Tonight I'd like to continue the spring offerings by posting some flash fiction and poetry by Maryland poet Will Mayo. His stories provide something for every mood.
The thing Joan loved about her Alfred (whom she always called Alf, it was her pet name for him) was his talk. The way sentences tended to fall from his mouth like salmon on their return to their spawning grounds. Or like the ocean tides, if you will, under the pull of that mighty moon in the night sky. Sometimes Alfred would let loose whole reams of Greek grammar during a night’s lovemaking, and upon reaching that penultimate moment, would cry out, “Ah, Aeschylus!” It was a picture that his students never saw during his unending lectures (he often went over the appointed time, not that his pupils ever minded). Not that she would ever tell, she thought with a slight smile tilting her lips. About that and all other matters she was as quiet as a titmouse.
Even after his early onset prostate cancer necessitated an end to their earthly delights, his words filled her up in ways his sizeable rod no longer could. They entered through every orifice, whether ear or lips or into that sacred place so central to every marriage. He had a gift for words that no man, save himself, could ever master.
But then late one autumn evening, her own Professor Eckstein was lying there in bed, repeating the brave Ulysses’s oratory to himself in a fitful slumber, when a terrible stroke struck him speechless as blood flowed from his nose and tears streamed from his eyes. Joan, taken with his suffering, held his thin body in her arms and shook him, saying “What, Alf? No talk?” over and over again as his mouth opened and closed in useless attempts to utter a single word. Then as he slipped from her grasp and his head hit the floor, he died without a single vowel to call his own.
Finally, at the funeral Mass when his body lay there in his casket surrounded by all of the Prof Eckstein’s dissertations, his widow Joan was asked to say a few words about her dearly departed. Ever so shy about the matter, she approached the lectern with one slow shuffling step after another, and then parted her lips whereupon the hesitation of the gathered mourners, the formerly quiet lady from Plymouth uttered a surprise thesis on the life of her beloved. She gave forth chapters on their courtship in the schoolyards of Harvard followed by a volume or two on the birth of their firstborn son. The congregation sat speechless while she gave forth whole libraries on the subject of their life together and then too centuries’ worth of scholarship concerning Professor Eckstein’s theories on arcane civilizations and here and there a shelf on the birth of Atlantis or the sacking of Rome. When at last the dowdy woman left the podium, the assembled gathering left aside the decorum of the moment, took to their feet and, one after another, cried out, “Bravo! Bravo!” It was as if the old Eckstein spirit was back among them. And who was to say that Alfred himself was not then roaming the halls of the giant cathedral ready to talk the good talk all over again?
I had to listen,
one foot on the ground,
to a friend's burial ground.
It had a ticking sound
like the sound of a clock
which has eased past its final hour.
It had the brushing of leaves
upon autumn's last wind.
the scraping of hands
upon flesh and bone.
Waiting just one final second
for one more life.
When at last I turned away
his final resting place in the sand,
I,well, I could've sworn.
Was it the tap of an ill-breath'd wind?
Was it Stephen's last gasp upon his grave?
Or was it the rope,
one mile away,
still swinging in a foul air?
I knew not.
And yet I wonder.
For the wind blows still.
EDGE OF NIGHT
The sun rests upon the horizon, just below Luna’s golden disk, and rabbits, squirrels (birds, too) have departed for their sleep, leaving the raven, that otherworldly creature, to issue its final call. The hosts of the house have departed for their evening stroll, as the man below, deep in the confines of that hollowed room, begins to stir.
He opens his eyes, stares out at the canopy of night beyond the basement shutter and begins that awful stroll once more. Back and forth with the pace of one who is quite unwound; then, at last, one foot after another upon the stairs he begins to wander.
When he places himself under the moon’s old glare, he grins that old yellow nicotine smile. It is time to dream.
Will S. Mayo
There’s something about the night that gets in my blood, gets me going like no other time of the day can. It’s the fall of footsteps on a hardwood floor, creaky with age, of a soul trying vainly to wake up the dead (as if he could); it’s a night owl’s hoot at the passersby; it’s a lover’s sigh on a pillow left untended by time. And, oh, yes, it’s these, too: staying awake all night, cowering by a candle or a night lamp while held in suspense by the horror of a ghost story, told one last time; tossing and turning in a dream that transports one to a kingdom won and lost for the sake of a bride unencumbered by the serpent at the door; and, of course, waking up to a bleary-eyed dawn that only Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci could imagine in all its beauty. Damn it, I do love that night.
Will S. Mayo
The raven swoops down from the sky much as an eagle or a falcon might do in the wild, save that the raven’s own wilderness is the stand of trees and bushes existing amongst the countless A-frames of suburbia. His prey all that would try to survive the devils of 5 o’clock road traps and bureaucrats whose pastime is a mousetrap or two. The bird dips down into the trees, rustling branches around him. He is out of his habitat, yet quite at home among the orioles and robins that form the lens for the watchers at soccer mom matches and kids whose only act of violence is the Saturday morning cartoons.
The bird seizes first a bluejay’s offspring, driving his beak deep into the throat of a crying chick before dropping her into the customary bath to soften up tomorrow’s dinner. Next up, a field mouse is swallowed whole by a passing dip of the predator’s wings. While the bugs that dwell between the grasses and bushes that Old Man Rogers just trimmed make a fine after dinner snack.
When the raven’s belly is full and he finds himself somehow content to let the sparrow pass before him he lifts his purple-black body to the sky and lets out a mighty “Caw!” that sends even the hardiest crow scurrying in his wake.
All are silent before the sentinel’s watchful eye. In the distance the sun sets on the rows of trees making their last stand before the bulldozer. A paper shuffles in the wind and then becomes still.
Notes On A Man Made Mad
Will S. Mayo
His light shined with a certain brilliance, like the comet that lit the way for William’s conquering armies or perhaps, if you would have it, the moons of Jupiter on a starlit evening when all the world should ponder the mysteries of the universe. He dined at the finest cafes, wore the most dapper clothes, published in the best journals of the day. All the town fathers loved him and looked to him for advice whenever a problem should arise. For the man had a fancy to him, that could not be denied. The way, for instance, he would sit out of doors at some table with a bottle of Chardonnay making a toast to the passersby. And, taking pen in hand would compose a sonnet to a matron across the way. Or maybe a tale fit to be told to an audience of his betters. He could not help but be acclaimed by the counsel of his peers.
And then…something happened. His clothes became ragged, his speech full of filthy words, the words on his sheet filled with ill sounding rhymes. It was not so much as if his light had become extinguished as, rather, tarnished by some inner demon which no one could understand. The town fathers tired of him, as did the matrons who had once graced his table.
Finally, when someone inquired as to what had become of him, he turned his eyes to the faraway sky, eyed the spires and minarets of the city and a crow, which flew to the last horizon. “What matters is not where I’ve been but where I’ve yet to go.” With that, he turned his back and spoke no more as the stars of the evening sank into the sea.
Let me post some music before the thunderstorm comes too close.
As it turns out, Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana" means song of the trees, and you find quite a few trees in Will Mayo's work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cytUz9KkK9M
Here is his Swahiland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMS9SGtIy6g
I also want to add some women in jazz. I will feature Billie Holiday tonight as her 100th birthday was just the other day.
Let's start with her "Gloomy Sunday": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUCyjDOlnPU&index=1&list=PLd9lCAsBE0w4M4Hx1c0Xb6ohboVuNRPRk
This "Good Morning Heartache" is live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvDZOX9IdKs
I'll finish with her "Solitude": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4eXV1FYNc4