nonfiction features

“David Berman, Slacker God” by Erin Somers

Erin Somers
(Originally published in the Paris Review In Memoriam, August 8, 2019)
Pour another gallon into the bucket of our national grief, David Berman is gone. The poet and front man of the Silver Jews was fifty-two. The phrase national grief is Berman-esque, though municipal grief or federal grief would be even better. I was in awe of him, and like so many people today, I am crushed.
I knew Berman’s poetry, specifically his 1999 collection Actual Air, before I knew his music, but both became deeply important to me. I think of his lines weekly, maybe daily.
You can’t change the feeling, but you can change the feeling about the feeling.
I love your amethyst eyes and your Protestant thighs.
And of course: All water is classic water.
Berman’s great topic was the impossibility of being alive. I was glad to have him on the job. Being alive is fucking impossible! Berman knew this but still saw beauty and strangeness and humor, too. His work seemed to be saying that the world is impossible, yes, but you didn’t have to take it too seriously.
When Hunter S. Thompson died, my dad, who loved him, said, “It’s especially hard because you thought that someday you’d meet up with him and all the people who got it.” With Berman, I did sort of think that. I don’t know what I imagined. A pool party? All the fragile souls, the people who got it, in bikinis and trunks, with Berman at the grill.
But anyway. I never met him and that’s probably for the best. I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with my admiration up close. I wouldn’t want to stand there waiting for an anointing that didn’t come. Stammering out something foolish and leaving disappointed.
Actual Air is canonical if you’re cool. I first read it at twenty in 2005 in New York City. I had a job at an unprosperous cafe on Great Jones Street. I worked from five o’clock to midnight four or five days a week. No one ever came in unless I knew them, and then I would give them whatever food they wanted for free. No wonder the place made no money. It snowed and snowed that winter. It was cold and I was broke. I felt, not for the last winter of my life, like a real loser. Some shifts I’d make zero dollars in tips.
On those long slow nights I sat on the counter and read Actual Air. I recall reading the first poem, “Snow.” When it’s snowing, the outdoors feels like a room.
Remember those postadolescent days when a work of art could make your heart thump? Remember the physical symptoms of infatuation? Before your tastes ossified?
The book had been given to me by my sister, given to her by her friend Shannon, given to Shannon by who knows who. Back then, before the internet became the recommendation engine it is today, media were passed from hand to hand like samizdat. Your friend would show up at your apartment and give you a book. And then you’d read whatever it was without knowing anything else about it. It was like in movies when the characters take drugs together and one joker says, See you on the other side. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was going to be an adventure. You would feel things and you would be changed.
Berman was a loser-god, or maybe he was a slacker-god. The people in his poems and songs are forever being left. They are ambiguously divorced, overlooked or abandoned by someone they loved. Usually it’s their own fault. In “Smith and Jones Forever,” one of the best tracks on American Water, an album on which every track could be the best, the eponymous guys don’t even own belts. They hold up their pants with extension cords. David Berman made it okay to be a loser. He made it soulful. He even made it fun.
In the mid-aughts, I used to tear out pages of Actual Air and give them to people. What an act of innocence. To everyone who received one, I apologize for my embarrassing behavior, but I’d like my poems back.
I saw him perform only once, with the Silver Jews at Bowery Ballroom in 2008. He was slim and intense and did not banter. He was like a downed power line; he writhed around giving off sparks. I felt, watching him, very close to doom. He carried that into the room with him.
His last album, Purple Mountains, which came out earlier this year, is as good as anything he ever made. It grapples with despair (from the first track: Way deep down at some substratum / Feels like something really wrong has happened / And I confess I’m barely hanging on). But it also makes my heart pound in that twenty-year-old way, which is only the most I could hope for in this world.
Berman could predict the future, too. In “Self-Portrait at 28,” from Actual Air, he wrote:
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I’d call that a surprise ending
A worldwide nervous breakdown is a good description of these past few years. And now the person who was perhaps most able to make sense of it is dead. I hope I have the fortitude not to take even this too seriously.
(Erin Somers is the author of the novel Stay Up with Hugo Best.)

Artist Interview/Feature Reblog Songs

A Silver Jews Interview (With David Berman & Bob Nastanovich) from COOL BEANS! #4 (Sept.-Oct. 1994) by Matt Kelly.

CB: Where does the name Silver Jews come from?
David: It doesn’t mean anything.
Bob: David’s Jewish. David lived in Green Point, which is a neighborhood in Brooklyn. He lived by himself, and for Brooklyn, it’s safe and it’s great if you don’t mind being around a bunch of senior citizens…Mostly middle European. There were a few guys who would hang out a couple of apartments a couple doors down from him, these very old Jewish men. Basically, their term for blonde haired Jews was Silver Jews. He just got a big kick out of that. He realized he was in a band with two blonde gentiles…He’s a Texas Jew. He thought it was an amazing name for the band.
CB: How did you guys start out?
David: Well, we all went to school together at the University of Virginia, and we started this band called Ectoslavia at school and Steve was in it, I was in it, and a couple other people. Steve was the only one who really knew how to play. We played a few shows in Charlottesville, and Steve was a year older than us, so he graduated and moved back to California. Next year when Bob and I graduated, we moved up to New York and Steve moved to New York and all three of us were living together. We would just basically started out playing into people’s answering machines. We’d just moved up to New York and we’d made a friend who worked at a record store in Hoboken who gave us Sonic Youth’s phone number. We don’t know how she got it, but we’d call them up late at night and play for a long time into their answering machine. They didn’t have the kind that shut off, so you could play like 10 minutes. Then we’d just sort of announce who we were.
CB: You would just say this is the Silver Jews?
David: Yeah, and then we’d just start playing. We’d call other people and basically write songs, you know, 10 a night, everytime we would sit down. We’d record them on a tape recorder too.
CB: So you’d make them up on the spot, play them a few times and then record them?
David: Yeah. Usually it would just start out like “this song is going to be-” to give a specific example, on the first 7″ there’s a song called “Walnut Falcon” and so if I can remember correctly, we’d been watching PBS nature films, and I said “we’re just going to do sort of a song based on a PBS nature film.” Steve just started playing, and I started playing, and then we’d sing right on the spot. Usually we’d just sing almost straight out. We did “Canada” which was supposed to be a song the Canadian Tourist Bureau could use in a commercial campaign; and then just sort of whatever happens straight out.
Bob: All those recordings were recordings of just practice sessions and jams that Silver Jews never intended to put out. We’re one of those bands that never really intended to exist. We were just playing because it was like “oh, that sounds good, we should tape it.” I mean, there are thousands of bands that do that, but Dan [from Drag City] probably has only listened to 20 of them. So he’s the reason why the band exists as far as putting out records.
CB: You’d just have the tape recorder on right at first?
David: Yeah, we’d just usually work out you know maybe one guitar line and then just turn it on… we never had lyrics worked out, we’d just do that on the spot. Which back then worked real well cause Steve and I are pretty competitive, he’d sing something and I’d try to top him and he would try and top that and I would try to top that and it was just one upping each other and something would be made out of that versus trying to hound yourself into saying something in a room by yourself.
Bob: Pavement is mainly Steve’s songwriting. It’s the principal reason for the band existing. Whereas Silver Jews there’s a totally different guy serving the same role. It’s a totally different thing, and Steven is really good friends with David and he’s a really good guitar player. He really enjoys David’s writing, and having the freedom to just jam on guitar and his responsibilities in Silver Jews are absolutely minimal. It’s totally great for him to relax. For me, the best two times I’ve ever been on stage have the two nights we played the Drag City Invitational. There was an intense pressure, and I felt that I was an extremely important part of the band. In Pavement, my role has always been soley live, and pretty much to add spirit and enthusiasm; musically, it’s no where near as important as when I’m in the Silver Jews. I have far greater input in Silver Jews. With the new album, we had 12 sheets of paper with lyrics on them and we basically wrote songs around those words.
David: Exactly. Yeah, now, for the last couple years it’s been mostly songs that either I’ve written beforehand or Steve and I sat down for a little bit and worked something out more clearly. Because none of that stuff we recorded in the house, which came out on records, was… we were just recording for our own pleasure, you know. We all worked really hard jobs and it was really tense living where we did, and it was fun for us at night to just howl. Afterwards, it became songwriting.
CB: So how did Pavement work out of all this? Were the Silver Jews playing together first?
David: Well, we played a lot together in college, but we didn’t call ourselves the Silver Jews. Steve went home and brought up Pavement, just after he graduated from college.
CB: So kind of?
David: Well, in a way, technically, on a time-line, yes, first. But, Pavement’s always been what Steve does and that’s him. Pavement is Steve. Silver Jews as at least until recently, three friends getting together and making music.
CB: So you sort of play the role that Steve does in Pavement in the Silver Jews, you’re more the- David: Well, on this record especially. I wrote all the songs. Steve is good to have around because he’s a complete song stylist and I can bring even a really lame song out and he can polish anything up with what he does. He can make anything into gold. Now, he likes to take more of a backseat, and it’s good for me because I’ve gotten to the point where I have a vision of what I want things to be like whereas before I didn’t. I knew what I wanted this record to be like. I knew exactly what I wanted…
CB: What is it that you are trying to do with this record?
David: Number one, I wanted to make the record that I don’t find when I go looking for records. I wanted it to be a record that wasn’t cynical, which seems like a lot of records that I see in the stores today are. Where you could hear the lyrics, and the songs told stories. I mean, I’m 27, but… I think a lot of bands that I listen to today, you’ve got band members that are in their mid-late 20s and they write music for 20 year olds.. 18, 19, 20 year olds. I doesn’t seem true. When Neil Young was 24 he sounded like he was 40 already. When I’m 28, I hope to write songs about being 28, or that reflect a 28 year old’s life. It’s not like the album is strictly for 27 year olds, but I didn’t want to hide the fact that I’m not 21. I’m not interested in fast music anymore.
CB: So you used to be punk rock?
David: Much more than I am now. I’m just more interested in real emotions now and saying something true. I’m not as interested in saying something funny, as maybe I used to have been or saying something as sharp witted or cynical. I just want to make a record that someone could listen to and feel like there were people in the room.
CB: I asked Dan from Drag City if he wanted me to ask you anything, and he only had one question. David: What’s that?
CB: What are you afraid of?
David: What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of Dan for one. No, that’s a good question, lemme think about that for a second.
CB: Do you think that he meant that in relation to his involvement in your projects?
David: I’m not sure if he meant that as a general abstract question… or maybe he was making a cut at me cause he’s always asking me to play shows and I don’t want to. I’d like to think he’s asking me a larger question.
CB: It could go either way.
David: Yeah, really. What am I afraid of? I’m really afraid of hurting people. I’m really afraid of my car breaking down. I’m really afraid of dying before I get things done. I’m really afraid of my landlord’s wife. CB: Why?
David: She’s a battleaxe, she’s like a lot of people in Northampton. She’s just really really harsh. They live next door, so I always hear her outside. She was yelling this morning at her grandson. Her grandson has this little stuffed owl and she was saying “The owl goes ‘hoot!'” and she asked her grandson “Now what does the owl say?” and her grandson didn’t say anything, he was really quiet. She says “WHAT DOES THE OWL SAY?” and her grandson didn’t say anything and so she said “THE OWL SAYS ‘HOOT!’ WHAT DOES THE OWL SAY?!!”
CB: Yeow.
David: So, she gives me the creeps.
CB: She gives me the creeps too!
CB: So you’re afraid of dying before you get things done. What do you want to get done?
David: Well, I’d like to have lots of offspring going well into the next couple centuries. I’d like to write some books. I would like to do some records. I would like to earn a living. I want to see South America. CB: Yeah, me too. I was just thinking about that the other day. Have you read much about South America?
David: Only in fiction. I read a lot of Westerns.

CB: Have you done much writing? I was told you’re a teacher.
David: Well right now I’m getting my MFA up here in writing. [U Mass] It isn’t that the degree is offering me anything except it does give me a chance to not really work. Teaching doesn’t take up any of my time, and I don’t have to have another job. So for the three years that I’ve been up here, which is almost coming to an end, I’ve had a lot of time to write. When I leave here I want to put together a book of all the things I’ve been working on and I’d like to write many more. I’m totally committed to writing. I mean, I constantly have a notebook in my pocket and I constantly take that notebook home and enter those notes into another larger notebook. Which I then sit down before almost every single morning and try to string into stories or worlds.
CB: So who are you writing for?
David: Just myself right now. I haven’t had a chance to publish anything.
CB: Tell me about “Secret Knowledge of Back Roads”
Bob: That’s one of those songs that was more a Silver Jews song, but it was almost a Pavement song. Pavement played it for a Peel Session track. David also came up with a cartoon called Slanted and Enchanted. He’s responsible for the name of that album. Actually.. it was like 6 sheets of paper that were on the wall of our apartment in New York.. God knows where they all are now. But David is the kind of guy who’s really anal retentive about files so he may have them somewhere.
David: Yeah, I’ve been writing pretty hard, like every day for about 11 years now, so I have millions of things that are not completed, and I’ve completed some.
CB: Are you more interested in the process than the results of writing?
David: It would be nice to be able to say that because it would sort of excuse a lack of results. But I think I would really be into the finished product. I mean, the process is what I do every day.
CB: How about applied to the band?
David: Well, with the band… I guess it works out well. I mean, I can only do one thing at a time. Like this summer, I went down to Mississippi a month before we recorded to write the songs for the record. I couldn’t write anything else. I just could only do the songs. After the record was done I started writing again and now I’m back up here and I’ve been recording some little things on my four track and I’m trying to do them both at the same time and it’s working out a little easier.
Bob: The split single with New Radiant Storm Kings is interesting because they are mainly David’s friends, and I think the Silver Jews side is something that he did alone. Steven probably played on it, but I definitely wasn’t there. I think everything David does musically goes under the name Silver Jews.
David: No, it’s actually me and West and Malkmus. It just came out a couple weeks ago. It’s on this local label called Chunk Records. It’s two songs. It’s actually called the Silver Jews and Nico. She’s on the record at the beginning. I took it off this Velvet Underground bootleg of her –
CB: Oh, at a party?
David: Yeah
CB: I’ve got that bootleg!
David: Remember the part where she goes up to I think it’s Lou Reed and she says “What are you doing?” and he says “I’m making a record” and she says “What is it a record of?” and he says “It’s a record of us, here.” and then she’s quiet for like 30 seconds and you can hear people talking in the background and she’s not saying anything, and as far as I understand, she’s staring at the tape recorder wondering what to say, and she leans over real close cause it’s real loud and sings “Good morning, good morning, good morning” and some drunk guy in the background obviously trying to make it with her says “yeah, good morning, ehhh…”
CB: So what kind of tape recorder did you guys use when you recorded your early stuff?
David: I have it right here, let’s see. It’s a Sony 1. It’s the first in the series. It’s like a walkman.
CB: Are you familiar with the Mountain Goats at all?
David: Actually, I wasn’t, until about two weeks ago, I was in New York and a friend of mine asked me to come to this bar, and that guy was playing. And, I mean, the guy was amazing. He was so rigid! I could not believe it. I was just watching him and he was great. I loved it! At first it was so abrasive, I couldn’t listen to it and then I just went and sat real close. From far away it was abrasive, but up close it wasn’t and I loved it.
CB: Why was the identity of the Silver Jews secret for so long?
David: I think there’s two reasons for that. I don’t think the secrecy was intentional…

Bob: Yeah, well, I think that’s intentional.
David: … but it was unavoidable because I didn’t want people to think it was a Pavement side project, which it got to be anyway in people’s minds. It seemed like in most reviews though, people focused on the Pavement connection and so it sort of backfired. I told Dan originally to just not say anything about it. CB: But that was the reason that a lot of records were sold right?
David: Yeah, that’s true. But a lot of times Dan has tried to convince me to play with different people, just so it doesn’t become such an issue. I’ve thought about that, but Steve and Bob are my best friends, and I don’t enjoy playing with other people as much. I don’t consider myself to be a musician in the sense that I’ll play anywhere, anytime. I really only enjoy playing with them. The other reason I think it’s seemed so mysterious is because we don’t play live very much.
CB: How many times have you played live?
David: Twice in New York, twice in Chicago. Once was last summer at Irving Plaza, at a Matador showcase and we just came up at the end and played some songs. Pavement wasn’t announced, and we’d been practicing for the Chicago shows [the Drag City showcase] and no one had ever seen Steve West drum in Pavement before, so it didn’t matter that there were a bunch of new faces up there. The other time we played in New York was with our friend Sabelle Firat and it was called the War Comet, not the Silver Jews. Since Bob had move to Louisville and Steve and I played together a lot, out of respect for Bob, we called it the War Comet.
CB: Who’s Sabelle Firat?
David: She the sister of Steve’s girlfriend. She also plays cello and bass.
CB: How often do the Silver Jews get to play together?
David: Oh, every few months. Bob lives in Louisville now. So in between tours Malkmus, West and me get to play together. Actually, I think we’re gonna play some live shows this winter. I’ve gotten over my stage fright.
CB: Are you gonna hit the road for 9 months like Pavement?
David: No, I don’t think it’ll be like that. But I think we’ll play some shows this winter. I’m more into the idea of playing some open mic. nights where you actually have to win an audience over instead of where you before you even start playing everyone is gonna walk out and go “oh, they were great” for whatever you do.
Bob: I don’t know if he would ever tour with the band. Unlike Pavement, I think it’s really important for the Silver Jews to feel really naked onstage and instead of when things fall apart, I think we would rather just feel complete humiliation. If things weren’t working out we should just leave the stage ashamed. Go for the full circle of emotion. If you’re going to be awful, then it’s ok. You know. There’s no pressure on Silver Jews at all. Any pressure that we have would be completely internal. David finishes school next May, and it really depends on what kind of job he gets and he’s sort of in a pre- marital situation. He’s been in the same relationship mostly, for the last seven years. It would all depend on really what we could convince him to do.
CB: So you produce music now, are you still a large consumer of it?
David: I don’t know that I listen to many noisy bands anymore.
CB: What about other Drag City bands?
David: I honestly mean this, I think that Drag City is putting out the most amazing music, and I don’t know if that’s recognized, except in a smarmy way by people. But I don’t think anyone really understands that if Drag City disappeared tomorrow everyone would be talking about how it was the greatest collective of music in a long time. What the Palace Brothers and Royal Trux have done in the last two years is amazing! Those are the two bands that I listen to more than any others of people who are recording today. I think it’s because their music is like the first R.E.M. albums which I’ve been listening to for 10 years and I’m never gonna get tired of them. I know that I’ll still listen to the Palace Brothers in 10 years and it will still mean something to me at any age. I feel that way about Royal Trux too. Even when I think Dan is finally out of ideas, he’ll pull something out of left field like this new single he just put out by this band Plush. This new single Plush is just incredible. It’s one of the most beautiful records I’ve heard in years. I just keep getting surprised more and more by what he manages to find.
CB: How does he find bands?
David: I think he’s just got weird luck. He’s a weird guy. He’s one of the best people I know, but he’s living in a dream world. He comes up with these plans that no one else would think of. Half of them there’s a good reason why no one would think of them. They’re horrible ideas. The half of ’em are just amazing and he found ’em. I mean, he has these awful ideas like he really dreams of moving to Orlando. If you ask him why, he’ll give you this really vague answer of “Well, because they have two police forces and two fire departments.”
CB: He’s fascinated by Disney World?
David: Yeah, like he claims his dream would be to live in a hotel room. He loves the aesthetics of a hotel room.
CB: Like a new car thing?
David: Yeah, the eternal new car. But he’s a genius, he comes up with stuff and I don’t think people in Chicago take him seriously. I think that’s to his advantage. You know that book The Art of War by Sun Soo [sic]? He says something like “Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. If you are effective, appear to be ineffective.” That’s how Dan is. He just comes out of left field, no one takes him real seriously and he comes up with this brilliant shit. He wants to bring all the bands to Cuba this winter and have a big show. He’s been in touch with the Cuban consulate and he’s trying to get a flatboat or a fishing boat to drag everyone over and we’re supposed to wash up on shore like marines or something.
CB: That’s amazing. How did he find you?
David: I guess he came to a show in Charlottesville once when Pavement was playing, they were on his label still then. We were just talking and I mentioned all the tapes I have at home and he asked me to send them to him. He’s always been a big supporter. Sometimes I’ll wonder, “people who are helping me, are they just trying to get to Pavement through the back door?” But Dan doesn’t even give a shit about that. He’s always trying to convince me to play by myself or with other people, so I’m really grateful to him for that. I’ve never known anyone who’s as interested in what I’ve done.
CB: He’s obviously been interested and been a big fan and taking chances like putting out records that I think a lot of people can’t listen to.
David: Exactly.
CB: It took me a while with the Silver Jews stuff, because there are parts of it you just have to tune out in order to hear the rest of it.
David: Exactly.
CB: To me, that’s a step beyond what most music is like. To have to sit down and really commit yourself to listening to something. You know, it’s like reading something you’re going to write about instead of just reading.
Bob: On nights that we didn’t go out, we would sit around and he would try and make songs. I was actually just sitting there all the time trying to watch tv. Usually like Rangers hockey…we had cable. The drank a lot of red wine…This was sort of at the same time as when Pavement was getting going in a way. But Pavement hadn’t ever really been together as a band, while Silver Jews was an opportunity for Steven to play, and David to just explode. His musical experience is about the same as mine. We’d never been in a band together before. But we’ve been college radio dj’s and record collectors and guys who would go see bands. Finally, we started hitting things. He bought a guitar for 50 bucks and a practice amp. If you listen to music and are buying it for 10 or 15 years, you’ll probably think about how to do some yourself.
CB: When does a band become a band?
David: You have to understand.. that every time you go to a show, out of every hundred people or so, a couple of 14 year olds will be on a stage at some point. I don’t know where the transformation takes place. When I was in college, listening to music was my whole life. When I was in college, the Butthole Surfers to me were more to me than anything else in the world. Except maybe my girlfriend. But you know what I mean.
CB: I do. I felt the same way about the Butthole Surfers.
David: It was like a religion, and I know a lot of other people who felt the same way. I think it’s strange now, I don’t even think about them anymore. I put on their records every once in a while and I’m reminded of the power they used to have, and I wonder where it went. They were an audience at one point, and then they went on to become these amazing performers, and now I don’t know what they are.
CB: They’re a really good example. Because it used to really draw the audience in and be this amazing experience to see the Butthole Surfers and just get all caught up in all of it. But now they’re just like the more traditional rock band or something.
David: Yeah, there was never a time when I would go see the Butthole Surfers back then when I felt that I was only watching. It seems like it would be the opposite, with a band that strange and to look and listen to, you would be the most distant from. Where you would feel like you were watching a freak show.

CB: Yeah, I always felt like I knew them, even though I never talked to them.
David: I’ll never understand how music that was so incredibly frightening could be so human and comfortable.
CB: The last time I saw them was in 1989, and that was when it really started to change for me. David: Yeah, exactly. 1989, that was the year when something happened.
CB: They didn’t have their dancer anymore, and they only had one drummer, and their audience had just like doubled or tripled cause everyone knew how good their shows were. It’s weird, cause that’s something that a lot of people give me a hard time about, but when a band snowballs into something so big that I feel this huge gap between me and them…the whole experience is just different. I start to feel like the situation is consumption oriented instead of experience oriented.
David: I think that’s especially true with bands that you see in that phase. I mean, bands like Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers were always meant to be stadium bands, I’m sure they’d sound great in a small club, but other bands, like the Rolling Stones, when I read about them playing in small clubs even in the 70s, I realize that would have been amazing.
CB: So do you have any heroes?
David: Yeah, I have heroes. Well, let’s see. There are the historical heros, like Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston and then musical heros I’d have to say would be people like Jerry Lee Lewis and David Yow. Well, David Yow is Jerry Lee Lewis. Then there are other people I just totally admire like Cormac McCarthy. Then there’s the people I know.
Bob: He’s my best friend, so it’s hard for me to be away from him for large stretches of time. You know, you move into the latter part of your 20s and you start doing way different things. David is a lot different than anyone else I know. He’s someone I feel a great sense of attachment to. He’s a tremendous source of entertainment. We love him. I think Silver Jews would be more of a band if he was more comfortable playing live.
David: In a lot of ways Bob has been, even though he’s a close friend.. I look up to all my friends, I look down on them too. But Steve and Bob are constantly inspiring, and I guess that’s what a hero is. CB: Yeah, exactly, not that you aspire to be them, but that they motivate you to work on your own stuff and to stay alive. Now why Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson? Because of their myths?
David: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t ever separate them from their myths; although any biography could do that for me. But yeah, there seems to be some assault right now on great men. I guess those two were both generals, Indian killers and blah blah…but I admire the strength in each one of them…and I like when they lived and where they lived. I like that they were able to do so well in those times. So if you feel close to an era, you may feel close to someone who thrived in that era. And of course Robert E. Lee.
CB: Wow, all these Southern men, where did you grow up?
David: Dallas, Virginia, and Ohio. [click…! tape ran out.]

Matt Kelly

(Note: I am reblogging this interview, originally done in 1994 by Matt Kelly in the fantastic COOL BEANS!, The Vima Tresna in the spirit of preserving a more complete historical record/archive of the artistic life of David Berman, in this case with a quite seminal Silver Jews…I claim no ownership whatsoever of this interview and will gladly remove this from my site and/or pass it on to a worthier archivist…) P.E. Tottenham, 07/30/2021

Nonfiction nonfiction features

“Mixing With the Coctails” by Mr. Dan Kelly


“Tom Sawyer’s Widow”

Powdered white
And pouting face
Dressed in black
Her skin with lace
Dog’s in the back
Unfed in the leaves
With no one perched
In the goddamn eaves
(Roped in the back…)
She’s barren of seed
“The rogue & the bastard!
He promised to me!”
Up into town
To thee Spekey Sea
(Dog’s on the rope.
His neck to break free…)

Sawyer’s in the wagon

His face like yellow wax.
Tom Sawyer’s whitewashed widow
Her lightning panic attacks:
“I’ll kill me Becky Thatcher
With that backyard chicken axe!”

© 2021 teagown records

“And Perfume Precedes the Dead Letter”

The moon becomes large
Two people fall in love
As another one weeps
Pantomime in Cumaquid
The girl’s lilting voice
Could she reappear?
Red sunsets behind
Driven through a dark cloud
Car is womb warm
Perfectly detailed
Metal Orange Flake
High-Gloss blood pounds ear
Accidents in cars
Children's faces blur
That angel at your side
Books left unfinished
The bed will not be made
I stare at the door
The highway past your house
Like a wave that never crashes
As you know you've always drowned:

(In Robinwood Pond)


©️2021 teagown records

“The Septic”

“You know you’re a pussy. When they letting you out of there?”

“I don’t know, Evan…fuck you…two, three more weeks. I got a hole in my stomach.”

“A hole. You’re a total zombie. What are they giving you? ”

“They leave the incision unstitched at first to make sure the insides heal.”

“Sponge baths…”

“Demerol. I woke up the other morning…three older nurses were leaning over me just gabbing away as they cleaned and dressed the wound…except for the bandage, I was naked…Christ.”

“Were they stifling their laughter?”

“Fuck you…thanks for cheering–oh, I dropped the…”

“Hank! Hank, take it easy. I gotta go. Okay? Maybe I’ll–”

“Yeah…asshole…thanks for calling…um, next time send me a mix tape that’s different from the other fucking tapes you’ve made for me. It’s always the same songs just in a different–”

“You’re welcome, prick. Later.”

A groan fell from the bed to the left of Henry’s. The old man, Nossiter, lay dying as far as he could tell. From eavesdropping Henry had learned that the man was blind, deaf, and hemorrhaging from his ass. Every couple hours through the night Henry woke to a nurse changing Mr. Nossiter’s bloodstained sheets amid the man’s feeble protests and cries of pain. How much blood could one lose out of one’s ass at that age and still be alive? Henry now feeling ashamed and childish at his low pain threshold as he tried to work this out. The pain wasn’t that great considering his belly was half open under a loose bandage. Just stiffness and though a large weight balanced on his midsection. Only sudden reflexive movements reminded him of his tenderness as when he was drifting off to sleep. His body relaxed until, at the last instant before sleep, an electrical shock jolted his entire body; from top to bottom of his wound.
It had been around a month total in the hospital until his doctor knew surgery was the answer. Crohn’s disease had narrowed three feet of his small intestine with scar tissue. Crohn’s disease caused bleeding in areas of the digestive tract resulting in the build up of scar tissue. Serious cases involved malnutrition, weight loss—intestinal blockage. Pain. The surgeon removed three feet of small intestine then had only to reconnect the disease free ends He was on a heavy course of corticosteroids to ease the inflammation, but he noticed only the toxic effect they had on his hormones; a common side effect of Prednisone was to cause nervousness and emotional sensitivity. He recalled one night balling his eyes out when his mother arrived late for a visit. He had imagined her getting into a car accident on the way to visit him. Even television commercials were heartbreaking on this stuff. It would have to be cartoons and sitcoms until further notice. Nothing controversial like Alzheimer’s medication commercials.

“Henry. Any complaints this morning?” the surgeon asked as he extended his hand in greeting.

“Hi, I’m feeling okay I guess. Not a lot of pain. Some…just–pressure. Stiffness? It’s itchy. So… yeah.”

“I’m going to stitch you up now. This is going to hurt. I will give you your pain shot plus a little Valium to relax you. Okay?”

“Valium…Oh, I–Uh huh.”

“All right? I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes.”

Henry appreciated the surgeon’s frankness. His musical East Indian voice played over in his head. In his mind he contrasted the surgeon’s soft tones with those of the American gastroenterologists that had been treating him medically. The different voices seemed to match up nicely with their respective source’s level of tact and empathy. The wise, good-natured, soft-spoken Indian surgeon. Henry became aware of his racial stereotyping, and felt a twinge of shame. It was true, however, that the medical doctors he had dealt with before his surgery were tactless assholes. He always felt like an insect whenever they checked in on him. He didn’t feel this with the surgeon.

He wondered what to expect from his stitch-up. Mr. Nossiter called out from the bed next to his. Some garbled name. The nurse arrived to give Henry his pain shot and Valium. Henry loved the nurses in the hospital. He wanted to stay there with them. The nurses injected Demerol into one of Henry’s buttocks every four hours. There was something pathetically erotic about it for him. It was comforting.

Henry recalled his first night in the hospital. He had been prescribed a course of enemas that had seemed to go on for hours. It was the job of an older nurse to administer these enemas to him every half hour or so. His intestinal tract was so inflamed at that point that she might as well have been shooting napalm up Henry’s ass. It was like being tortured. The embarrassment of the situation coupled with the fact that Henry couldn’t hold back his crying and moaning in front of this woman was almost harder to bear than the physical pain. The only relief for him was the look of honest compassion on the nurse’s face throughout the ordeal. It was hurting her more than it hurt him. She comforted Henry as if he were her own child. One must consider the fact that it is part of this woman’s job to perform such unpleasant tasks as this on a daily basis. She was his angel in that twilight, drug-hazed nightmare.

Soon enough the surgeon returned to stitch Henry up. Henry gulped and caught his breath as a shudder shot through his wound. It seemed to throb before the surgeon even touched him. “Now, Henry, there are some times in life when we all must endure a little pain. I gave you a little Valium to relax you, and I’m sure that your pain med has kicked in by now, but you are still going to feel this. I’ll try to do this as quick as I possibly can,” said the surgeon.

When completely tightened up, Henry’s stitched wound would look roughly like the stitching on a football. From Henry’s limited point of view it looked like an unlaced shoe with some heavy nylon fishing line tangled haphazardly into it. The surgeon went to work pulling the first section of the wound together as one would tighten up the laces of a sneaker. Henry winced as the first beads of perspiration popped up from his brow, his hand clawing and forming a fist around a section of blanket. The surgeon murmured some gentle encouragement. Just as another section of belly came together in the surgeon’s hands,Henry’s mouth opened involuntarily and let forth what seemed to be the most primal of screams. He felt at that moment as if he were channeling a demon. He had never heard a sound like that come from his own mouth. It didn’t sound like himself; it was too masculine in tone. The nature of the scream was completely unpremeditated considering the agony that birthed it. Henry wished he could have recorded the scream to show off to his friends and acquaintances. In hindsight, it was truly remarkable!

After a few more tugs and knots the surgeon announced that he was done. He took Henry’s hand in his, and gripped it tight as he stared intensely into his eyes. “Henry, I’m proud of you. You endured that well. You might feel a little sore later, but the pain meds should help. You’re healing up nicely. Starting tonight I want you out of bed for some short walks up and down the hall. You need to get your strength back little by little. A nurse will assist you. Let me know if you need anything else. Oh, and let a nurse know as soon as you start passing gas. This will be an important indication of whether or not the operation has been a success. I’ll see you soon, Henry.” Henry closed his eyes and slowly fell back into his narcotic haze. His hands were shaking, but there were only a few fiery, shooting pinpricks through his belly. He floated down now into a dark place of sleep and vivid dreams; trying to remember as he sank what it was like to pass gas.

Earlier during gym class Henry had first noticed him: a small, powerfully built black kid. He was the new kid—and mean. Henry did his best to not make eye contact with him just as he did with any of the more aggressive looking kids who clearly had some shit to get off their backs, and the need of a target. The black kid had glared and muttered something to Henry in the locker room. Henry couldn’t quite catch what he had said, so he just said ‘hey’ to him and went to class.

Flash forward and Henry is now walking down the steep hill from the school. There are some friends of his hanging with the black kid on a street corner. They all laugh in the self-conscious, high-pitched eighth grade style. Henry stops to say hi to some of the kids that he knows. They’re not as friendly to him in a group as they are one-on-one. Something Henry has been noticing lately. Henry gets the impression they are laughing at him, but he is not entirely sure of this. It doesn’t matter if they are or if they are not; he will think this anyway. The black kid says something to Henry that he can’t understand, because the black kid talks so fast and low. Henry just laughs and utters a weak: ‘what?’ At that, the black kid approaches Henry and picks him up off the street. The black kid squeezes Henry in a tight bear hug around his midsection, and shakes him from side to side while sptitting some unintelligible curses into his face.

The flatulence that Henry let out at that moment was veritably astonishing. A long stream of wet firecrackers followed by a two second pause, and some extended swooshes of foul air. Henry laughed in the extremely self-conscious eighth grade style that is practically the same thing as weeping. There were tears in his eyes of embarrassment and of pain. The black kid’s arms were like a vice. As the flatulence had begun, Henry’s friends seemed to be in a state of shocked disbelief. Some whispers and sidelong glances were exchanged for purposes of confirmation.

The laughter picked up again as soon as all were in agreement as to what they were witnessing. The black kid never laughed. He eventually placed Henry back on the street, and yet again said something to Henry that he could not understand. Without saying goodbye to his friends Henry continued his walk home. All he could think about as he crossed the bridge into his town was how dark the boy’s skin was.

“I feel horrible. I feel nauseous… and I’m having trouble breathing,” said the man in the third bed across the room from Henry and Mr. Nossiter.

“Do you wanna try to take a little water? Maybe it’s just nerves about surgery tomorrow?” asked the nurse.

“Yeah, maybe a little water. I just woke up and suddenly felt terrible.”

“Here. Why don’t you sit up for a minute? Need to use the bedpan?” The man lay with his hands covering his face attempting to prop himself up with his elbows, but failing to do so. He moaned to himself as he sipped his water.

“Uh…no…I think I’ll be okay. Woo. Maybe I am just a little shaky. Long day.”

“Okay, hon. Well, you just ring for me again if you need me. Try to get some sleep.”

Across the room, trying desperately to swim against the current of a drug-induced nightmare, Henry surmised that he had the power to control the IVs of every patient in the hospital. This came as some surprise to him. As the blood pounded through his foggy brain he could see in his mind’s eye, the drip, drip, drip of a multitude of intravenous drugs increasing their rate of flow into the bloodstreams of his fellow infirm neighbors. Quite an alarming revelation this was. He opened his eyes finally and stared up at the ceiling.

The nighttime noises of the hospital (nurses shuffling through their rounds; mumbling amongst themselves) were disorienting. It took him a minute to come to grips. Just then the new guy in the bed across from Henry stirred. The fifty-ish executive type (who liked to chew on unlit cigars while reclining in his hospital skivvies) was making retching sounds, and breathing heavily. The man switched on his overhead lamp and pressed the nurse call-button. Apparently, this was all the evidence Henry needed to convince him that he had not been dreaming. As the night nurse angel entered the room, Henry watched the man across from him expiring as a result of his very own newfound telekinetic ability. He felt this was somehow wrong.

After the nurse had finally left, Henry stared at the man as if in a trance. He scanned the features of the portly Cigar Chomper who struck a pathetic form lit only by the fluorescent tube behind his bed. He sat awkwardly staring into space, as if he did not understand how he had arrived in this place. He was a far cry from the cocksure wheeler-dealer of the previous afternoon barking orders through the phone at some poor employee of his. The guy seemed to tell anyone who cared to know that he wasn’t “afraid of being cut”. It was the “downtime” he didn’t care for. He had a business to run. Time is money. Henry now felt the need to turn away, but could not. He felt he was somehow responsible for this man’s present discomfort.

The throbbing in Henry’s brain had subsided. He wondered whether the time was approaching for his next shot of Demerol. Would the man make it through the night? Was the damage Henry caused serious? Maybe he’d like his cigar? Was he even worth saving?

Just then an image flashed in his mind of Esophagus Ned, Cigar Chomper’s predecessor, sitting up in the same bed across from Henry; staring at him with his perpetual, half-crazed grin. Henry would lie there in bed reading or watching TV completely aware of Ned smiling away at him quizzically. Try as he may he could not contend with Ned’s probing mirth.

“How you hanging in there young man? What’re you doing in this dump on your summer vacation? Should be out at the beach. Heh.” said Ned. All the while grinning away. It was as if his face was frozen in some horribly jolly rigor mortis, his long, stringy white hair framing his emaciated features. They would exchange a few niceties, and eventually each would go back to their own little bubble of hospital numbness, Ned’s grin slowly fading. Over the few days or so Ned was in the room Henry began to feel the same sadness toward him as he felt for Mr. Nossiter turning to dust at his side.

This sadness was conveyed to him entirely, of course, through eavesdropping. Ned’s chief complaint being that he could not swallow without much difficulty. Eating his meals consisted of thin choking and whining sounds, exasperated sighs, and long pauses. The doctor suggested to Ned that they might attempt to stretch his esophagus in order to “relieve” this symptom. Henry wondered about this procedure. What does stretching someone’s esophagus entail exactly? Ned disappeared soon afterward.

Henry admitted to himself that he did not feel the same warmth toward Cigar Chomper that he felt toward Ned. All the same, he felt a gesture was in order to help alleviate his guilt at inadvertently almost killing the man with his mind-powers. It seemed the man was now aware of Henry staring at him from across the room. It was hard to say in the dim light. Was that a look of fear in his eye? Henry shifted slightly in his bed, paused, thought of what to say in a situation like this. He switched on his own overhead light. “Sir?” Henry whispered. Not strong enough. Henry raised his voice slightly. Mr. Nossiter moaned and exhaled loudly next to him.

“Excuse me, sir?” No acknowledgement from Cigar Chomper.

“You’re going to be all right. Don’t worry about anything.” The man fixed his gaze on Henry for a moment, but said nothing. Perhaps it was the lack of conviction in his voice. Henry rang the nurse for his Demerol injection. There would be no more pep talks that night.

About fifteen minutes after his morning Demerol shot the nurse set Henry up in a chair next to his bed. Since the surgeon had closed up his wound, Henry was being made to get up to take short walks assisted by the nurses at night before bed. Sitting up in the chair near his bed was another part of this rehabilitation. Henry would sit and attempt to give himself a sponge bath. On the hospital tray before him lay various personal toiletry items: a bar of soap wrapped in paper; a pristine hospital washcloth; a shallow yellow basin; a small toothbrush; a neat black comb; a small tube of cinnamon toothpaste; a safety razor; and a small can of aloe shaving cream for sensitive skin.

After surveying the items before him, Henry began to nod off as he attempted to finish a thought. What was he expected to do with the items in front of him, and why was he sitting up in a chair? Adjacent to him was Mr. Nossiter. Interesting. He could just sense him out of his periphery. Henry wondered how he had managed to miss this. He could not look at him. He refused to turn his head. He didn’t want it to be ruined. Oh, but he was alive. He could hear a faint rasp to his left.

Within a minute Henry had removed the toothbrush from its plastic cellophane wrapper. He stared at the tube of paste and tried to make a connection. Mr. Nossiter let out a wet burp and a clipped moan. Henry’s hands shook as he squeezed the paste onto the toothbrush, missing it by about a fraction of an inch. It now sat in his lap. To his left he sensed Nossiter and his own motor skills. This was a challenge! A jolt of electricity shot through his belly as he felt a warm kinship coming on. This could quickly turn into a surreal competition. After brushing his lips for a little while Henry stared down at the razor, and suddenly felt tired. Perched at the upper right hand corner of his table was a single red rose sitting in a large soda cup filled with water.

His grandmother had brought that for him. The day after Henry’s surgery when he first became conscious again, it was the one thing he could appreciate. It seemed to Henry that he had never encountered such a fragrance before. He just started to smile and smile, and didn’t stop. First at his grandmother, then at the rose, all the while holding it close to his nose. He had considered eating the petals for a split second, but could only imagine them clogging the NG tube which had been inserted through his left nostril, and down into his stomach previous to the operation. In the perpetual morphine shine of that fair morning he confirmed some things for himself.

The idea of reciprocal love between him and these precious people. He thought the word ‘grandma’ and smiled grinned like an idiot. Along with his mother she had helped raise Henry. Henry had always viewed her as a second mom. She had accepted this bastard child with open arms. While he was in the hospital she had been sending a chaplain every Sunday to give Henry communion in bed. Can you beat that? Staring at the pristine rose, and at his beautiful little grandmother standing there, Henry reflected joyously on eating Christ.

One particular Sunday he awoke from what the nurse called a “prednisone rage.” As he struggled to awaken he had the sensation of his body being violently thrashed around the room by some invisible assailant. Henry’s brain felt like it was boiling in his skull. He called the nurse and she gave him something. She seemed to know instantly what the matter was. The phone rang after that, and it was his grandma.

“I just thought I would see how you were doing before church.”

“Hi—Gram. I just had the worst…”

“Hen, I just thought I would see how you were before church. Did you sleep well? Has the chaplain brought communion?”

“No…I just had the worst nightmare. My head hurts so bad, gram.” He could hear her start to speak and then pause. The tears were in her voice. It wasn’t like she was about to sob. Just a little choked up. These tears came easy for his grandmother, as she got older. It seemed that with age certain moments were felt a touch more preciously; every small sadness embraced.

“Hen, you try and doze back off. I love you, honey. I’ll say a prayer for you today.” And she would, too. He did believe her. Most of the time when someone says that, it comes off as a little condescending and, frankly, corny. That rose was so beautiful. And so he fell asleep as he prayed.

For what seemed like hours, Mr. Nossiter and Henry sat side by side. Nossiter and Henry together; trying to make themselves presentable. Neither of them spoke a word to each other. They were so close Henry could have sat in his lap. Henry wanted to ask him about euthanasia, and what it meant to him. He wondered if his doctor had already beaten him to the punch. Henry decided it would be too awkward a subject for their first conversation. A part of Henry wanted to embrace Mr. Nossiter badly. At the same time he felt a sort of revulsion to the old man and his condition. He was poison. But he thought if he could just hug him, and whisper into his ear that he was still a man… And think of the life you’ve led. Look how goddamn tall you are! I’m not sure, but I could bet you were an officer in WWII. My very own grandfather trained to be a frogman in the Navy. You know, the precursor to the Navy SEAL? He died of cancer, and drank like a fish. He kissed me on the cheek and his beard scratched me once. That’s the most vivid memory I have of him. You have two children now living a few states away, and you should see those grandkids! Your wife loves you despite your disposition, and she’s on her way here today to talk really loud to you. With complete and utter patience. Every time you curse her; every time you curse your lack of vision and hearing (and all the blood!) she is considering just how much more she can love you, and why hasn’t the doctor been in to see you in two days!? It is a terrible thing to listen to a man weep and moan because he is in pain. It is embarrassing. A man who, in a previous decade, had dug up the septic on a cold March day up to his knees in his own family’s shit; smoking a Pall Mall the entire time. It would have to be pumped after all. There were no two ways about it.

During the month before his operation Henry’s condition had been stabilized, and he had his own private room. A room he would have to vacate following his operation, as it was located on an orthopedic floor. Henry could only gather that they did not want to risk infection to the orthopedic patients. It didn’t make total sense to him as to why he was in an orthopedic room to begin with. Anyway, he was being fed intravenously through a major artery in his neck. He had been admitted to the hospital acutely anorexic, for all intents and purposes. Now the color had come back to his face, and he could walk around freely up and down the hallways with his IV cart in tow. His first week consisted of major nicotine withdrawal, and one chiefly desperate night Henry contemplated ripping the feeding catheter out of his neck. An urge he would fight off and on for an hour. Things did calm down eventually, so he started to eat jell-o. He had been given special permission to go to the little refrigerator adjacent to the nurse’s station, and take jell-o whenever he desired it. In the mornings he would watch the ladies’ coffee shows on the little hanging television above him. In the afternoons he would eat jell-o, and read George Bernard Shaw. As dusk approached the prednisone would begin to creep up on him.

Right around this time, Henry’s uncle put a sharp bamboo stick in his eye, and had to visit the emergency room. It was getting dark and Henry was standing in front of the window in his private room, which looked onto…nothing. He had been looking out that useless window for something to dramatize, and his hands were shaking badly. His body felt as if it were sunburned from the prednisone. He felt that his mom had had a car accident on her way. He turned around, because he hadn’t done that in a while and just stood and stared, trembling, at the door to his room, which was wide open with his uncle standing in it. He could smell that it was dinnertime. The aroma of which mixed with the odor of manure wafting from his uncle’s clothes and work boots. Shit. Eat. Shit and Eat. Henry’s uncle just seemed to wander into the room as if he were his roommate.

“Bamboo stick in the eye,” he said. “I was planting all day, and as I bent to tie my boot it caught me good in the–”

“Are you ok?” Henry asked as he stared at the corner of the doorjamb behind him.

“A lotta blood. They bandaged it and gave me some percocet. How ya feeling, Hen?”

“Man, I hope your eye is ok,” he whispered to the floor. His mom was really late.

“Where’s your mom? She coming tonight…?”

“It’s nice out tonight?”

“Nice night. So, you’re looking pretty good. Got your own room. I thought I’d catch your mom here. She’s probably running late? Anyway. Okay…Well…Take care, Hen. I gotta pick up the boys,” his uncle said as he turned to leave abruptly. Henry always admired for some reason the way his uncle was able to exit a room so abruptly. His voice would suddenly become louder and more urgent…and then—OKAY BYE! This was always done so smoothly. Henry considered how for him it always took hours to leave somewhere. More like months as it were.

Henry wandered back to his window with the tremor in his hand still intact. There was a line from a Royal Trux song running through his head. It was something about a sword hanging over “the spectre’s” head. It would always make him think of the Hand of God. A hand extended in benediction, he thought. That was the Hand of God. He had also heard of it representing impending death. He didn’t know. There were plenty examples of it in Christian and Byzantine art. The whole deal with the sword was something else entirely, he guessed.

His mother showed up finally bringing with her a cheeseburger that he was not allowed to eat. “I thought maybe you had an accident on the way or something,” Henry said.

“There was a bad accident. There was a detour and I tried to go the back way, but then I ended up lost for a minute. I had to circle back. Are you hungry? I brought this.”

“Mom! — I have a freakin tube in my neck! I can’t eat a cheeseburger!”

“Oh yeah…I keep forgetting. I’m an idiot. I was just thinking how bad the food in here must be. I’m sorry,” she said, laughing as she stared at his neck.

“I don’t eat meat anymore, anyway. You know that. Jesus…how many times—“

“Henry, I just think after you get out you should consider eating some meat again. Even if it’s just some fish. You know? I mean you don’t exactly eat vegetables or anything.”

“I had ten cups of red Jell-O today—and there’s more where that came from. I can promise you that.”

“I just don’t understand what kind of vegetarian eats primarily grilled cheese and bean burritos. You need to think about these kinds of things with your stomach like this.”

“I just want a cigarette. That’s all I want right now. And I want to take a walk outside. Just for five minutes. And…I think I want that cheeseburger after all. Fuck. You know I was really scared something happened to you. It freaked me out! You know Uncle Dan was just here? He stabbed his eye with a bamboo stick.”

“Jesus Christ! Where is he?”

“He’s fine. He had a big dumb grin on his face as usual. You know him. In and out. Just stopped by to provide some extra tension.”

Henry and his mother took their nightly stroll around the circular hall surrounding the nurse’s stations. His mother was in her late 40s, and she looked young for her age. Henry thought of her deciding to give birth to him after his own father had left her already pregnant. The reason he gave her was that he needed to finish college. Supposedly she wasn’t the only girl he had done this to. Henry had never met him. He wasn’t too sure he ever wanted to. Maybe just see him in the flesh once walking and talking. He also wasn’t sure if his mother had made the right choice in keeping the baby. Henry felt the guilt of this thought in his stomach.

As they walked his mom talked mostly about Henry’s brother Zach and how she was worried he might be smoking a bit too much weed along with his recent obsession with death metal. Upon hearing this Henry could only think back to a few days earlier when his brother had come to visit while Henry was in the midst of a nasty nic/hissy fit; contradicting any reassuring or positive comment Zach would make to him. Zach just leaned over the bed and gave Henry a secure, comforting hug. Zach cried as he hugged Henry who also reluctantly began to cry. He and Henry were half brothers. Zach’s father was probably the closest Henry ever had come to having a real dad. But that was only for a couple years when Henry was still too young to appreciate it. There had been his mother’s boyfriends and a stepfather, but Henry had the most respect for Zach’s father. Zach and his dad were close. It seemed that Henry had been used to treating Zach like shit for years. Zach was younger, and so that was the way. But sometimes Henry was aware of an almost sadistic skew to his relationship with Zach. Zach had been a hyper little kid; always getting into shit. He wasn’t a mean kid he was just mischievous. This required extra supervision from their mom. Not the case with Henry. Henry could sit for hours and not say a word. He was the kid who got to stay up late. Adults liked young Henry.

The two of them continued to walk the circuit in silence until Henry’s mother abruptly remarked that maybe she had been too hard on Zach growing up and not hard enough on Henry. As Henry gave the usual you-did-just-fine speech his stomach seemed to suddenly shrink. Henry knew this to be true. Henry had been a well-behaved child. But he knew now (maybe he had always known) that he had gotten away with murder at times. He could always talk his way out of punishments, and was often unjustly rewarded. What was more important was that it seemed his mother was trying to say something else. It was something about strength. Henry lacked strength, strength of body for sure, but more than that strength of will; the will to finish; the will to be well in every sense of the word. He could at that moment feel himself as poison.

As they sat side by side both staring straight ahead Henry knew that in his gut he despised Nossiter. And he could not forgive himself for this. It was not so much the man that he despised, but the wasted, helpless condition of the man’s body. Wasn’t that all there was? Shit, he couldn’t have a conversation with this guy if he wanted to. He would probably start screaming something, and then shit himself. Shit himself right there on the chair that was impossibly adjacent to Henry’s own. And rest assured that there would be blood in that poison shit.

There was not much there. Not much holding the two of them together, that is. Some stitches, some gauze in various places on their respective bodies, an extravagantly fragrant red rose that could be shared, some choice dope that was probably of more use to Henry than to Nossiter at this point. They comprised no team. No camaraderie was apparent. And it seemed to him now, in some strange, sublime manner that that was what Henry had wished for. Nothing was said. Henry couldn’t look directly at the old man because when he did he could only see himself. Henry’s brother had always said that Henry was too selfish. He loved his brother.

©️2017 teagown/P.E. Tottenham