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As he neared the ridge, the towers materialized.
Like monuments to the gods, they reached, piercing the sky
and reflecting the sun's rays. With every step, more detail
emerged until finally as he reached the hilltop, Jake could
see the taper of the monolithic towers widen until they
coupled solidly with the fortress bellow; he had arrived,
and it was magnificent.
Standing atop the knoll, the fortress within his
reach, Jake paused awestruck; a wave of vertigo washed
over him. Beneath his feet, like a psychedelic daydream,
the hill flowed into the valley below. Flowers of every
color exploded, coalesced, and cascaded into the vast and
fathomless moat that encapsulated the island compound. At
the center of this, surrounded by battlements reaching fifty
feet into the sky, the fortress stood unwavering, a direct
descendant of the earth not built but created, an island of
solidarity in a sea of chaos.
Taking a breath to clear his head, Jake began his
descent down the hill. The flowers and grass waved and
seemed to part before him and close as he passed. He felt
eyes upon him — not human eyes but the earth's. The feel-
ing increased until he was sure that if he turned his head
he would see the ground rising up behind him, like a wave
building strength, preparing to devour him and return him
to the elements from which he had come.
He stepped out of the field and onto wet sand and
pebbles. Approaching the edge of the moat, he halted. As
his eyes settled on the water, and its residents began to con-
geal into solid form, he realized that the dream had ended
and the nightmare had begun.
What he saw: monstrosities more grotesque than the
strangest creatures in the deepest regions of earth's oceans,
their huge jaws protruding with razor sharp teeth tear-
4 p.m. Count Page 159
ing, seething deformed bodies writhing, giant prehistoric
masses gliding through the water, whip tails circling, and
cold predatory eyes searching. This was not the end of his
journey. . .it was the beginning of something different.
Beep beep beep beep. . .
.... The alarm cut through the veil of sleep. Conscious-
ness grew to awareness, and with that, the realization that
it was a dream, the dream. Again it had come, and again he
had traveled further. However, it was over too soon; it was
always too soon. The night never lasted long enough. The
dream never finished.
Enough, the inner dialogue, never far away,
emerged like a drill sergeant. "The world waits for no man;
get out of bed, maggot." Jake glanced at the clock to his
right, stalling and thinking of an argument. He had none;
life would go on and he was a part of it.
The phone rang. Jake reached across the nightstand
past the alarm clock and answered it. "Hello," he said. He
knew who it was. "Jake, honey would you do me a favor,"
It was Sara. "What do you want," he replied. She sounded
so chipper in the morning — he hated that. "O Jake, honey
would you bring me something to eat. I was in such a hurry
this morning I forgot, and I am sooo hungry." He wanted
to ask what time she had gotten home last night. Instead, he
asked, "What do you want?"
"O nothing special. . . just. . .1 don't know, a burger or
something. You decide." She knew what she wanted. He
was not in the mood to argue. "I'll drop it off on my way
to work." "Love you sweetie."
Click. After briefly considering strangling himself
with the phone cord, he hung up and rolled out of bed.
Padding down the hall towards the shower, Jake noticed
the lifeless pictures hanging on the walls, the drab white
interior of his home, and the generic clutter of his life.
Everything seemed sterile, like a canvas awaiting an artist's
touch. He stopped at the closed bathroom door. He turned
the handle, his mind cleared; routine taking hold, he en-
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The shower was refreshing. His troubles seemed to
float away with the steam. He imagined himself in that far
away world. Showering was like dreaming; he could drift
away and forget what was on the other side of the curtain.
As he showered, he wished that he could be someone else.
He wished that his life had meaning and direction.
Jake rinsed and turned off the water. He reached out
and pulled the curtain to the side. He stepped over the side
of the bathtub and onto the cold tile floor. Reaching for a
towel, Jake turned to face the mirror above the sink.
Wrapping the towel around his waist Jake gazed
at his steam-distorted reflection, studying it through the
condensation congealed into drops as it cut through his vis-
age distorting the image further yet reviling, slice by slice,
more of his features. Who am I ?
Elsewhere, above a giant blue globe, a glowing
point of light waited as it had done for millennia. It never
grew impatient. It observed the continents below, the sea,
the blue atmosphere, and the curtains of clouds. It was
aware of these things just as it was aware of the many
worlds and possibilities that existed beyond this infini-
tesimal point in the vast arena of the universe. It was also
aware that two worlds where about to make contact and
that it was to play a part in something extraordinary.
Jake reached across to wipe the condensation from
the mirror; the mirror rippled. Jake halted, startled for an
instant then thought: get a grip, man, it's just the light play-
ing tricks on you. He forced his hand forward. Reaching
the mirror, his hand resisted almost imperceptibly before
continuing forward. "What the..." his apprehensions
increased, his hand crossed the membranous surface into
The time had come. The glowing form began its
descent towards the planet below, falling slowly then ac-
celerating; it entered the atmosphere, the clouds rushed by
then broke. The earth began to achieve detail, growing in
texture; hills and vales, rivers and streams emerged. Di-
4 p.m. Count Page 161
rectly below, the target became apparent as a great structure
surrounded by a shimmering lake. The structure grew in
detail revealing massive blocks and slabs of rock intricately
formed into a majestic imposing structure. Closer still and
finer details emerged; brick held together with aging mortar
filled the view and suddenly the light decelerated and made
Inside the fortress, the light descended further — at
times through solid stone, at others through great open
spaces. The levels passed, sounds and smells emerged ...fi-
nally an enormous room opened. The luminous presence
stopped, again the silent observer; it watched as the scene
played out below.
Thousands of candles arranged in descending rows
ran the length if the walls. Further in, two half circles of
candles served to highlight the action. The players: one
seated on a throne shrouded in darkness, the other suppli-
cant and prone before him. The dialogue began.
". . .they are attempting contact."
Back in our world, Jake was having an interesting
encounter with his medicine cabinet. "What the hell," Jake
jerked his hand out of the once solid surface. Like a pool of
water, the mirror rippled. His hand was wet and cool. He
stumbled back, and slipped on the wet tile; his head con-
tacted the towel rack; his eyes blurred, the room began to
waver, blood trickled from the base of his skull. Looking
out from unfocused eyes, as darkness filled his vision, Jake
began to lose consciousness.
Above the cavernous space, the glowing orb waited
and watched. A voice exploded from the throne with the
force of a natural disaster; the walls reverberated, and the
air thickened. It commanded the creature kneeling at its feet
to stand. The creature obeyed, slowly and deliberately as if
it knew that this action might be its last.
Again the voice flowed, deep and resonant yet less
harsh, like a silky rich syrup filling the cavernous space.
"You have done well, and you shall be rewarded." A hand
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appeared from beneath the flowing black robe occupy-
ing the magnificently constructed and grotesquely ornate
throne. The hand uncoiled revealing long tapered fingers.
They formed into a cup; mist began to swirl within its
grasp. The mist solidified and cleared into a perfect crystal
sphere. The hand rotated leisurely, and released the orb; it
dropped slowly, as through water, to the floor with a solid
ringing clink. The dark crystal rolled forward and pre-
sented itself at the feet of the now standing creature. The
creature twitched as if touched by an electric charge. The
voice from the throne spoke: "Bring him to me."
The creature bent, picked up the crystal sphere and
raised it to shiny black eyes. The creature inspected the
crystal slowly turning it over in its hands, gradually noting
every detail. Satisfied, it placed the crystal into a fold in
its robe. The creature bowed, was dismissed with a slight
nod from the throne, and turned. With surprising speed, the
creature dashed through the cathedral towards a tremendous
The glowing presence descended from the ceiling
Exiting the fortress, the creature entered a courtyard
and approached a pool of water. It produced the orb from
beneath its cloak and suspended it above the pool. The orb
fell from its grasp. Without a splash, it broke the surface of
the pool. A ripple flowed over the surface of the pool. After
years uncounted, the portal reopened.
* * *
Peering through watery eyes Jake regained con-
sciousness. He slowly climbed to wobbly legs; cobwebs
clearing, he wondering what had happened. Noticing that
he was still naked he began to dress. Slowly, dizzily, he
attempted to step into his jeans and almost fell again. He
thought that he had better sit down and he did.
Sitting on the closed toilet, he pulled on his jeans
and shirt. Still dazed but clearing he began to remember
the vanity mirror; something was wrong with the mirror.
4 p.m. Count Page 163
As he began to stand, he noticed with alarm that that was
not the only strange thing happening in his bathroom. The
full-length mirror previously mounted to the bathroom door
was gone. He stood staring at the hole where the mirror
used to be and realized that it was still there, only. ... He
read an article a while back that spoke of a company that
had created a pigment that was the blackest color on earth;
he wondered how it had gotten on his door. A crystal ball
dropped out of the void and rolled to a stop at Jake's feet.
Still dizzy and confused, now grasping for answers,
Jake froze, mind racing, unable to decide on a course of ac-
tion. Then, as if drawn by a force outside himself he began
to stoop, hand reaching toward orb. A shimmering light
burst from the blackened mirror and slammed into Jake's
hand knocking it away from the orb. He screamed.
On the other side of the glass, the creature knelt
before the pool and languidly touched the surface of the
newly opened portal. He had dreamed of this day; they
all had. A new world opened to them, and he was to be
the first messenger. How they would be surprised. Un-
fortunately, first he had to deal with the human. The other
side had been contacting him and now they were attempt-
ing to bring him across. A feeble attempt to gain ground.
He chuckled. Suddenly a flash of light streaked past him
and dove into the pool. The creature sprang to its feet and
shrieked a single word, "Sentinel!" before leaping into the
Adrenalin pumping, Jake swung his arms spasti-
cally at the flying shimmering ball of light. The sentinel
could not yet communicate with Jake but it also could not
allow him to surrender to the dark crystal. It dodged Jake's
blows, effortlessly buzzing around his head like a horse
fly around a hapless swimmer. Jake continued the attack,
frenzied arms flailing and whipping through the air, body
twisting, backs of legs contacting porcelain, falling....
Finally, his body reclining in the tub, arms spread,
legs in the air with the glowing orb hovering peacefully five
inches from his face, Jake's fear turned to anger.
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Staring at Jake, the sentinel could sense his emo-
tions. Anger was better than fear. Fear could paralyze and
it weakened resistance to the crystal. Jake had to react
quickly because he would soon to be faced with a choice.
As he struggled to get out of the tub the light
bounced in mid air, circled the room, hovered, and dis-
appeared into the mirror over the sink. Jake sat back in
shock. Suddenly, he noticed that directly across from him
a gruesome arm, like a cross between a silverback and
a beetle, had broken the surface of the blackened mirror
mounted on the door. Jake's fear returned. He struggled to
his feet, keeping his eyes riveted on the hideous birth.
The creature struggled as if climbing up from an
abyss, its arms reaching past the doorframe, veins and
sinewy muscle visible beneath the dark mottled skin. Jake
realized that he was trapped; he could not open the door
and there were no windows in the room. A strange feeling
began to rise up, threatening to take him into its embrace.
Jake thought this must be how animals feel before the fatal
blow. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep. A thought
broke his reverie. He remembered his arm entering the
mirror over the sink and the strange light doing the same.
He did not know what was on the other side of that mir-
ror but it couldn't be much worse than what was emerging
from this one. Jake made a choice.
Stepping onto the toilet bowl and across to the sink,
Jake had the surreal feeling that this was the end of his life.
He was correct and as he crossed into the world beyond, his
new life began.
4 p.m. Count Page 165
Behind These Walls
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Behind these walls
is a bitter old man.
Every day is the same.
Survival relying on routine.
He has been growing his beard
since the day he came in.
He will not shave
until the day he leaves.
An idle mind
is his happiest time.
Most of the time
he's thinking of a cheating wife; kids
he has not heard from in seven years.
Five years have passed since his mother died
that was the last time he's spoken on a phone.
Everyone is in his way,
everyone is to blame.
Behind these walls
is a scared boy
Barely the age of eighteen.
His mind races with questions
fears of the unknown.
Will his girlfriend write to him?
Is she still his girl?
How can he do five years?
A whole lifetime to him.
Here — he is surrounded — he is alone.
Where are the friends he protected?
He holds tears back each night
until the other three are asleep;
then lets them flow.
Only to make himself more frightened.
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Behind these walls
is a family man.
Doing a three piece for cheating his taxes.
The voice of his five-year-old daughter
still echoes in his head.
"Are you gonna come home soon, daddy?"
"No, sweetheart I'm not."
He continues the phone call
with a lump in his throat.
He tells his son
he wishes he could see the big game.
"I love you," he tells his wife
just as the timed phone call
hangs up on him.
She did not have time to respond,
six days to think about that.
He will call again next Sunday.
Behind these walls
is a street raised young man.
A gangster — mean to the bone.
A haunted aftertaste of childhood
is the fuel for his fire.
A weakness kept secret.
Considering himself king of the streets,
fronting problems by talking tough.
Every day he plans payback
on the rats that put him away.
No plans to change, only to get even.
Using each day of the next twelve years
to develop the perfect revenge.
Behind these walls
four men share a cell.
The four walls contain
Bitterness, Fear, Guilt, and Anger.
So many problems in such a small space.
Each man looks at the other in disgust.
4 p.m. Count Page 167
Too busy wallowing in his own problems
to help another — to help himself.
Each one considers his sentence a lifetime.
If they never open their eyes,
and look for answers
It might just be....
Page 168 4 p.m. Count
Don't Pass Me By by Dane Yirkovsky
4 p.m. Count
Don't Pass Me By
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
How could I keep walking by
when she's looking my way?
Her forbidden innocence attracts me,
our eyes meet.
Her purity -class.
The wild rebel she becomes.
I don't want answered.
the love she never knew existed;
until her heart was broken.
Her eyes searching
for someone to pacify her pain.
Longing to fly.
grasping my heart.
Lips that say,
"Don't leave me;
don't pass me by."
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Trapped On A Parking Lot
It's called a compound
this two-block radius,
but if I were to explain it,
I'd say I'm trapped on a parking lot.
The view is always the same:
green trees, bright flowers, tan khakis.
"Inmates" always coming or going,
the smell of compost from off in the distance.
Correctional officers looming,
resembling security in an airport.
Getting pat- searched constantly,
like I might be strapped to a bomb.
Nothing holding me back;
yet everything keeping me in.
Passer-by's staring from their SUVs and Camrys,
as if seeing a three-eyed circus freak crossing the street.
I'm just a normal person like you,
whose life took a turn for the worse.
Now I'm just trying to bide my time,
while being confined, trapped on this parking lot.
4 p.m. Count Page 171
I would like to share this personal and fearful story
that has been hunting me down ever since I started my
incarceration. I believe that this whole thing kicked in when
I was at Federal Medical Center in Rochester, MN. I was
doing time with a good friend of mine at F.M.C. Rochester
when I realized that this whole federal system is a small
world, separate from the outside, because the things that
happen within these walls — nobody knows about them.
After spending time at the State Penitentiary,
coming to a federal facility was not new to me. Prison
life — stabbings, fights, and trying to stay alive — was all
part of a mind game. In 2000, 1 arrived at this federal
prison, so I had an idea of what goes on in the yard. I
thought to myself this is it, another round of rough life for
me. But this ride was going to be different; I could feel it,
I could almost smell it in the air. I still remember my first
day at F.M.C. Rochester.
Upon arriving at this federal prison and walking
across the compound to my assigned housing unit, I noticed
a bunch of correctional officers running towards another
unit where they house the unmanageable people. Right
away my mind switched from being a regular guy to a more
defensive manner. It is a natural instinct for inmates to act
like this. I kept walking carefully to my newly assigned
housing unit. The prison had trees, green grass, and a
couple of benches for people to sit; it almost resembled
a college campus to me. As I was walking to my unit, a
couple of guys said "What's up" to me, and others just gave
me that prison look to see how soft I was, but since I was
not new to the system, I didn't pay too much attention to
I met my friend "Rob" out in the yard; he was not
old, but he looked old, probably because of his illness. He
Page 172 4 p.m. Count
had a couple of wrinkles in his face, but he couldn't be
more than forty-five. Although he had problems walking
around due to his sickness, we made it a daily routine to
meet in the yard after count. Not only did he introduce me
to the game of handball, but we also talked about family
matters. He would tell me about the family he left behind,
and I would just listen to his stories. After a few months
the conversation with "Rob" became more personal. He
would tell me how this time in prison destroyed everything
he had: wife, kids, and just about everyone he left behind.
I would tell him about my life too. One time he mentioned
that he was really sick; I mean I knew he was ill, but I
didn't know how serious it was until later when I learned
that people who lived in this one unit are all pretty sick, and
that is where my friend lived at that time. He also said that
there was a pretty good chance that he would die in prison.
I didn't know what to say to that other than to give him
words of encouragement, just like he did for me when I met
him out in the yard.
It was weird; I had a feeling that this prison was
going to be different right from the get-go. I have been
in different counties and state facilities, but never in a
federal prison let alone in a federal medical center. Life is
depressing in this prison mainly because all the inmates are
either sick or close to dying. I felt really bad after he had
told me about his illness, and reality set in on me after this
conversation. I was thinking to myself what I would do if
I was in "Rob's" shoes. I was twenty-nine when I came to
federal prison, and to this day I do not know what I would
do in a similar situation.
Doing time in F.M.C. Rochester was different from
the other prisons. They house these inmates that are really
crazy, and they have this floor that is called the "dead alley"
for a reason. So imagine dealing with this every day where
you see your friends one day, and they are gone the next;
it's very depressing.
My friend "Rob" died in prison, and I can only
imagine the pain that his family has endured. This is my
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fear, dying in prison; knowing that I could be him at any
given time and there is nothing I can do about it. I guess it
is true what they say, "Only the strong survive"!
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June 13, 2008
To the Students in Dr. Jim Reese's Writing
& Publishing Class, Federal Prison Camp,
First of all, thank you for the many kind words in your
letters. Coming to read for you was a pleasure, and I
enjoyed our subsequent discussion very much. I truly
appreciated your attentiveness, engagement, and numerous
I noticed in your letters that a number of you had questions,
issues, and concerns about subject matter: whether your
own stories, cultural backgrounds, etc. would be of interest
to readers. These are definitely valid concerns that most
writers deal with in one form or another. My advice is
that while you want to select and frame the best possible
materials/stories from your lives (if, indeed, you want
to write from personal experience), it is probably futile
to attempt to second-guess too much what will appeal
most to a literary audience. Instead of worrying so much
about whether your stories are of interest/appeal, perhaps
concentrate on the skill and quality with which you tell/
write your story. Creative non-fiction writer Scott Russell
Sanders wrote an entire book about limestone, and while
I think most readers might say, if asked beforehand, that
they were not particularly interested in limestone, the
book was so well-written that it was absolutely riveting.
Furthermore, some of you expressed concerns that your
backgrounds and stories might be too strange or unfamiliar
for literary audiences. Once again, these concerns are
absolutely understandable ~ I have them myself ~ but
I think that you need to set them aside, and simply tell
the stories that you feel most compelled to write. I
frequently tell my students that I think good literature
often accomplishes two completely disparate goals: (1)
opens a window into a completely unfamiliar experience
4 p.m. Count Page 175
or point of view, while (2) offering something within that
unfamiliar experience or point of view that the reader
can empathize with or relate to. Sometimes I think the
most unfamiliar or unexpected points of view can be most
effective particularly if there is something within that point
of view that the reader can also connect with in some form
A number of you also had questions about creating sound
and rhythm in poetry. My advice here is to always, always,
always read your poetry out loud. Read your fiction out
loud as well, because you want those sentences to be
rhythmically sound and well-formed, too. Learn to listen
to your work. Become more sensitive to individual words,
to assonance and consonance, to line breaks. Let your ear
become an important guide in your writing process.
I was pleased while visiting that you asked about poets
to read, and in case I forgot to mention it to you at the
time, read as much as you can, and read as widely as you
can. Perhaps this is one of the easiest and most significant
ways to learn more about writing, and to teach yourself to
become a better writer.
Of course, the writing business is extremely difficult and
competitive, and I hope our discussions in that regard didn't
come across as too discouraging. I think it's very important
that writers understand very clearly what challenges they
are facing — particularly since most writers must figure
out how they will support themselves financially while
continuing to practice their art. But as one of my mentors,
poet David Wojahn told me, practicing the art of writing
under these numerous types of adversity is "ennobling." I
would agree completely, and add that even in the absence
of tangible fiscal rewards, the possibilities for intellectual,
philosophical, spiritual, psychological, and artistic growth
are invaluable rewards in and of themselves. Furthermore,
on a more practical level, the facility in written and
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verbal communication skills that arises from a sustained
engagement with the writing life can be invaluable in any
professional endeavor, I believe. And finally, your writing
is something that is uniquely your own . . . something that
can never be taken away from you.
I wish you all the very best in your writing adventures, and
in your lives!
Lee Ann Roripaugh
4 p.m. Count Page 177
Love comes softly,
love comes quick,
love comes unexpectedly,
and love can be slick.
Love can give you happiness
and love can make you ill,
but love, in the end,
you just feel.
When you find who love is —
make sure you show them
you are real.
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Father and Son
Inmates were doing some yard work and overheard
a father and son conversation while they were walking by
the prison camp, gazing.
SON: Dad, can we go to the park over there?
FATHER: Son, that is not a park; it is a place where they
send bad people.
SON: Why is the grass always trimmed; the trees are neat
and the flowers are beautiful?
FATHER: Because the bad people cut the grass short, trim
the trees, and plant the flowers.
SON: They have a sandbox to play volleyball, a full
basketball court, and even a track.
FATHER: Son, if you want to play in the sand, I can take
you to a park with a playground.
SON: Wow, is that an obstacle course with wall and poles
to climb? They have a monkey bar, pull up bar, dip bar,
and they even have a horseshoe pit and a bocce court.
FATHER: Son, you can do all that at the park, they have
all that, plus a swing and a winding slide, but I do not think
they have a horseshoe pit or a bocce court!
SON: What is that building over there with the big bell and
FATHER: That is a chapel for bad people to go to church.
SON: What is that round building over there that looks like
FATHER: That is a place for them to go eat.
SON: What is that building over there that looks like a
dome? Is that a softball field?
FATHER: That is a gym for them to go work out and yes,
that is a softball field next to it.
SON: Wow, they even have their own Tonka tractor and
backhoe to play with!
FATHER: That is for them to move dirt and snow around or
4 p.m. Count Page 179
dig a hole for plumbing work.
SON: What else do they do there?
FATHER: They do electrical work, heating, ventilation,
along with air-conditioning, and they even do landscape
SON: What is landscape design?
FATHER: It is designing an area with flowers, shrubs, and
trees for it to look appealing.
SON: Why do bad people get to live in such a nice place?
FATHER: Yes, it looks like a nice place; however, I do not
think you want to live there.
SON: Do they have to pay a membership to live there?
FATHER: No, they just have to break the law and the judge
will send them there.
SON: So, did those bad people hurt or murder anybody?
FATHER: No, all those bad people committed a non- violent
crime; that is a federal offense.
SON: What is a federal offense?
FATHER: An example would be if I destroyed a mailbox; it
would be a federal offense because it is federal property.
SON: How do you know so much about that place and bad
people? Have you been there?
FATHER: When you get older, you just know all this stuff.
SON: Well, how do you know all this stuff if you have
never been there?
FATHER: Just stop. . . .Stop it right now! That is a prison,
a place for bad people and you do not want to live there.
SON: Sorry, I did not mean to get you upset, but it looks
like such a nice place to live. I mean they have almost
everything there, except for a swing and a winding slide!
FATHER: Okay son. I have been there and it is not a place
you want to live; take my word for it because I know from
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Mario G. Covington
During a dream, a distinguished man said to me,
"Do you care?" I thought about this unusual question
before I answered; then I said, "Yes, I care!" The man then
replied, "What do you care about?" I said: "I care about
water pollution, our soldiers in Iraq, poverty — I care about
life. As I professed, the stranger's face slowly came into
view. It was like reading the letters on the board at the
doctor's office with one eye covered. Suddenly, I could no
longer hear him talk, but I could feel his presence. I felt
what he was saying. He really wanted to know what I cared
"I care about bettering my life while in prison. I
care about me. I care about the pain that I've caused so
many people by selling drugs. I care about the four years of
birthdays, holidays, school activities, that I have missed in
my sons' lives. These four years I'll never get back. I can't
refund them, nor can I make up for them. This time has
passed away like a carnival that goes from town to town."
Now that I think about it, did I really care, about
my children, my family? Did I really care about the pain
that I would cause everyone? Did I care about this missing
void? The more I spoke, the stranger's face became
familiar. I then realized that yes, I cared, but I didn't
care enough! At that moment his face was so close to my
face that I could've kissed him. I could smell the aura of
pain, loneliness, drugs, alcohol, stupidity, and the prison
toothpaste. I now saw him clearly in the mirror.
4 p.m. Count Page 181
Thoughts from an Imprisoned Father
Mario G. Covington
As I lie on this double bunk-bed, in this sixteen-
man dorm room, where it's the size of a master bedroom,
or if one breathes everyone smells your breath, I think of
the past. I think of that warm June day, a day that has been
forever engraved in my heart. Seeing all eight pounds, four
ounces of you, when you were born, brought tears of joy to
I fall asleep thinking of the first steps you took; how
mama stood you up and I called you to me; I said: "Come
to daddy," and you wobbled to me like a drunken man, then
you fell into my arms. Remembering this moment brings a
smile to my heart.
I began to think of your first day of school. Hearing
your unstable, nervous voice, as you sniffled out the words:
"I. . .don't. . .wanna. . .go!" I remember taking your hand,
like I was rescuing a drowning man and I said: "It's going
to be all right son, daddy's with you, always!"
I then wake to the sounds of the intercom at six-
thirty in the morning telling me that it's time for breakfast.
I feel sad and gloomy because I don't get to see your face.
I can't walk you to school, nor can I help you with your
homework. Most importantly, I don't get to say, "I love
you!" My soul feels empty like a pillow without feathers,
or a balloon that has lost its air.
Being away from you is a pain that is unbearable.
But knowing that you, my son, are always with me — I
can sustain through the negativity of this prison life. I can
understand the pain of the other fathers that are missing
their sons as I miss you.
I can smile upon the late night counts that are done
with a flashlight being shone in my face awakening me out
of my dreams of you, because I am with you, and you are
with me, "Always."
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Through the Viewfinder...
Joe Cavallaro III
I see the opposites in behavior
while taking pictures in the visiting room
of this prison camp.
The camera's viewfinder is a porthole to a side
of you I don't recognize.
Here, I see you around the ones you love.
You're a different person than I
know on the yard. . . .
Your child in your arms, and your
wife's tears on your khaki shirt —
an unusual nervousness about you.
A smile persists
the hours you spend here.
Moments of awkward silence
avoided to bury the thought of
going separate ways again.
The visit ends and you sit there
with a slack-jawed, glaze-eyed look of
a satisfied junkie.
What I saw through the viewfinder
when I took your picture,
I will not see on the yard.
You transform again.
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Relapsing with a Photo
Michael 'Mac' Clennon
Digging through a box of old photos
to fill the empty bulletin board resting over my bed.
While flipping through the memories,
I find a 20-year-old staring back at me.
A Bud Light in my hand and glazed eyes.
As my eyes meet the eyes in the picture,
I suddenly experience the same euphoria.
Lost in the flashback — I finally break free.
I turn my head away — trails follow.
I crutch my stance, overwhelmed with
a sensation that has been long forgotten.
A deep breath calms my racing heart.
Voices echo in my head,
"Mushrooms make me yawn."
Reality crashes upon me,
I am an addict — I am still haunted.
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Christmas in Prison... One More Time
Joe Cavallaro III
Three years down, one more to go,
I was told it would be rough, so I'm letting you know.
The first year was slow, it seemed like ten,
my freedom was distant, I couldn't see when.
Twelve months passed, and it still remained tough,
as I counted the days, it was never enough.
I felt so distant, so torn away,
I needed to focus and find a new way.
I began to get busy trying to make do,
missing my family, my time with you.
Reading books and improving my health,
thoughts of a future with possible wealth.
At twenty-four months, something came clear,
the need to learn as my future grew near.
I enrolled in college — a business degree,
children to support — money needed from me.
I'm making improvements and things will get better,
I'll keep you posted with every letter.
My love for you grows through all of this time,
and with help from God, I'll live down this crime.
Thirty-six months, I've counted them down,
eighteen to go in this final round.
Semester break is here and my mind is growing,
its Christmas again, and outside it's snowing.
One more time, I'm reminded inside,
six more seasons to wrap up this ride.
Just stay busy, do well in class,
I will come home, this time will pass.
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The man I'll be when I return,
the dignity and trust I'll earn.
Cognitive thinking and the absence of crime,
I'm almost there. . Just one more time. ...
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A BRIEF REUNION
Absolutely beautiful! Pat is tall and slender —
more petite than I remember her. More than five years
have passed since our last encounter.
I'm sure the look of excitement tells the tale of how I've
The scene is anything but uncomfortable. Her hazel-green
eyes, tan stomach, soft pouty lips, the curves on her 5 '7"
frame are stunning — breathtaking.
Holding her, kissing her, is intoxicating — she makes my
heart sing and ache. Emotions absolutely engulf me.
Her thoughts about seeing me? If you knew her — she'd
Overwhelming fear of her answers to the many questions I
I dream of the future — our future.
Can we work things out? Would she try? Could we try?
Scottie wonders what will become of his mother and
Only time can tell. I pray her love for me returns.
4 p.m. Count Page 187
A NEW BEGINNING
I picture everyone as they were: a newborn and a teenager.
Nieces and nephews, no more than chest high.
Everyone healthy, my Grandma still alive.
My Dad active, not on his death-bed, emphysema
threatening to take his life.
Myself being a thirty-year-old, still a young adult.
Instead I'm closer to forty, pushing middle age.
My youngest turning six, while my oldest is of drinking
Nieces and nephews have grown like weeds;
still wondering about the uncle they never really knew.
It's all coming to an end; a long road is what it has been.
Looking forward to the reunion, and hoping it isn't
I guess it's a chance at a new beginning;
introducing the new man I've become; a college graduate, a
It's almost scary when I stop and think about it.
But it's a challenge for myself, all the same.
A chance to obtain my goals, fulfill my dreams.
To make my family proud, to be the man I should be.
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I've spent your first six years here in prison, away from
But oh, how I've watched you grow, one picture at a time.
When you were a babe, I never held you the way your
mother is holding you here,
her hand on your bottom, your head on her shoulder,
looking at the camera, at me.
In this picture you're older. I think you were three.
You took a popsicle break from swimming. Your golden-
blond hair is wet and stringy,
your tongue dyed blue — blue like your eyes and your
This one is my favorite. Grandma brought you to visit.
You're five, not yet too old to sit on my lap like you are.
We had a good time that day, playing, coloring, and telling
Before you left I picked you up, hugged your body and
kissed your face.
Then I watched you leave.
It hasn't been easy, being away from you.
We haven't bonded the way father and daughter should
We've bonded through pictures, and I know each and every
one of them,
perhaps, more than I know you.
I only wish I could have held you, swam with you, left this
place with you, and loved you, the way I've loved pictures,
4 p.m. Count Page 189
Dear Dr. Jim, Joe, Juan, Josh, Hung, Mario,
Lee, Jason, Brandon, Ryan, Justin, Isaac,
Fermin, Dane, and Michael, et al.
I was delighted with your letters. Thank you. You
made my day and gave me the excuse to take a day off and
think about your questions. I'll try to answer some of them,
using my iron-clad-tentative logical formula of whim,
caprice, and energy, lumping them into a squatch whenever
I can. If I get overly professional, either ignore, indulge, or
forgive me, por favor.
Okay, my beginning remarks will be in reference
to your comments or questions on the pig poems. First,
however, I want to set the Porcine Canticles in time. I wrote
those poems around 35 years ago. I was a young professor
straight out of graduate school with a PhD in 1 7 th century
British literature, having the beginning of a lifetime love
affair with John Milton and Paradise Lost. I think those
poems represent my alter ego: the person I was, the person
I thought then I'd given up to become the person I thought I
wanted to be. The voice, then, was a vestige of the past.
Those poems are from the oral, bardic tradition:
they are more designed to be heard than read. They have
their roots in the most ancient of literary traditions, the
narrative. The oldest extant poem we have — and it's one
every one of us should read and re-read — is the Epic of
Gilgamesh. It's around 8,000 years old, and it's narrative,
i.e. story form. Narrative poetry, then, has been around over
7,500 years longer than short stories or novels. I took two
ancient poets as mentors: Aeschylus — the "Father of Greek
Tragedy" — and Homer — the greatest oral poet who ever
lived. Aeschylus invented, so we think, the "deuteroganist,"
or 2 nd actor. Prior to Aeschylus, drama was monologue:
a single speaker (or reciter). Aeschylus gave us dialogue,
i.e. literary participation. Homer gave us the oral epic, or
tales of men and the gods written in the vernacular, i.e.
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common speech. I followed the voice and narrative he
developed in the Odyssey \ a tale of adventure, hyperbole
(wild exaggeration) and grand lies and humor. The author
of the Odyssey had spent a great deal of time on a pig farm
(as I had in my boyhood) — pigs and swine are omnipresent
in that tale. He knew his subject matter and what he was
Item: for 35 years much attention has been given
to the opening poem, "Loading a Boar." That poem is
balanced by the following poem, "Behold," which is an
allusion to Odysseus coming out of the sea with an oar over
his shoulder, heading back to his farm, with its pigs. Here
the "hero'Vprotagonist comes out of his shed into an ocean
of heat waves with buckets of pig feed in his hands, going
out to meet the day, singing, (canticles = songs)
So, I chose an ancient, time honored format: the
story-poem laced with character, action, hyperbole and
humor, but instead of using Homer's dactylic hexameter
or the iambic pentameter of tragedy (i.e. fixed, regular
rhythms), I used the language and rhythm of my subject
matter: the somewhat profane, open form vernacular, that I
thought matched my agrarian setting.
Many of you asked specifically about my lines
and lack of punctuation. I wanted the poems to follow the
rhythms of speech and physical work. Because I wanted
dialogue rather than monologue, I sublimated my narrator
to his friend/partner/alter-ego John. The poems take place
as they work, play, and sometimes drink together. Item:
during the writing of this book, I began a ten year process
of quitting smoking and beginning long distance running.
That process is reflected in the poem's lines. In the early
poems, the lines are short — they're based on breath, and
they reflect my lack of breath because I smoked heavily,
(three packs a day, thanks to my hitch in the US Army).
When I began running and cutting back, the lines grew
4 p.m. Count Page 191
longer — to the point that my editor had to make me re-line
several of the poems or change the format of the book. So,
what I'm trying to accomplish is the creation/re-creation of
speech uttered in action. Listen to yourselves in dialogue
while working or exercising: sentences don't break with
commas, semi-colons or periods, they break with breath.
That's what I wanted these lines to reflect. I also wanted
the line breaks (and sometimes stanza breaks) to serve as
punctuation. Key: my goal was the oral effect, or, creation
of audience (i.e. reader) participation. By reading the
poems aloud, they are brought to life.
Okay, I've probably belabored the point, so I'll quit
there — on that — for now, but will be happy to entertain
Several of you asked about my seven year break
from writing narrative work. At the risk of offending, I'll
answer. Eight years ago it became obvious who the next
U.S. President (and V.P.) would be. There are many of
us — many, many, writers — who looked into the future
with Samuel Tayor Coleridge's anticipation of "holy
dread." I am an animist: I believe the earth is alive and
holy. I do not believe the purpose of life is the making of
money and accumulation of wealth. I rightly feared that
the forthcoming administration would propagate the worst
environmental (and economic) disaster in the history of
our nation. I fell into depression and my stories — and my
humor — left me. The muse who spoke to me insisted that I
write poems and books expressing my sacred and spiritual
views. That is what I attempted in So Quietly The Earth
and my new manuscript Stone Wind Water. However, we're
coming to the end of the nightmare. I look at these years
the same way I read The Old Testament story of Joseph in
Egypt: 7 years of plenty, 7 years of famine. I celebrate the
end of famine by returning to joy: story, laughter, hope.
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John is/was a real man: John Sims from Yazoo City,
Miss. All characters are based on reality — the human mind
is incapable of imagining that which it has not directly or
indirectly experienced. Most characters are amalgamations,
i.e. patchwork quilts from people we've known, tossed
together, stirred, and reworked.
Advice for young writers: Never forget, reading is
at least half the act of writing, and remember what Mark
Twain said, "He who will not read good books has no
advantage over he who reads no books." Then Write. Write
as much as you can, as often as you can. Treat it like play:
we'll kill ourselves for play, won't we?
Here's my translation of a Chinese poem:
The plan is the work
The work is joy, play
Wherein reside silence and song
Side by side, lighting the way.
Writing begets writing, and (the old cliche) practice makes
perfect. I could go on on this topic for an hour.
What did I mean by "I don't believe in a God who
frowns?" Hung, some people need to believe in dragons
and fearful gods. I don't like Confucius, I'm not at all
concerned with judgment by divinity or afterlife — my
concentration is on daily generous living: Buddha called it
"joyful participation in a world of sorrow." My god loves
joy and laughter.
Yes, Brandon, I had an audience in mind when I
wrote these poems (and strongly believe all writers should
have an audience in mind when they write). I knew my
audience would be small, as we are not a nation of poetry
readers. I wanted to expand that audience by showing a few
people that, yes, you, i.e. "they," too can read, understand,
4 p.m. Count Page 193
write, and maybe even like poetry. Poetry is my approach
to the religion/way of life I've chosen. My goal was/is to
leave the world I love a better place than it was when I
came to it. If I can leave two readers or poets where before
there was one, I have succeeded.
Justin, we all try to write better as we go. We hope
we learn and get better with each piece of writing we
accomplish. But that can be a curse if we ask too much of
ourselves. My advice is to set goals or standards that you
are comfortable with. Don't try to write something "great."
Instead, try to write something you like, that you can take
pride in. Do that and you will progress naturally. The first
8 (or 80 or 800) curve balls you tried to throw didn't move
an inch. Then, one day, wow: it broke. By god, it broke.
Writing works like that. Keep at it, you'll get better. Life as
a whole goes a lot that way.
Fermin, Copper Canyon Press got its name from
the Bingham Copper mines outside Salt Lake City. Your
Copper Canyon is far more beautiful.
I'm out of paper and out of energy. But: would I
come and read my poems for you? You betcha. I'd love to
meet you guys. Take good care of yourselves.
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Its back is curved like a rattler poised to strike, but
the baby squirrel isn't to be feared. It lies limp, dead, or
maybe just playing opossum instead. In the jaws of the
larger squirrel turned cannibal or dominant male that looks
right and left to protect its catch as it tightly walks along
the ledge. It can't be a taste for blood. The little fur ball
must have been trying to escape — a sense of rebelliousness.
Maybe the larger squirrel was a bad mother out scampering
late that arrived home to find her little furry acorn miss-
ing. She must have searched in vain to find him not too far
away, stuck in a snow-covered lilac bush chattering out her
name. She must have found him, taken him in her jaws,
and scampered up the drain pipe towards the four-inch gap
Later that day, I found out I was wrong — a bad
mother she's not. She labored all day; moving her four
precious children one by one back to their birthing place.
She jumped the gun — how could she have known? That on
April 25th, two hours of sleet, five inches of unexpected
snow with thirty-degree weather would have frozen them
cold. She labored all day, not stopping to eat, clenching her
dependents between her teeth, carrying them back to the
front porch eave. A good mother — she was dedicated like
4 p.m. Count Page 195
"This is it 55
Joe Cavallaro III
For so long, the days have
progressed into years.
A collection of weeks and months
that have given and taken so.
As the minutes tick away today,
Joys and fears intertwined so tightly;
I can barely unravel.
Many long term friendships will bridge today,
and knowing some will matter not.
Detaching myself from the reality I know
and blissfully re-entering the society I was
torn from so long ago.
Obstacles to hurdle,
time to make up,
and changes to enforce.
I got this!
Today, after so long, I'm going back home. . .
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Vlonys To \j|
lievrjnTheOenuty of Their Drvams
Back Row: Lee Dagostini, Michael Jackson,
Fermin Venzor, Juan Zuniga, Jason Davis, Justin Bollig,
Mario Covington, Justin Brooks, Josh Harvey,
Brandon Buster, Ryan Nordstrom
Left Front: Hung Dao, Joe Cavallaro III, Josh Hurst
Front Center: Isaac Searcy, Michael Clennon,
Right Front: Scott Kirk, Todd Bowlin
4 p.m. Count
Justin Bollig is 30 years old and comes from a small town
in western Kansas called Hays. He grew up in the Middle
East, where Justin lived in such countries as Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Justin has
attended Fort Hays State University and Johnson County
Community College. Justin plans on returning to school
upon his release and being the best possible father that he
can be to his 4-year-old son Dylan.
Todd Bowlin was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas.
He is the father of two boys, Kavin and Cameron. Currently
he is pursuing an Associate Degree in Business at Mount
Marty College, in Yankton, South Dakota.
Justin Brooks, Federal Inmate 18195-047, is not just
another number. He has acquired an Associate of Science
Degree in Horticulture from Mount Marty College in
Yankton, South Dakota, and loves telling the stories of his
adventuresome childhood. Justin is currently working on a
few new stories that carry the same light-hearted tone.
Brandon W. Buster was born and raised in Muscatine,
Iowa, a small quaint town nestled on the Mississippi
River. He graduated from the University of Iowa with B.S.
degrees in Mathematics and Economics. Brandon returned
to Muscatine after graduation and started an Insurance and
Financial Services business.
Joe Cavallaro III is serving an eighty-seven month sentence
for Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine, and
currently resides at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton,
South Dakota. Prior to his incarceration, he was active
in the workforce as a member of the United Steelworkers
of America. His foundry career continued for over
seventeen years as a crane operator and truck driver. After
entering the Bureau of Prisons, he enrolled in Mount
Marty College to pursue an Associate of Arts in Business
Degree. As a late bloomer in parenting, at the age of 37
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the miracle of having children and obtaining strong family
values has awakened his outlook towards the future. He
states, "I'm convinced that my mistakes have created
the avenues needed to improve my life." In addition to a
successful future, he has plans of assembling a memoir for
Michael 'Mac' Clennon is a 27-year-old representing
Rochester, MN. He has an Associate of Science Degree
in Horticulture from Mount Marty College. Upon release
he plans to pursue his Bachelor's Degree while enjoying,
appreciating, and loving life. Mac's writings are inspired
by his environment, family, friends, nature, and life
experiences. His greatest influences include: classic
literature, film, and music, as well as his college instructors
Mario G. Covington attends Mount Marty College where
he's pursuing an Associate of Arts in Business. He's also
pursuing a career in writing novels and poetry. He resides
in Chicago, Illinois, with his six children.
Hung Dao was born and raised in Stockton, California;
he dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen and
moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. He worked at Kawasaki
Motors Manufacturing plant at night as a powder coating
technician, and later worked at his auto/body mechanic
shop during the day. Since his incarceration at FPC
Yankton, he received his G.E.D. but his intuition keeps
telling him that it was just the commencement of his
essential education. Thanks to Mount Marty College he
received Associate Degrees in Business and Accounting.
Lee Dagostini loves Las Vegas.
Jason E. Davis was born and raised in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
He has one daughter, Rylie K Davis. He is currently
pursuing an Associate Degree in Business from Mount
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Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota.
Joshua Harvey has an Associates of Arts in Business
Administration from Mount Marty College, thanks to the
support of his Grandmother Mary Tippit.
Josh Hurst was born in Sacramento, California, but at the
age of three he was moved into the rural Ozark Mountains
of southwest Missouri. Josh is a proud father of three. He
is an outdoor enthusiast and loves to spend as much of his
spare time as possible in the great outdoors. Josh is currently
enrolled in Mount Marty College where he is pursuing an
Associate Degree in Business.
Michael Jackson was born and raised in Los Angeles,
California. His family is currently living in North Platte,
Nebraska. He enjoys reading motivational and spiritual
books in his spare time when he's not working in a
warehouse or oil refinery as a boilermaker.
Scott R. Kirk is 37 years old and was raised in Dubuque,
Iowa. He is a father of three boys: 6, 10 and 21 years
old. Scott received his Associate Degree in Business
Administration from Mount Marty College in 2007, as
well as a certificate in accounting, office management,
and parenting. Scott hopes to earn his Bachelor's Degree
in Social and Behavioral Science with the intention of
pursuing a career working with juveniles in detention
or group home settings; he hopes his lengthy past with
the law will enable him to relate to and help kids that are
straying down the wrong path in life.
Ryan Nordstrom was born and raised in Fargo, North
Dakota. He has received an Associate of Science in
Horticulture Degree from Mount Marty College in Yankton,
South Dakota. He enjoys writing and has started work on
his memoir to be titled "The Mask of Death: A Story of an
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Isaac Searcy was raised on a dairy farm outside of
Callender, Iowa. He graduated from Mount Marty College,
Yankton, S.D. with an Associate of Arts Degree in Business
Administration and an Associate of Science Degree in
Horticulture. Isaac often writes of his rural upbringing and
personal experiences with the great outdoors.
As a child Fermin Venzor lived south of the Rio Grande
with his grandparents in La Paz, a small town in the heart
of the Sierra Madre located in Chihuahua, Mexico. He
later went to live with his mother in Juarez, across the
border from El Paso, Texas. At the age of six he returned
to the United States with his mother. He lives with his
wife and three boys in Peyton, Colorado where he breeds
thoroughbred and quarter horses for racing. He embraces
the western heritage and vaquero way of life. He hopes
to one day breed the fastest horses on earth and win both
Triple Crowns (thoroughbred as well as quarter horse). This
is his first published piece.
Dane Yirkovsky was born and raised in Cedar Rapids,
Iowa; he worked in the construction field as a drywall
finisher after attending trade school. A change in career led
him to working in Yellowstone National Park and various
ski resorts as he traveled around the country. This way of
life — being adventurous, fighting many battles and rescuing
beauties — is what made him come alive. In the past seven
years he's extended his journey using his talents in teaching
Pencil Portrait Drawing classes.
Juan A. Zuniga was born in the state of Texas and lived in a
border town while growing up. He is pleased to say that he
has been raised with two cultural backgrounds, American
and Mexican, which he is very proud of. He is in love with
art in general, especially drawing. He is thirty-eight years
old and loves tattoos.
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