True Colors

In this asylum called life, no one makes it alone.

In my own times and trials, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that in my own life, there have been good people, people who don’t look like me, who came alongside me when my fortunes reversed.

From the late 90s through the early 2000’s I went through a serious thyroid illness, a divorce, and severe financial distress, one paycheck away from homelessness and having my only means of transportation repossessed.

It was humbling to need help, and embarrassing to ask, but need overruled pride, because I came to the realization that I would do whatever was needed to keep from being on the street, because, to be honest, I didn’t think there’d be any coming back from that.

So I asked. And sometimes G-d provided without me having to say a word.

And with unconditional love and no hesitation, there were friends and acquaintances who simply came to me and said, “What do you need?”

Color, politics, entitlement, privilege, condescension, patronization, and a sense of supremacy were never part of the equation. A man in need was aided by good people, in the spirit of the Samaritan.

They made sure I had food, gas, bass lessons, and shelter. They gifted me vehicles for transportation before I was finally able to afford a car. They opened their homes, finances, and hearts to me in my darkest moments.

They encouraged me when my spirits flagged, but they also loved me enough to hold me accountable to make the changes needed to get back on my own two feet. That meant leaving them and pulling up my roots to start over, and they helped me with that, too.

Without them, there is no Alfred Smith, wannabe author and occasional bassist.

Without them, there may well not have been a 2017, where I’m now back on my feet and moving forward with a lifelong dream.

I am honored and blessed to still number them among my friends, even though way has led on to way.

So it is to them, I say:  It’s been a long road back, but you’ve all walked the extra mile to get me here.

And for that, with love and gratitude, I thank you with all my heart.

God bless you, all ways.

 

 

 

Of Summers Passed

Ah, I see. You must leave again, my love

to pave the way for your older sister,

the one who colors before the whitening kill.

I shall miss you.

Will you miss me?

We dance this dance

year by year,

and the music,

while ever as sweet,

slows down to the rhythm

of our ending.

I do love the touch of

your sun

upon my skin,

and the way your breath of song

makes the branches dance.

The brightness of your eyes

makes me don that which

tames their radiance,

and the weight of your stare

warms me.

The touch of your hot kiss

on my face

makes me close my eyes

and offer up my cheeks.

My heart takes sanctuary

in your

ethereal greenery,

as even now

you start to fade.

Summer,

I will miss you,

resting in the surety

of your

perennial return.

Sleep well, my love,

and know

my heart

is ever

yours.

Let These Words be True

So when all is said and done,

and I’ve seen my final sun,

and the final tale is spun,

who will say what I have won?

 

Have I touched a human life?

Relieved someone else’s strife?

Offered comfort, peace, and love

to someone I’d rather shove?

 

Have I made a small child smile?

Did I walk the extra mile?

Did I listen for awhile?

Aided someone through a trial?

 

Did my giving of a gift

give a trodden spirit lift?

Did my words that gave approval

lead to heavy load’s removal?

 

Did the music that I play

brighten someone else’s day?

Did the lessons that I taught

make the out-of-reach get caught?

 

Perhaps I will never know,

for I do it as I go.

From the surgeon to the skater,

plant a seed that may grow later.

 

May these words I write be true.

May they be true of you, too.

When Do You Need Me?

 

When do you need me?

“When I’m doing well.

Standing victorious,

riding the swell.”

 

When do you need me?

“When I’m feeling low,

walking with sadness,

with no place to go.”

 

When do you need me?

“In thunderous rain,

in heat waves and blizzards,

in heartache and pain.”

 

When do you need me?

“When others don’t care.

They stop and they laugh

and they point and they stare.

 

“When do you need me?”

When loneliness calls,

and deafening silence

fills dim, darkened halls.

 

“When do you need me?”

In mornings so bright,

I just can’t stop smiling

and everything’s right.

 

“When do you need me?”

Right here and right now.

I need you to love me

the best you know how.

 

When do you need me?

Each day and each night,

for you are my weakness

with all of my might.

The Summit of Self

 

You’ve traveled far to see me, child,

and never told me why.

Am I supposed to love you, hate you,

live with you, or die?

 

You’ve traveled far to see me, child,

but I don’t know your name.

Am I to solve a riddle or to

play a guessing game?

 

You’ve traveled far to see me

following some long dead star.

And now you stand before me here,

so I’ll know who you are.

 

No longer sentient, my child.

Not able to inquire.

I can no longer see or hear

your circumstances dire.

 

I’ve no advice or wisdom.

You must learn them on your own.

The maggots feasted long ago,

and sharp fangs cracked the bone.

 

I’ll say your name to you, my child,

and I will speak it true.

The skeleton you gaze at on this mountaintop

is you.

 

Descend now from this mountain, child.

There’s nothing for you here.

Death’s but a silent, endless dream

and so you mustn’t fear.

 

You weep, my child, but foolishly.

The fate of all is this:

the gods who see us war and play

betray us with a kiss.

 

 

The Infinite Aftermath

Standing here with you

we watch the past fade

like the ocean

on the stern of a ship.

The ripples we created

long smoothed over

to glassy stillness,

and whether blood.

sweat, or tears bob

in its wake,

they have all been sipped

or burned away.

 

What carrion of enmity

remains

has long been picked clean.

What remains of affection

sways in the darkness

in the cold current.

And together

we slip apart

into the

infinite aftermath

of

used to be,

and

might have been.

The Fringe Grabber

The place reeked of hard luck, bad people, and sob stories.

I was in that place, trying to gather up the scraps of what was left of my soul.

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

   There was nowhere for me to be, and no one to care if I got there.

   I was sitting on the sidewalk watching the news van unpack some gear.

   The reporter was a walking mannequin of bleached blonde and silicone, pretty in the plastic way such people were.

   I heard her say, “These homeless people are on the fringe of society,” as the cameraman boldly took a shot of me on my urban perch.

   At least now I knew where I was in relation to the rest of the world.

   On the fringe.  In my mind it was a wet, flapping, fringe growing more slippery the tighter I tried to hold on with a hand full of frostbite, arthritis, and gods-knew-what-else.

   I wanted to make her beg.

   Beg for what?

   Her life? Not a killer.

   For me to stop? Not a rapist.

   To make her cum? Not a billionaire.

   Maybe food. Yeah. Beg for scraps in a trash-strewn alley scented with alcoholic urine, and take some half-eaten pastry at the top of the trash for dessert.

                           

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

The Homeless: brought out for the holidays like decorations, and tucked neatly away again after New Year’s.

But I digress. That was long ago, but she was that pretty, that annoying, and the phrase just stuck with me: “…fringe of society.”

I was still holding on to that fringe, but I didn’t know why.

Below me was nothing but blackness, full of peace and quiet.

Poe used another phrase that stuck with me: ‘…surcease from sorrow.’

All I had to do was let go, but I was no quitter, either.

You don’t qualify.

  The apartment was rented.

  I don’t have any money, bro.

  Get outta here, perv.

  Fuck off, monster.

  And the ubiquitous Get a job.

The funny thing is, part of the reason I didn’t give up was pride.

What would it take to actually kill me? I’ve certainly become strong.

  Surcease of sorrow/ the sun will come out tomorrow. Not a good mashup, but it’s what I held onto for now.

“Kevin Gilliam?”

Ah, at last, summoned before the throne of Her Majesty Civil Servant, the Millionth.

But this voice was different; it didn’t have that world weary tone, and it was actually pleasant.

I rose like Leviathan out of the mud.

The young Lady of the Pleasant Voice favored me with a smile.

Ah, she’s new, and yet believes in what she’s doing. Be kind, and don’t shatter her dreams of making a difference.

   “Good morning, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Good morning.”

“Follow me, please?”

I followed.

We walked through a Land of Cubicles, strewn with soulless drones vainly trying to stem the tide of hopeless refuse, to reach down and boost up the fringe grabbers like me.

They probably all started out like this young lady here, full of determination and hope, with a noble sense of purpose.

Tilting at windmills…

“Sit down, please, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright,” I sat.

She settled herself in, tapping the folder full of papers on the desk to straighten out the edges, put it down, and extended her hand across the desk.

“I’m Tina. Nice to meet you.”

I was so surprised I gave her my name too though she already knew it.

She laughed, but I sensed it was at the moment, not me.

“Sorry.” I found myself smiling.

“Don’t be. Nice to meet you, Kevin.

I found myself beginning to relax as we released hands.

“What happened to Althea?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, but she got sick and had to resign. She didn’t know how long she was going to need, or …if she was coming back.”

I was sad, but not really surprised. Althea hadn’t been the same in a long time, and I knew what I was looking at after awhile.

“Sooo, they gave me her case file, and you’re in it.” She turned to her computer and fired it up, then went back into the folder.

As it booted, I said “She’d been talking about retiring for awhile anyway. I hope she’s okay.”

Tina gave me a small smile. She had a nice one.

“Last I heard, she was fighting it all the way.”

“Good for her. So you’re gonna help me now?”

“I’m going to do my best.” The computer blipped and the dark monitor lit up, an electronic Cyclops with a blind eye full of wisdom it didn’t understand.

“Alrighty, let’s see…”

She tapped some keys, read a bit, tapped some more.

I slouched in the chair and looked down at my hands.

Tina was young, vibrant, and beautiful; I didn’t want to be a creep like I’d been with the reporter.

I was going to miss Althea; she made me laugh in spite of my circumstances. She never found me anything, but I always left feeling better for a little while.

“—were a professor?”

I looked up. “What?”

“You were a professor.”

“Yes. You had my file…”

“No sir, well, yes, but I got your file so I could get your name; I didn’t get the chance to read it yet. I didn’t see this information.”

“Oh.”

We fell into a silence as she read through what I taught, and what happened.

The silence held a mild tension, stretching into awkward, when she seemed to make a decision; she turned her chair facing me.

“I may have something for you.”

I stopped fidgeting. “I’m listening.”

“I’m still in school, taking night classes, and I need help.”

I sat up straight and rolled my chair back a bit, hoping this wasn’t going to take a bad turn.

“Help with what?”

“My research and term papers.”

“How is that going to help me?”

“I’d pay you, Mr. Gilliam.”

“What do you mean, Tina…?” My stomach sank.

She laughed and shook her head at my expression.

“With money, Mr. Gilliam. I’d pay you to help me with my papers.”

My face heated. “Oh! Oh, well, I… Tina, I don’t have a bank account anymore.”

“I can help you with that too. Mr. Gilliam, I’d even refer you to my friends, if this works out.”

She gave another small, somewhat embarrassed laugh and rolled her eyes.

“We all need help. I don’t know if you want to teach anymore, but if you’re willing, will you do it?”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

She sat back, smiling. “I handle the paperwork. If I can’t, I’ll call Althea to find out who can. I won’t do anything to jeopardize you or me. We can set it up as a tutoring service. You’d be self-employed, Mr. Gilliam.”

Her chair came toward me again, her eyes hopeful, her voice quiet.

“What do you say?”

Things got blurry, and at first I wasn’t sure why…
“Mr. Gilliam? Oh!  Mr. Gilliam?” Smiling, she handed me a tissue. “Mr. Gilliam, please don’t cry.”

In my mind I wrapped the wet fringe around my fingers. It was a start.

Surcease from sorrow…