Minuteman

They tell stories about the outlaw, how he shot his father to death when he was only two years old—

“Just grabbed that gun out of his belt and shot him clean through the heart, pew, and him just barely old enough to walk.”

How he carried that gun in his own belt ever after, waiting for some child of his own to pull it out and drill him through the heart—

“Penance, they call it, but I say insurance that he’ll never have a kid. A reminder to always pull out, always keep his wits about him; the stakes are too high.”

How he shot a girl in church one time, shot her dead through a wall as he adjusted his belt coming out of a bathroom—

“Death in his veins, that one, death that lands on anyone foolhardy enough to come near him. You don’t blame a rattler for biting, do you?”

How he fell in love at last and had a child of his own, a boy that he loved more than life itself, and how he shot that boy dead in a shooting range teaching him how to shoot—

“Such a tragedy! Who could have predicted anything like that? A million to one chance, the heat of the barrel— the flinch— the ricochet— they say the boy was even more of a crackshot than his dad. Such a shame.”

How life went on, somehow— but at that point he passes out of history and into legend.

Epicycles

Even though he knows what’s coming, Paris thrills to put the apple into Aphrodite’s outstretched hand for the millionth time. His soul shivers with the contact, and he grins moonishly in her immobile face. Hera and Athena depart, muttering darkly, as they always do. “You have chosen well,” his goddess murmurs.

Hector takes up his arms again, and laughs joyously at his onrushing death and degradation. He is at the shore of Acheron before his cast off body has completed its first and latest round. “You again!” barks Cerberus. “How do you keep getting out?”

Alexander Hammil is a tongue of flame, speaking lies and misleading truths to a Florentine and his Mantuan guide. He speaks of borrowed cunning, and the daring blasphemy that saw him sail in his dotage to the shores of the cleansing mount. “Thank you, wise Odysseus,” mocks the Florentine, and passes on as he has before. But Odysseus is gone to farther shores, and found a different end beneath the stranger stars.

Handkerchiefs On A Washing Line

One is a puddle on the floor, and has been for some time; that fleeting glance was all too much. Not a talker, the other has been silent now for long minutes without occasioning comment, lost in his drink and his mortification, the red rim of the solo cup white where he’s flexed it. Nerves.

The Gentlemen run conversations in their heads, dream of humming some song as they pass in the street and seeing some stranger head prick up and swivel knowingly toward them. Beyond speaking, what they imagine is that moment of knowing, of being known, of passing a code openly and without possibility of interception.

The Gentlemen ever meet thus, in crowded rooms, in restaurants during the busy time, without speaking, without acknowledgement. They circle around each other nonetheless, tethered together like planets, like stars, like galaxies and black holes, carving through space as a single unbreakable system.

William Fitzgerald Tidies Up

He didn’t like to do it, but he knew the practice: William Fitzgerald braced his legs and drew the sharp edge of the knife against the soft throat of the man sitting in his office. His legs jerked and his eyes rolled back toward him but whatever he wanted to say puffed out of the broad gash in his throat and was lost in the deepening twilight.

William Fitzgerald stripped the gloves from his hands and tossed them into his former client’s lap. Later, he’d burn them separately: one in an incinerator and one in a bonfire, trash in a trash disposal and careless loss in the other. He tipped the man’s chair back and onto the small rug he kept in the center of the room, levered him out and rolled him tightly enough into the rug. It made a suspicious-looking package, but William Fitzgerald was a suspicious-looking man; humping a body-shaped rug down the stairs wouldn’t make him any more noticeable.

He was out of sorts by the time he tipped the remains over the bridge railing and into the rush of the strait. It was far past his working hours, and he resented the additional and necessary sobriety. The murder itself bothered him not at all; some men deserved to die, but all men were doomed to it regardless.

Duluth

Duluth, I was never in Duluth, but among the poets in Washington this story:

Having grown tired of selling clothes to the idle poor, the poet bought a bike and struck out for the high plains. He taught himself to ride on the backs of the Rockies, a continent’s spine, a fat man blowing steam up a long road and empty between towns, taught himself to fear speed and love it on the ride down, squeezed perilously between the Charybdis of a rock wall and the Scylla of a passing 18 wheeler.

Well, he made it, somehow, or so they said, to Duluth, and moved into a vacant space above a storefront where he sold used clothes to much the same people as he had in Bellingham and wrote poetry much the same as before except for some 1500 miles of toil and separation. Life went on, until it didn’t.

He died there, in Duluth, not quite in exile, nor yet at home, his store and his poems the legacy left behind. The poets in Bellingham held a wake in his honor, and Robert, cynical Robert, he cried while telling the story. Duluth, I never knew Duluth, nor the poet who left, but I’ve never forgotten this story.