Startling Figures

We desire to see writers with authentic style make full use of the vast riches of the English language to communicate truth.

Finitude – Into the Woods

by tripplybrand

The finitude of man means the settling and conquering of land will eventually sputter out. Quite literally it often consists in a road with a jagged end, walmart to the right, a field of millet to the left, or a fence marking in and out. He ventured past the horizontal of a power-line and the full leafed oak, sighing higher than the oaks of Texas, and he was in. House behind and a funneling line of wear ahead. It was not the Sunday afternoon wandering of a man attempting to recapture or understand the similar times he spent as a child exploring, it was a swell of grandeur in his heart. This was an epic moment, a decisive moment; feeling he might simply never return. A poem memorized as a youth churned in his mind; now foggy and muddled with lines and reference numbers from Bible blips. Frost wrote it, “One day venture in to those woods. Return more sure of all I knew,” something along those lines. He felt it applied to the walk. All squirms and sweat about the swivel chair that held him to a gray shelf of papers and screens, which if arbitrarily sat at long enough would produce money, were being eternally left behind. The desk was an artifact of when machines were red and blue and gray and they churned in a predictable way, which you could see and understand if the shiny exterior was removed. Time was put in on one end and money spit out on the other. This seemed reasonable for years because for years time seemed abundant and money scarce, but he was reaching that point, which all modern men reach, where the levels were reversing.

Uncalculated steps stubbing, popping, and stumbling over angled branches and the pretty children of exhaling oaks. A man learning a new dance, eyes set on the pretty light which shimmered in rough patches. He was like a boy enraptured by the green eyes of a first date unaware of the fact that dancing takes thought, and oversized feet don’t naturally follow the pattern. A robin swung up from left, awakening him to his own trumpet blasts of movement. Stopping and shifting his weight to and fro he tested the soil; measuring the creaks and give of ground. Measuring out the next set of steps to see where the line of branches met pools of leaves, he moved forward practicing the primal skill of silence which the rhythm of the industrial revolution has been eroding in all men since its birth. The swaths of green and brown began to breakdown into intricate little homes of moss, flakes of bark, and indicators of life like dung and fur. As the colors split and fused into objects no longer abstract, another dimension rose from the stagnant painting; movement. The mechanical pinprick steps of a spider caught in the left side of his scanning view. A granddaddy-long-legs, that’s what he called them when he was a boy and his mother handed him the white funeral garb of tissue to clutch it in and drop in the toilet. It circled, spiraled, a game of sorts, watching to see if it would free itself at the last minute from the paper cage and jump back out to bite you for the whole event of trying to kill it, even if your mother asked you to.

So this is where they lived before linoleum floored bathrooms became their domain; the smudged petal of a wild rose, or something that looked close enough to a rose.

A pattern had been unearthed; his eyes focused and twitched scanning and identifying the life vibrations of the woods, which before blended into the term “nature”.

Life, tiny little streams of life are everywhere. If there are small things, spiders, flies, ants, I bet the ants are hated by all the other, like America is by the rest of the world, then there must be bigger life. Life with teeth and blood, something closer to my own shape and function.

The pages of Darwin were filled with meaning, mostly fiction, but the idea of life and death and one creature resting all on the death of another became a thing of weight which a white-line diagram on a green board could never carry.

I could live out here. I could be the life which rests atop of all other life. I could be king. A rabbit, I bet they burrow here. I can kill one and live off that for a day or two.

The foundation to this though was a memory; one illustrated and glorified from childhood when he visited the cousins in Texas and took a big light and a big gun (he realized eventually it was only a 22, but kept the glorified bigness of it all in that final version of the story) and with a sun cracked truck chased dark blurs in the night, pattern searching for the pure white glints of eyes to shine the big light on. The clinching heart squeeze of a talon trigger, dust, chipped-tooth-rocks spinning off and a dark blur resting red and smooth now; clear and focused in death.

I should use all of it, I think that’s what the Indians did, make a hat with the ears coming out like a second set above my own. I’ll be king and even have a crown. He laughed stiffly from his nose at this, at his giddiness and the absurdity of it. Who does this land even belong to? Can I just kill things, I think you have to own the ground which the paw digs into before you can decide to make that stamp in the mud its last. I think the city might own it, the great trees, the ones that are old and manly, have been pinned with a dog-tag. It’s a metal circle, like a charm, but there is no emotion in the five san-serif numbers pressed into it. I think the city owns it because they are tracking these trees. Knowing who lives where and how old you are, and being able to fill out the blanks in the spread sheet with the title “Year of Death”. So humans aren’t the only creatures the city tracks, trees get a database as well. Well if I need to make a fire I’ll take the branches already shed, or look for the ones free from scientific city jewelry. A rabbit, wood for a fire…and shelter. I need shelter, I was watching that show which Megan talks about every week on Wednesday, and last week they were finding wood and palm leaves to fashion a makeshift home, because they finally found a stream for water. Water, I’ll need water too. It rains a lot here, I can catch it in something, I wish I had my mug from work. That would help.

A mist of birds lifted from in front of him in a sigh of caws and a flutter of wings, as the bell nodded loudly and dissipating from the church a few blocks away. Life, it wasn’t a call back to reality, an ollie-ollie-in-come-free cry from mother-modernity reminding him of responsibilities and dinner being served. No, it was reminder like a perfume reminder, where an old scent briefly calls another day to mind with a different lighting and different voices.  His family was there, and they would be there just as the screens and swivel chair would be there. He loved them, he had forgotten the exact meaning behind the word and heart, but he loved them. They and love carried the same abstract blur which the swaths of green and brown held when he stepped into the woods. Buried in the blur of child-adrenaline and focus on all the alien pieces of his surrounding he had the taste of the Frost poem, that maybe on the other side of whatever this was he would be sure of all he thought true, that the swath of family, love, and work would breakdown into their virgin clarity. The solemn cluck on the church had ceased and he pressed further into the mesh. Ahead lay a break of cream bobbing bellow the pseudo-horizon of tree-limbs and sky. A scratching of mint blades, exaggerated grass, and stalks of cream feathered-plants wedged a break in the humid growth of forest.

Water, or is that the wind streaming through the blades. Perhaps water flows across their roots, and wind across their face. How lovely that would be to do nothing but sit and feel; grow.

The black gloss of his left shoe rippled into the cool root-water which shifted from the ground carrying the black of mud with it. He moved the other foot parallel to the wet one, waiting for the black of leather-water-mud to meld. The ground slowly gave, a sigh of comfort, accepting another root into its fecund soil. His pants grasping at the memory of the hot morning iron shot up as a black stalk, only to be cut off by the unfurled white button down which turned like the cream feathered-plant in front of him. Opening his eyes and blinking to let the light back in with stuttered portions, he looked for something. It was more some place than thing; a place to practice what man has done since he rose from the ground, to take the earth and break it, model it, fashion it to his own form. A house.

Maybe it was the black of water, or the specks of ink still caught in his light-adjusting-eyes, but another visual pattern emerged. After the normal blacks of bark, scars in maple trees, and ants, a scrawling line appeared. It was a solid cable with a neck the size of a garden hose coated in waxy black. Loops swinging higher than his balding head, crashing down to doodle swirls then back into another loop, over again till it was a knot. Man’s hand had already touched the plot. But touched it without purpose. The careless hunching on the charcoal line stood as a black crayon energy burst of a child on the surface of a Soutine landscape, from a distance seeming natural and wild, but when touched and squinted at was clearly an undesired afterthought.

I can move it. Perhaps I can use it as another piece of rawness to tame. Here is the spot, my spot where I will rule. I want to build something square and covered. Clear the green from underneath its shade and then dye it with my dinner’s blood and blot it, sign it, with the shell of burned out wood. What unmarked tree can I take and  

He saw it. The wire had lacerated it from his sight, but tilting his head in thoughts of designing his kingdom his eyes found a tunnel of sight leading him to see the shelter. Stumbling over grass and wire he cracked his way toward it, returning to the initial volume of movement. He squared himself in front of the rectangle of emptiness, of humanity. Three lines of limbs, two impaling the earth and a third balancing between them, the sole difference between landscape and division of space; an in-and-out, a welcome threshold. Four squares of boney wooden lines with the occasional recycled fence plank, and crowning it a left cocked swatch of corrugated tin, more dull-red than gray, all leaning together in the dependency of a card house. Half-finished with its reverse-metamorphoses, but a shelter nonetheless.

He beat me to it. Another man already left his screens and desk and found this spot. Nature must have her own force like gravity and this is the low spot pulling life here, to this spot as a point longing to be settled. He already toiled and dyed the floor with blood, signed it with the charcoal of burned out wood. Perhaps it’s nothing more than Saturday efforts of boys escaping the sidewalks and patterns of town. If we would let my son out here it might even be his. I’m not sure where he even goes though. Either way it’s been claimed, fulfilled its purpose of yielding to the form of man.   

Having found Walden only to realize Thoreau had come and gone.

He submitted and turned. The metered slush of his wet shoes and pant cuffs muttered over roots and stones, a deflated echo of the church bell heard previously.

Well Frost I’m returning more sure of all I thought was true, but where is the triumph your words felt pregnant with?  I was fifteen when I breathed in those words. You were a man when they came from you. Perhaps they were the shell which you knew would resound in triumph when read on cold nights by passionate boys. Though you knew their future emptiness, the best you could offer was a chamber to amplify the triumph for a little longer.   


…then turn left at Good Intentions

by tripplybrand

If I could but hold god

Tight enough to change this word and rule

Our land and numbers would never be so cruel

He dies

My hands cuffed in suits

On them a stain of ambiguity

Future books to praise my sincerity

Explain I strangled-him

For control we needed

Leading us to our pre-lit funeral pyre

Turn from the flame, with my light inspire

I am the map the answer

If I could but hold God

I’d kill him for your good

The Sanity of Cardboard

by tripplybrand

Midkiff, it’s a town this time, not a road; the road’s a hundred miles out.  That last cloud was bad, it sneezed so hard I didn’t think I could bless my way through it.  The minivan stopped completely and its white sheen was even disfigured in the slaps of gray. I would have stopped too, if I had kids, if Kara and I stopped long enough to promise.  Promise anything: there’s no need for an object, much less a ring, just something concrete like words to hold us in peace for a week.  The hills always surprise me when I begin the trip.  I’ve ingrained it in my head that west is home and that the elevation should crescendo instead of deflate.

With the evergreens, the Junipers; dwarfed Colorado stubble laying on either side of that man’s shoulders, I pictured him mythical in a way.  The people before Da Vinci thought old bearded men ran wild in the woods, they feared them in a style we would call, “awe”.   Of course now we would assign them the name of hippie, or Thoreau if we are refined.

He was homeless, but seemed to enjoy the pillow of tire shards on interstates more than blotchy sidewalks of cocky cities.  I passed him going eighty, speeding up too.  I was cocooned into the chiseling rhythm of electric guitars, sorting there way through my half-blown speakers.  It wasn’t even fast enough for a Texas-wave.  I don’t know if they have that up north, the lifting of the first two fingers and thumb from the steering wheel, along with a lazy nod of the head; just reminds each other we’re both humans.

It was in my mind for an hour at least.  I watched the clip over, observing in layers the nature of his face and clothes, and that sign.  I didn’t  notice the shovel until the fifth look over.  There he stood (I’d call him Steve if I had a choice, that glob of a nose deserved the name) Texas blended all around him, he was the background as he dug and sank into a hole of indulgence.  The cardboard chunk flapped its wings, screaming the forearm sharpied words, “Digging to China, every bit helps.”  With a spray of dark stained soil highlighted by virgin rock  Steve  catapulted his eyes toward mine.  Our gazes, turned and juxtaposed. were far from passing.  He’s a genius, crazy as hell, but a genius all the same.  His eyes were lost in sun and years of passion. Fingers thick, clutched and meddled with the shovel handle in primitive fashion. He had used that shovel before, used it like a weapon, not a gun, a weapon. A weapon is a tool one must learn to use; my cousin shot a friend, he was six, no one taught him that.

I am rolling out west and I am the world. This situation with Kara has built itself a city in my mind. The major road finished last Wednesday, shellacked shiny black with new asphalt; “pride” written square across the red and blue interstate sign.   A city growing fast enough to rule out functionality; placing skyscraper upon skyscraper.  The gluttony of glass and metal sitting ugly in my head, reflecting any variation of thought pattern.

Oh, but I am going to save her.

Yes brandon you are such a hero.  What set of lines have you constructed to display as she opens the hollow red door?  Will you wait for the swinging sigh of her doorbell to ring itself dry before speaking.  That will buy you time.

I’m going to tell her sorry, to mean it this time.  I’m sorry.  I’m sor-ry.  I’m sorry?  How do you meld an apology and integrity?  I wish I could think my way into it.  In 1982, eight years old, I told Mom the moon thought himself into being orange.  But the moon was dumb; that’s why it didn’t happen much.  She doesn’t have to forgive me, I just want her back: her smell of rain, jasmine, and clove cigarettes; Christmas.  She can hate me as long as I can love her.  We can play that way a little while, ease back into the normal way love works, mutual and all.  We’ve played at other things before, purity, happiness; it’s a fun game for the moments I think it’s real.  The way my cousins run around, matte-gray plastic swords in hand, wildly swinging at masculine oaks trees, tells me they’d be great at love.  Believing a tree’s a dragon is just as easy as playing the game of a relationship.

In my car, in my silence, in my mind, I am the only one alive.  These observations, words, and gestures are everything.  I am the first to trace this road, to scan across these evergreens, to notice Steve. Steve, shovel and sign, I am another speck to him.  I am a piece of the dust that rolls out west. He is the only one alive unless you spare some change.  For a hand of pennies you’re at least human, for a quarter he’ll ask your name, and for a dollar you’ll be invited to China.

Float this curve and then it’s straight.  I won’t have to turn again until Sunflower Lane. The rain ironed out the last bit of pride from the horizon.  I haven’t seen a horizontal line that perfect since I first met Kara; I hope I’ve grown. After Sunflower Lane it’s another block then the hollow red door and all it stands for.  My love, that is why this is happening?  Why I filled myself with coffee, the car with gas, and my mind with hope?  Or is it desperation?  There’s a thought scribbled somewhere about desperation, I think it said it was the English way; I bet the English have clouds like this.  It’s a desperate love, that way I answer both, and everyone’s happy.

Happiness is the key, it’s what life should be.  Always.  I wonder if Steve is happy?  It depends if he really thinks he’ll reach China.  Six grade, Sunday school, Mrs. Chalman asked us how we knew China existed.  When the answer of, “I saw it on the news,” went off like a gag reflex she smiled, knowing for once she was smarter than someone, not her husband.

“How do you know that the China on TV isn’t just a set, like they make in movies?”

I would have been sarcastic if I was older, and if it didn’t actually stump me.  I believe China is there just as Steve believes he’ll get there eventually.  What am I believing now?

A tumbleweed snags and drags my thoughts to cowboy boots, then Kara.  Always back to Kara regardless of the starting point.  Either it’s a magnetic thought, or I’m obsessed.  Both.

“Brandon I feel.  When you.  It makes me feel.  No, it’s not even about you, and I won’t let it.”             Kara was so flustered when she started, that’s one of her words, “flustered”.  I called her a dork for that, parted my lips upon the freckles on her left cheek bone.

“I can’t do this, not now, maybe never (I know that’s a lie, I’ll have three kids by the time I’m thirty) but certainly not with you.  Don’t ask me why or what I’m thinking.  This is a feeling, a dirty emotion the way you talk about them.  That way you can’t question it, because it’s personal and far from logic.  You see, you’re Newton and I’m Keats, just believe me.  You need to leave me and you can’t come charging back.  I won’t let you save me.  And the answer, to any plea, will be no.  It’s not about you, or for you, you don’t have a say that way.  Believe me.”

I believe it went like that, scattered and more destructive with such a pattern.  I believe she meant half of it.  I believe there’s a reason somewhere deeper.

I can’t save her, but I can trap her.  Diamonds are such a wonderful bait, reusable and all.

Those thoughts weren’t mine,  it’s the straightness in the road, and the lukewarm touch of coffee. I am saving her. Marry me, the light off the ring, the surprise will shed itself down her resting eyes.  She could say no.

She won’t. Her lower lip, anything but stiff, will scratch itself upon her rounded teeth, then let go in a breath, “Oh Brandon.”  She won’t be expecting it, me, but not it. Of course she knew I’d come when she said not to.  It’s a game remember, and my cousins would win.

“Another rock and root, two more cuts of dirt, then the sky and all it stands for.  China will have blue skies, so blue it feels foreign.  She said there was only more dirt underneath. It might change color, white in layers of clay, but dirt all the while.  Next the burning fluid that fills the lungs of volcanoes.  I’d die then, or die in my sweat and dirt. At that point I translated.  She was telling me to dig.  Dig hard, cut deep.  It wouldn’t be easy, reaching for something that great can’t be, but China was waiting.  I’ll break through soon.  In a moment the tendons of earth snapping and grass unfolding its hands, the blue will exhale, ‘Oh Steve,’ affirming all the hope I dug with.”

A gray ribbed tin roof  tipped itself to me as the top hat of ruddy boards beneath.  Steve could live there and quit his crazy dream.  Pressing my thumb to the plastic arrow, quieting the fuzzy melody to hear my thoughts.  He thinks it anything but crazy, he wouldn’t be there otherwise.  A year from now I’ll deny currently picturing myself surrounded by that tin and wood.  I could quit my crazy dream and live there.

Kara.  Will you marry me?

One moment of sanity can’t counteract a life lacking such. In another gulp of coffee, it’s cold enough now, and another spat of rain I’ll justify it out again. But now, with West Texas crescendoing upon me, Steve, his shovel and sign, and the base note of my honest thoughts, I know I’m digging to China as well.


© 2010 Tripp Lybrand

Overlooking a Lake

by Forrester Lybrand

It’s easy for me

At least it seems

To comprehend myself

The human mind

To search and find

The smallness of the self


This sky is great

The rain it waits

On us as we sit by

No wet today

Within those gray

How can you wonder why?


Because the ground

Is all around

Brown skinned and sporting green

A blessed hue

Of bonnets blue

Colossal I have seen


And so the wind

My favored friend

The lover of the air

Does teach me how

To wonder now

Of glory yet to bear


I know to find

The human mind

Is stumped by greater things

If only God

On perished sod

All souls would stop to sing


If only He

Was all to see

We would fall down and sing.


© 2010 Forrest Lybrand

West Texas Rain

by tripplybrand

The supple voice of a long-distance-lover

Swells the violet skin, enclosing scratches, tears.


The stippled translucent sheet approaches,

Sweeping fresh air.

A dehydrated broom of grass,

An exaggerated

Inhalation of moist breeze;

The physicality of reflection.

The reverberation of dimples in the dust, welcomes

Innocents in the form of umbrella pattern.

A child laugh from the gutter,

Under the yaupon, nodding off the shellac of God,

Puzzling together dams of excess rock, untouched by tar.

What is southern-gluttony, equates joy to the youthful west.


Greens the thorns,

Drys the dust.

My first impression of perfume,


The smell of death,

Stems martyred by the summer task of mowing.

It layers;


All stimulations of the senses smooth into an overwhelming passion,

Evoking fear or security.

I’ve begun to lose sight of the difference.

As the face of monotony

Plateaus unattractive,

A jettisoned series of words,

In grace refers,

All spastic tear cramped throats

To mundane aspects.

The brilliancy of contrast

Dries the mast

That holds the whetted

Sail of redemption.


by Forrester Lybrand

“We spared plenty of them.”

He was right, though not in a way that redeemed them for the ones they didn’t spare.   He stood there, Henry Upson, leaning against the fence post. The way the wood curved, natural and not chipped smooth by any blade, fit his back just fine. He probably had scoliosis, but to find that out from a doctor would take time and money that no one, including him, cared to invest.  A “bad back” was just the same thing, and there wasn’t much to do about it but to fight against it.  God had made him a rebellious spine, so he was going to rebel right back and pretend it was straight.

The fence post, linked to the others like it, rough and bulbous all up and down, stood loose in the ground. Older than Henry.  He pressed against it and raised a ring of dirt around it, though not enough to fall over.  He stood, jeans with dark mud stripes, plaid shirt with ratty edges, hat on head. The hat’s brim was shorter than the other ranch hands’, definitely not cowboy, but not bowler neither. Rattle John stood next to him, not leaning on the fence, his back would be pierced by the barb wire.  He stood straighter, better back, trying to cut a tall, gentlemanly figure in front of her, while Henry looked uncaring. Rattle John’s posture might have been gentlemanly enough, but the injun-red skin and fat scar that lined his left jaw didn’t add much.
She was pretty.  Truly pretty.   A rare pretty Henry had only seen in the photograph of his mother, and the mayor’s wife in town.  All other women he’d met were the common whores with their tussled hair and plain faces.  She was the rancher’s niece, come from Georgia.
“Don’t none of ya say one word to her,” said the rancher to his workers the day he went to pick her up from the train station. “None of ya. I’ll whip ya raw.”
And neither Henry or Rattle John did, not for the first week.  The other ranch hands all took their chances, either calling out to her as they worked on the well and she passed by to pick the blue bonnets out in the west field, or talking to her in closer quarters. Lyle tried to make polite chit-chat when she went to get eggs at sun up.
“Mornin’ ma’am,” he said, carrying in the milk pail. “It’s much too early for a young lady like you to be up.”
She politely didn’t say anything back, preferring the company of the chickens.

But now here she was, talking to Henry and Rattle John.  It was four o’clock, the sun was rising high and hot, and the sky had barely a snag of cloud in it.  The low hills on the west horizon were glaring bright from the sunlight, blotted by juniper trees, and the creek below the hills ran along slow and shallow.  It hadn’t rained in close to a month.  Summer work was slow and lazy.  Henry had cut the line of barb wire the day before, just so the rancher would find it and give him and Rattle John a job to do.
“Might wanna fix this post too,” Henry had said pushing on it.  They had fixed the barb wire, and he was procrastinating going back, and then she appeared, trotting up the dust path on Siren, the rancher’s favored bay.
Rattle John removed his hat for her while Henry merely nodded his, then turned back to shake the fencepost more.
“You don’t take off your hat for a lady?” she said as she trotted closer.
“He’s just a little unsophisticated, Miss,” said Rattle John smiling. “He ain’t known many ladies, don’t know how to act around one.”
Henry, as much as he hated people speaking for him, shook the fencepost some more.
“Yep,” he said turning to Rattle John. “This’ll fall over in a week when it storms. We needa reinforce it.”
“Storm?” said the lady. “My uncle said it hasn’t rained on this ranch for over half a month.”
“Then we’re quite due, ain’t we?” said Henry, still looking at Rattle John.
“You don’t look at people when you’re talking to them?” said the lady.
“Your uncle said not to speak to you,” said Henry. “Seeing as I can’t help myself when it comes to answerin’ sour, naïve comments, I thought I could make up for it by not lookin’ you in the face while I said it.”
“Where are you from?” she asked.
Henry turned back to the fencepost, though there wasn’t much more to examine.
“You have my permission to talk to me,” she said. “I don’t care what my uncle says. Where are you from?”
“Timbuktu,” said Henry, putting his hand on the fencepost and feeling the sharp edge of the wood.
“I’m sure I don’t like sarcasm as much as you don’t like naivety,” said the lady.
“I think you enjoy it a lot, Ma’am,” said Henry, laughing. He turned and looked up at her, and chuckled some more. “You wouldn’t still be sittin’ here in this heat if you didn’t.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Henry Upson,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Eliza Joy Cummings,” she said. “How old are you?”
“A hundred and ninety.”
“No he ain’t,” laughed Rattle John, feeling very much excluded from the conversation. The scar on his jaw stretched thinner as he smiled. “We’re both twenty-four, Miss.”
“I’ll be twenty this November,” she said, proudly.
“Well until then, we’ve got work,” said Henry. “You go ridin’ up the hills over there. Cross the creek, Siren looks parched.”
“Is that the name of this horse?” asked Eliza. “I didn’t catch it when my uncle saddled her. You know what a siren is don’t you?”
“I expect we don’t,” laughed Rattle John again.
“A pretty lady who distracts men from their work,” said Henry.
Eliza turned red and smiled.
“I didn’t know that word was in your vocabulary,” she said.
“I believe you,” said Henry, turning back to the fencepost.
“I never heard the name before,” said Rattle John smiling. “Just thought it was a horse name.”

Within ten minutes Rattle John had told her all about the year before in an attempt at conversation, as it was the only thing in his life he considered important, the violence they had seen, those who had survived, those who hadn’t.  Henry had to keep turning back to the fencepost, afraid to look at her face for too long.
“We spared plenty of them,” he said. “We did as we were told.”

© 2010 Forrest Lybrand


by tripplybrand

At this point Grain was bleeding. Slow, marble drops until gravity broke the invisible curve of air sustaining the bead of blood, which floats then free falls to the lip’s corner; streak-like-rain. A bruise swam around the upper peak of his cheekbone, knobby like a wood-knot with skin taunt stretched across it, the seal of authenticity which stated that, “yes I have been to a bar, it was in Texas, the parking lot was white dirt, and I told a man that God was probably French.” The details that the man who hit Grain was a pastor from Brady, who had just taken his first drink in twenty years, were unseen in the purple rorschach prints.

The concave print of three knuckles on his left cheek bone was not as easy to swallow as Grain had imagined. The images and the pain we conjure up, especially on late nights after the owls have ceased moaning and your last cigarette is down to the cherry, are never as deep in intensity as reality presents them. The flesh, both its pain and pleasure is something the mind only knows of in theory. If the sensuality of touch was known as more than a concept before the moment of impact we would be unable to fight for fear of death, and the thought of love would collapse our chest in overwhelming anticipation. Sin is not all that different. If the death it brings was felt before our heart first exhaled humanity would consist of a still-born land; apart from Grace we are nothing more.

At this scene a boy leaned behind the cedar arms which sat horizontally in the mock nature of a hitching post, while practically serving as the stopping line to park your truck. Red leash wrapped around four knuckles, thumb strumming on the taunt fabric, pulled so by the black lab on the other end. “Sit. Let’s go home. Chiick, chiik. Heal boy.” The dog sat (which if that had been the command it would have been a miracle) and the boy submitted to lean once again on the sinew of cedar.

The sound of a man placing his bones into the skin of another man sets off a heartbeat somewhat elliptical and heavy, the same way a ceiling fan spins when it’s knocked crooked and the fixture becomes loose. This rhythm calls for the sick desire to have your face taste the same bones. More unsettling is the secret kernel of hope that it would taste sweet. At age twelve the boy had never been submerged by the sensation before and could do nothing more than keep leaning.

“I bought you a drink man. I paid for your girly coconut whatever and you punch me.” Grain exhaled these words in a higher register to express disbelief of what had now become reality. The pastor was silent, hunched over, breathing hard, silent simply because he hadn’t moved that fast since dove season. He held his hand as if he was attempting to wring it in the intensity of prayer, but in actuality he was trying to cage in the throbbing sensation. It must hurt to have a nail driven through.

“Waitwaitwait. Don’t hit me. A gut response as the pastor breathed hard enough to have his peripheral line of sight pushed up and catch the blurring blue of Grain’s jeans kicking toward him.

“Why?” Grain questioned, while at the same time questioning why he had stopped his hand mid-air.

“Jenny will be so mad, my wife, she’ll be pissed beyond mad: one that I took a drink, two that I come home with a bruise on my face.”

“But not that you hit another man?”

“Ok and three that I hit another man.”

It was six and the summer sun was still glazing over the land with the sheen of a mirage. The pastor had stood up by now, not fully erect, a curved hunch just at the top of his shoulders. Grain felt the sun begin to press a little harder into his raised hand, which made him once again realize that it was still raised. He let it fall to his side then reeled it into his pocket.

“Go home Dan. Your wife will probably hurt you more than I can. I bet you cry when she gets mad at you. Tells you you shouldn’t be a man of God.”

The boy only heard every three words or so but realized the exchange of violence was going to remain unjust and was finished. The dog heard every word, understood none of them, but had come to the same conclusion. They turned and exited in the daze associated with the transition from movie-theater, to parking lot, to car, to home.

The nylon of the dog’s leash popped in and out of the ethereal columns of dust, illuminated and floating in the air. It swung in a stuttered rhythm behind the swinging of the boy’s fists. Jab, one two, jab. He pummeled the expanse of sky with his hands that seemed to shrink every time they swung and struck nothing. “I could fight like that.” He swung again. His reflective eyes caught the spastic bob of a weed Y-ing off from the fence line which he followed in faith to lead him home. It was the type of weed that bowed its head heavy with mock grain, over-all looking like mock wheat. The boy punched at the wispy head and missed with his left hand while holding the red stripe of fabric, the dog yelped quickly as the leash snapped into his throat attempting to follow the boy’s fist. A muttered moan remained in the animal’s throat as his owner switched to use his right hand. After three lunges, each building in reach upon the last, the right hook finally brushed into the hanging line of seeds. The wind struck as well making the mock-wheat’s destruction all the more emphatic. Each small pod dangling by a thread of nutrients kicked back and tumbled into an intersection of breeze. They began to converge and repulse in syncopation finally being exalted high enough to rest as quiet brown dimples in the backdrop of the sun, each carrying a hallo of dust as a visual companion.

More than an inconsequential dimple a cedar post posed as a slash in the white circle of light. Its silhouette denied the satisfaction of an unobstructed sunset. There are very few untouched sunsets left in the world, most being scored by a wisp of power-line, a matrix stamp of steel and glass, or the good ole sinew of an oak. The desert, the Texas desert, was one of the few places left, but even that far out of town man had taken his chalk-line and sectioned off a piece saying, “this is mine.” To the unassuming boy, naïve of sudo-sophisticated words such as “silhouette”, the stabling arm of cedar was a step up from the weed as an object to lay his fist into.

He approached it filled with thoughts and squint-eyed visions of the day. I wonder if bone is as hard as wood? Does a cheek block it much when the knuckles hit into the bone. Lightly and self-aware he tapped on his cheek with the hand curled around his dogs leash. Left hand dropped, right up, extended. The knuckles, thinned in skin and blood, reached just to the point of tasting the hairy tussle of bark draped upon the post. One foot forward, his shoes coated in the off-white color of dust or rich people’s wall paint. Arm forward, feeling softly, patiently the imprint of perforated lips leading to a recesses bored out by insects which once hid beneath a tumor-knot of the wood. He swung with the mechanics of force built upon a map of pain with a key of mock wheat, the trial run again the post, and the fact that men hit each other and still can talk and walk away. He bled, wiped it on the red leash, crimson steaks soaked into the joyful sheen of nylon. As he wrapped the band around his ripped skin draped upon the boney knots of his fingers, he squinted off any idea of tears. Of course he’d never hit a fence again, the hope of pain was realized and there was no point to repeat it, but surely a man’s cheek would cushion your hand. He imagined how different it would feel, until the dog began to bark in the chopped swing of Latin poetry at a jackrabbit skidding down hidden shoots between mesquite trees.

© 2010 Tripp Lybrand