A Fireside Chat with Frederick Douglass

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fireside Chat.”

A good, hard question for this Daily Post. I thought of several writers who I would love to hear life stories from: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Kahlil Gibran, Octavia Butler, or from the world of music, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, or from the art world Georgia O’Keefe, (what’s with the flowers, girl?) She did a piece called Music that I saw a reproduction of in a museum gift shop, fell in love with, didn’t buy at the time, and haven’t been able to find since.  But after the impulsiveness of the choices I initially made, I decided to go in a different direction.

I would want to talk to Frederick Douglass, not just read his books. I would like to see the expressions of his face  when he reminisced about being a slave, getting his freedom, and being sold back.

I would want to hear his voice, the strength of it waxing eloquent as he wielded words of desiring freedom like a flaming sword, cutting through the hypocrisy of the crowds he addressed, the nation he lived in, holding up the mirror to a white slave owner, his reflection Douglass’ own face, for them to see the vileness of what they’d done.

In his straightened back would be the defiance of refusing to bend under the whip, to stand firmly on the ground for those who were hung from trees, in his quiet passion the balm that would heal the burning bodies of castrated black men, the violated black women, who dared for a moment to be human again.

I would look on the scars of his beatings, and feel my spine chill with the danger as he took his books to secret places to practice reading by moonlight and lantern under threat of death, but willing to die.

In his eyes would be the sound of the spirituals ringing over the fields, the sound of chains, the sound of violins and dancing, the tears of the pregnant slave women walking at night to drop their half-breed progeny into rivers and off hilltops, or bury them silently in the woods, or suckle them in silent, tearful suffering.

From him, I would feel the will to survive the Middle Passage, the pride of fierce anger, of refusing to let go of the old ways, of holding on to the memories of ancestral tribes and customs and language, slowly eroding like promontory  rocks, or crushed and driven out like crushed and broken shells at high tide.

And as the fire died, and sleep grew heavy on my eyes, and his visage began to fade in the paling light of the rising sun, I would then have a reason, and find the strength, to go on, and on, and on…

Writus Interruptus

Musings of a coffee/bookstore writer in a new location….

Beyond Panic

Since I’ve moved to Jersey, I’ve had trouble finding a quiet place to write. It’s difficult because if you can’t work at home, or just want to be outside in the fresh air, unfortunately, the world is a public place, and most people aren’t considerate of the fact that you need to concentrate in order to keep your train of thought.

These are people such as: smokers ( keep reading: not judging you, just that I’m outside for fresh air; I fully realize the irony of that statement living in NJ, but it’s a relative thing), car radios, chatter, *teenage girls (*see chatter on crack), running children…. you get the point.

There are days you have the ability to zone, and days that you don’t; these days I’m finding it increasingly difficult to zone.

We all know by now, even if we’re remotely serious about it, that writing…

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In the Temple of Her Heart (Chapter 1)

Arlun takes action in a crisis, and finds himself the center of attention….

Beyond Panic

The day came, bright and clear, though snow remained in the mountain passes.

Arlun had to admit that he was nervous, but he dared not let it show. His parents and siblings were counting on him, and he needed to concentrate. He still wasn’t quite sure how it all happened, but it had, and he was to be wed by the end of the month.

The travel would take a week, the preparations the remaining two; his family would be sent for and conveyed with the utmost care and reverence due their new station.

He shook his head. It had all come about so suddenly….

  The soldiers had pushed the crowds to the sides with the weapons and the large flanks of angry stallions. As the people scrambled aside to avoid the royal procession, a dog, feral, rabid, and scrounging in the alleys had somehow found its way to…

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Victory Flags

You should know:

Victory Flags are not always grand, unfurling banners embroidered with gold sigils of lions rampant, soaring eagles, flame-spewing dragons, diving falcons, and weapons of war, planted at the heads of armies, looking down into valleys of defeated foes.

Sometimes…

they’re just the right words of comfort in a time of despair,
or dirty, blood-soaked rags stanching bleeding wounds,
or taking a deep, ragged breath before making the next shaky effort…

sometimes it’s looking up the mountain at the descending hordes gathered against you

and getting back up to stand, and exhale a whispered, defiant declaration
into the howling winds and roiling clouds of your most ferocious storm,

“I’m still here.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

You Might Not Like It

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Re-springing Your Step.”

I’d typed the last words to my first novel.

It was done, and I sat, in a state of amazement that after all these years of good intentions, false starts, and distractions, the effort had finally paid off, and it was finished.

It felt good; in fact, it felt great.

“Send it to us,” some of my friends said. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a fantasy novel,” I said. “You might not like it.”

“Naw, man. Go ahead and send it to my email, I’ll check it out. So proud of you, dude!”

And so I sent it out to my friends, eager to hear their response.

One week. Two weeks. A follow up email from me. “Hey guys, it’s been a cupla weeks. How ya likin it?”

Crickets.

Another two weeks, another email. More crickets.

“I’ll read it,” a young man I worked with said. “Not sure you’d like it,” I said. “It’s a fantasy novel.”

“Well, I’ll be honest, Alfred. I’m not much of a reader, but if you send it to me, I’ll read it and tell you what I think.”

Why not?

He gave me his email, and I sent it.

He kept me apprised of his progress, what he liked, what he wasn’t sure about, what was I thinking when I wrote this. It was good so far, he was enjoying it. He could see the descriptions in his mind. He was reading it in the email app on his phone during downtime and lunch. He read it on the weekends.

And then he told me something that sent me to the moon and around it several times:

“I finished it, and I’m looking forward to the second part.”

In that moment, if no one else ever read it, I considered myself a writer.

I got an admitted, self -confessed non-reader to finish my first novel, and he remains, to this day, the first of two who have the unpublished manuscript in their possession.

It was more validation to me than if all my friends had read it and offered their thoughts and opinions.

I was (emotionally) high for a week. I shared it on my fb status, I called my best friend, (a published author, whose book actually contains a line I gave him, but he didn’t pay me. Some friend, huh?) I told my sister.

They congratulated me, they understood what I meant, but they didn’t, well, couldn’t feel the elation that came with hearing those words.

A non-reader who doesn’t read fantasy enjoyed my work, told me to let him know when it was out so he could order it, and was looking forward to reading the second part. And he will order it, because he’s kept his word to me all along.

If that doesn’t put a re-spring in your step, I don’t know what would.

A Chosen Successor

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pleased to Meet You.”

Scrooge had just checked in on the Cratchit family, and all was well.

Mrs. Cratchit had taken up sewing, and Scrooge had funded the shop with his new generosity. In return, having no one to cook meals, Mrs. Cratchit did so, and dropped the meals off, always hot and fresh, smelling delicious, to his door within an hour of his arriving home, or sometimes, he would stop by and take the meal with the family, sometimes even leading the grace.

Tiny Tim, no longer quite so tiny, had grown into a fine and studious boy, much like his father, and Scrooge saw more of Bob in him as the years passed.

But two years after the spirits visited, Scrooge began to notice his health was not as sound as it had been, though he kept active with brisk walks, and social with activities, and even volunteered to help out in the very kitchens he’d once reviled, he did so less frequently, despite his zeal.

Against his will, the idea of a successor began to pull at his coattails like a beggar child’s hand.

He spoke to Mrs. Cratchit about Tim.

“He is more into the sciences than anything, Mr. Scrooge. Always puttering about in his room upstairs with his scopes n’ such. I’m afraid he’d not be one for taking over for Bob; all the others have made their plans, and will soon be leaving.

“But I can put up a sign in the shop, if you’d like, and you can hire out an ad in the paper, and see what happens then.”

“Yes,” said Scrooge, his mind distracted, “I suppose I must.”

******************

By spring, Ebenezer was relying more on his cane to balance him than he would have cared to admit. Upon arriving at the office, he looked up at the old weathered sign:

Scrooge & Marley

He looked at the sign now, remembering that fateful night, and the sound of the heavy chains. Not a day went by he didn’t thank his old friend, and not a day went by that he didn’t remember Bob Cratchit, who shortly after that Christmas, had been run over by an arrogant carriage driver.

Scrooge saw to it he lost his livelihood, and all but carried the man to the border of London himself to throw him over it.

He sighed. “I’ll be seeing the both of you, soon enough, I s’pose.”

Putting the key in the lock, he found it already open.

Cautiously, he cracked the door open, and peered in.

The fireplace was lit, the carpets beaten, the floors swept, and a well dressed young man in a long coat was puttering about Marley’s desk.

He looked up as he heard the door close, and saw the stern visage of the old man in front of him.

Scrooge raised his cane, the only defense he would have against so vigorous a young man, in the prime of his youth, strength, and health.

The young man smiled. “Ah, you must be Mr. Scrooge.”

“I am. And you are an intruder. How did you get in?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I thought Mrs. Cratchit told you. I answered your ad in the papers. I sent you a letter…”

“I did not receive it.” Scrooge grew hesitant, the cane lowered slightly. “Mrs. Cratchit, you say?”

“Yes, the lovely old woman with the sewing shop. Dandy dresses. I might pick one up-”

“Young man!” Scrooge snapped. “I am not here to discuss the delicates of your lady friends. This is my office, and you don’t belong in it, to the best of my knowledge, so I will ask once again, and finally: who are you?”

The young man, brought up short, bowed his head in acquiescence, and stepped forward smartly, extending his hand.

“Phillip, sir. My name is Phillip Pirrip, at your service.”

Scrooge did not reach out, but Phillip, not put off, took Scrooge’s right in his own and shook it, smiling.

“My friends, for the sake of simplicity, call me Pip. Pleased to meet you.”

Sorry I Scribbled

I’m sorry I scribbled.

I mean, I know how

you

like

everything

inside the / line\s

I’m sorry I scribbled over

your

picture of what

we

should look like.

I’m sorry if I used the

wrong color.

I’m sorry that I don’t

conform

to

Crayola’s decrees…

But what the hell.

I’m innovative.

Pass me the green one…

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.