R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Category: Blog Posts (page 2 of 58)

New poem up at Anti-Heroin Chic

Here’s some good news to close out 2017! The online journal Anti-Heroin Chic has published my poem For Brian, Somewhere in Upstate South Carolina.

If you’re new to AHC, I think you’ll like what you find there. I sure do. From their “About” page:

Anti-Heroin Chic is a collective journal of poetry, photography, art work, stories, essays, interviews and more. We currently publish on a somewhat rolling basis, featuring anywhere between a dozen to twenty new writers, photographers & artists every month, whose work can be found on our contributor blog page.

‘Anti-Heroin Chic’ meaning that what is beautiful is what is broken, that our imperfections, our exiles, our exclusions, are what define our humanity most, not the polished surface or the Instagram culture which encourages us to dissociate from who and how we truly are. There is a seat for everyone here at this table. The idea of the commune very much animates this project. This journal strives for inclusion and a diversity of voices, not to disparage others but to lift them up.

Many thanks to AHC editor-in-chief James Diaz for publishing my poem. Thanks also to fellow writers Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jon Bennett, and Kim Bailey Spradlin, whose wonderful work I’ve gotten to know via Anti-Heroin Chic.

Photo: “Self-Portrait in Black and Blue” (LaGrange, Georgia – 4 August 2015)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Can I See a Doctor’s Note?

Here’s another story from my many years of teaching college English. I wrote it down a decade ago, and somehow forgot about it until just the other day.

*****

My morning class was finishing an in-class practice essay. One by one, the students completed their essays and walked to the front of the room to turn in their papers. After they’d handed me their practice essays, they were free to leave.

One fellow, smelling of cigarette smoke and some kind of antiseptic, made his way up to where I was sitting. He folded his paper in half lengthwise, handed it to me, and gave me a sheepish little smile. “Just wanted to warn you: that’s probably not very good,” he said, motioning toward his paper on the top of the stack.

Writing students say things like this all the time. “No worries. That’s what this class is for,” I said. “We have individual conferences next week. That way, we can sit down and talk about any essay problems you’re having.”

“Well, no, that’s not it,” he said. He reached under his FREE MARY JANE trucker hat to scratch his head. “I, uhh—well, I spent all weekend in the hospital.”

“Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that! Are you all right now?”

He paused, and grinned again. “Well enough, I guess.” A long pause. “It was, umm, ya know—” He made the motion of turning up a bottle to his mouth. “A little too much, ya know.”

I didn’t get it. “Umm—”

“Alcohol poisoning,” he said. “Went in early Saturday morning, and they just released me at 7:00 this morning to come to class.”

It was Tuesday.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 12/27/17

“Denim Oops”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 December 2015

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From the Back Corner Booth

“You gotta watch Wanda: she’ll slip onions in there when you ain’t looking.”
“Rats gotta have cheese. He’s a cheese rat. Bet he could tear up a bag of peanuts.”
“Drop two bacon and a hashbrown, scattered!”

An immaculate red-and-white ’69 Camaro rumbles into the parking lot. Johnny Cash walks the line from the jukebox speakers to my ears as the cooks sing along. I sip my coffee and watch the broken, beautiful world pass by.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Merry Christmas 2017

“Bright Lights against the Pines”
Heard County, Georgia – 6 December 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A song for hard times

Five years ago, I stumbled across this song, and The David Wax Museum‘s “Harder Before It Gets Easier” remains exactly the encouragement I need when things look grim. I love their “Mexo-Americana” sound and unexpected subject matter. This video, art-directed and produced by Shutter + String, is a powerful throwback to some of the most memorable videos of the mid-1980s.

My favorite lines from the song:

You’ve been wrung out and then doused with grief
The ocean of time, in a moment, will be brief
Will be brief…

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Happy Christmas Eve 2017

“A Lesser-Known Christmas Vigil”
Waffle House #646
LaGrange, Georgia – 13 December 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Caturday: 12/23/17

How does Nooz deal with a house full of Caturday-before-Christmas guests? The same way everyone else does: Bourbon.

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Friday Photo: 12/22/17

“Oncoming Storm with Shadows, in Blue”
LaGrange, Georgia – 22 July 2015

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In the Craft Supply Store with Mom

On a shopping trip with my mother, we find ourselves browsing kitschy wall decor in a “big box” arts-and-crafts supply store. Mom spies a piece of mass-produced wall art, all text, with the words nearly 12″ high in mirror-polished steel.

MOM:  [reading] “Faith. Hope. Love.”
ME:  I think it’s from 1 Corinthians. Goes something like, “And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
MOM:  Oh, that makes sense. It’s a Bible reference. But… [gestures down the aisle]
ME:  But what?
MOM:  The rest of this stuff. It’s just so cheesy. How come nothing else gets any airtime?
ME:  Airtime?
MOM:  Why don’t any other ideas get a mention? You know, realistic ones.
ME:  Such as?
MOM:  “Despair. Oblivion. Hatred.”
ME:  Dammit, Mom.
MOM:  I mean, it’s always the same sappy bullshit. [points to other side of aisle] See? Like this.
ME:  [reading] “Live, Love, Laugh.” Ugh, yeah. And here’s another one: “Dream.”
MOM:  “Dream?” How about, “Give Up?”
ME:  [reading] “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
MOM:  No! “Freak Out and Fuck Off!”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

One Small Voice Against the Storm

The other night, I dreamed I was at a friend’s house during a terrible thunderstorm, the kind of storm that makes people think Armageddon really has arrived. The winds shook the spring-green, baby-leafed trees like eighty-foot-tall pompoms. Parts of people’s houses flew by: downspouts, shingles, screen doors. I could see even darker, nearly-black clouds rolling in from the west.

The green of the trees lit up neon-like against the angry dark gray clouds. Those clouds billowed slow and steady across the fields opposite my friend’s house—embryonic tornadoes, rolling close to the ground. They moved so slowly that at first I thought I could outrun them on foot. But they moved in such a stop-motion, unpredictable way that I knew I’d better not even try. In the vacant lot across the road, half a dozen newborn funnel clouds stood up and lumbered toward us.

The sensible thing to do would have been to run back indoors and hide in the bathtub, or in the crawl space. But for whatever reason, we decided to drive my car into town and take shelter on the university campus. In the basement of one of the huge concrete classroom buildings, we figured, we’d be safe.

As we drove down the narrow country road, the storm grew even stronger. Entire roofs and porches now flew over the car, like dollhouse parts at the mercy of a giant commercial vacuum. We saw people cling to telephone poles and mailbox posts, then lose their grip and disappear into the dark, hungry tornado mouth. The trees whipped in every direction. In the all-powerful wind and rain, proud hickories and towering oaks became as pliable as flimsy ornamental grasses.

When an ancient tulip poplar crashed across both lanes of the road, I stopped the car. We were about to get out and head for the ditch—another last-resort place to hide from a tornado—when we felt the car’s rear end lift, fall, and lift again.

Then the tornado was upon us.

It yawned wide, and again picked up the car by the rear axle. We were now suspended in the air, far above the ground. For a moment, I thought my hands had grown into the steering wheel. I couldn’t even scream. But then the car began to shudder. Through my terror, my words returned.

“This is it?” I shouted. “This is how it’s supposed to end?” I grabbed my friend and held her against me, shielding her face from the chaos swirling just beyond the windshield.

The tornado shrieked louder, and bobbled the car a little. It was trying to scare me, trying to shut me up. I held my friend even tighter, and kept shouting.

“I can’t believe this—after everything she’s been through.” The winds rocked the car again, dipping the front end and then the back. “Her grandmother, two uncles, an aunt, and her husband have all died over the last year.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. “And now you bring her this?”

The car began spinning counter-clockwise, with an occasional, ungainly dip back toward the earth. Now the tornado was just toying with us—just a bully, picking on two much smaller kids in the far corner of the playground.

My anger rose. One way or another, life or death, that storm would know forever that I had its stupid little game all figured out.

“So this is the best you could do, huh? A tornado?” The car’s rear end dipped again. This time, the roller-coaster feeling in my solar plexus did not unnerve me. “Talk about corny! You’ll have to come up with something better.”

The tornado’s mouth opened wide. It meant to swallow us whole. Soon, we would be scattered all over the west Georgia countryside. Images came to me of search parties finding our various unidentifiable body parts flung hither and yon, mixed with bits of vegetation and scraps of Honda.

Nope. This would not do.

I poured out my rage at the gigantic gray funnel. “No! NO! You cannot have her! NO!”

The towering column lurched away from us. Its monstrous roar turned to a sputter, and then a frightened half-cough. The car leaned suddenly to one side, and then gently floated back to the ground. I peered up into the swirling vortex, only to watch it turn a lighter gray, then white, and then disappear. I turned to my friend. “Are you okay?” She nodded yes.

I awoke in awe at the power of one small voice against the storm.

Photo: “Metal Roof and Storm” (LaGrange, Georgia – 23 November 2014)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 12/20/17

“One Last Old Rose”
LaGrange, Georgia – 11 November 2015

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Cedars at Christmas

As I drive around the countryside in late December, I look along the winter-brown roadside for the familiar fuzzy evergreen clouds. They’re far easier to spot this time of year.

They float along old fence lines, these tubby juniper ghosts, at the very edge of the right-of-way. They bide their time where state DOT and Army Corps of Engineers property ends, where the natural world waits to wreck the built and overrun the mechanized. Often, their shredded gray trunks smirk and pucker around twisted steel—We can’t grow here, huh? HA! Stupid barbed wire. That’ll teach you. 

When I was a child in rural east Alabama and west Georgia, these dark green blobs of badass were our Christmas trees.

Eastern red cedar, or Juniperus virginiana, grows all the way from southeastern Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. A pioneer invader, it prefers pitiful, ragged-out, freshly-cleared land. However, unlike other potentially invasive species, it can live for centuries if left alone. My grandfather’s farm included several cedars with trunks nearly three feet thick. For the most part, though, the ones I notice are between four and seven feet tall, just the right size for the average living room.

I remember only one tree-cutting walk, far behind our house outside Rock Mills, Alabama. We were likely on someone else’s land. My father had to have known this. But, seeing how eastern red cedars alkalize pasture soil and steal nitrogen from forage crops, maybe the landowners would not have cared. Daddy cut it down with a hatchet and a hacksaw, then dragged the tree behind him for the half-hour walk back to the house, my sister and me following as quickly as our little legs could manage.

In this old photo, the short, squat little cedar looks as lush now as it did then to my three-year-old eyes. It sits atop the blanket chest—also red cedar—that my great-grandfather made around the end of the First World War. That same blanket chest now guards my guest room.

Christmas tree farms make me uneasy. Their offerings, while pretty, are not of this land. Their trees’ native soils lie hundreds of miles north and west of here. While I am glad they bring joy while exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, they are just not for me.

Those plush needles stay too neatly combed. Too-tidy firs and spruces demand unreasonable cheerfulness and forced smiles. They heap manufactured happiness on top of organic, deeply rooted sorrow. And they act surprised when the needle-fine roots of that sorrow break back up through the soil.

Thanks, but I’ll skip the farmed Dick and Jane Reader perfection. I like a little asymmetry, a little imperfection, with my major holidays. Instead, give me an eastern red cedar, thriving at pasture’s edge. Give me slowly shredding grayish-tan bark. Give me perfumed red heartwood that swallows barbed wire and NO HUNTING signs along Georgia Highway 219. Give me needles growing in all directions like an overcaffeinated moth-repellent pompom. Wherever I go, for the rest of my days, the trees I have known and loved stay with me.

Photo: “Detail, Red Cedar Christmas: Rock Mills, Alabama, 1976”

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 12/18/17

“Hickory Leaves, Late Afternoon”
LaGrange, Georgia – 6 November 2017

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Caturday: 12/16/17

“Sherwin with Kitchen Chair”
LaGrange, Georgia – 30 May 2015

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Friday Photo: 12/15/17

“In a Churchyard at Dusk”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 February 2015

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Bullet Holes, Either Way

At this shot-up sign, County Road 20 dead-ends into State Highway 22, near Rock Mills, Alabama. Years ago, just behind this sign, a rickety shack once balanced on stilt-like pillars. How no car ever missed the road’s end and crashed into that house, I will never know.

I was born in Randolph County. My childhood home is about three miles from this intersection. My paternal grandmother’s childhood home, demolished in the 1980s, was just half a mile from here. My sister and I grew up with our grandparents about seven miles away, in Glenn, Georgia.

All these places say “Home” to me.

“Bullet Holes, Either Way”
Rock Mills, Alabama – 16 June 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 12/13/17

“Morning Sun with Bourbon and Glass”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 November 2016

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Hillside Monday: 12/11/17

“Toy Car with Carpet and Wall”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 September 2016

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Exam Week Solace

Thinking this morning of all my friends still slogging through the end-of-semester grading storm. Teacher pals, I love you.

“Exam Week Solace”
LaGrange, Georgia – 6 December 2014

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