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Into Autumn

Moonshine Cove Press is firm in a November 7 publication date for The One with the Beautiful Necklaces. Hooray!

Here’s another excerpt from that book. Some of the people in it are magical, and when two magical people happen to be married to each other, their quarrels may be interesting. Opal Keenan suspects her husband of doing something that caused their first son to be born with a birthmark.

from THE ONE with the BEAUTIFUL NECKLACES:

That fall Opal had another child in her. She said to Bann Keenan, “I’ll hold this child inside of me because of what you did to Tall Rider. I’ll hold this child until it dies”


Bann said, “You will not.”

Opal smiled and gathered together a bundle of herbs. She lit a fire at the end of them, and as they smouldered, a wondrous smell came over the house and the yard. Bann was almost asleep when he realized what was happening. He jerked himself awake and opened his mouth. He had himself almost forgotten the old tongue, but he remembered these words, for they were a curse and a blessing at once, and when he uttered them, a stiff wind blew and Opal’s herbs guttered out in a puff of smoke. Opal Keenan whirled around three times and called upon the Spider Woman of the South, and darkness came over the valley. Bann leapt up and ran three circles the opposite direction, and the earth moved under his feet, him calling the names of Boanna and Dana and Lugh of the Lights, that had never been heard on that side of the world before. She leapt into the air and when she came down she had become a great she-bear hunched and roaring. He uttered a spell from the left side of his mouth and became a catamount, screaming so that the cows lowed in terror in the next meadow. So it went while the afternoon wore away, sometimes flickering with supernatural lights or rolling with thunders. Smoke started in the near woods. Hail fell on the roof of the house and the sheds. When it was over, the strangest sound of all came. It was Opal Keenan laughing. No one had heard Opal Keenan laugh since she had walked out of the forest. She laughed then, holding her belly, and Bann Keenan laughed with her, rolling on the ground because the laughter came so hard. That’s what people said, anyway, a long time after, when things had to be put together from shards and fragments.

When it was over, Rider came up out of the creek where he had been playing with his McGannon cousins. His face was shining and perfect. His cousins kept touching his face, not sure whether they remembered the mark rightly or not. Five months later, Opal Keenan gave birth, and they were twins, a daughter and a son.

Diving into the Moon

One of my earliest attempts at long fiction finally evolved in Diving Into the Moon. It’s one of my Hiram stories, with roots in, and elements derived from, my time at my undergraduate alma mater. The book follows the career of one Emma Truvain, destined to become America’s most famous, or infamous, poets– based way back at the beginning on my love for Edna St.Vincent Millay.

From DIVING into the MOON

Sunlight. One star. Moonlight.
In years to come it was hard to remember what came first, what came so late there was almost no opportunity to remember. Times converged at a single point on the horizon like the lines of an old brown painting. Orion shone blue-white over Udall’s bridge. Capella glared low and ruddy in the cemetery maples. Around the red brick prong of Hiram College the Great Bear swung remote and restless. Amish buggies clattered on the brick streets, and when the children of the town heard them they knew it was safe to sleep and dream. Silver Creek between its banks murmured and slept and waited for someone to awaken it, confident that such a one would never come.

Eleanor’s memory made it perpetually September, the corn rows set east to west, perpendicular to the road so you could look a long way in, to where the aisles converged in vegetable blue. At the top, where the road flattened out onto Pioneer Trail, stood the Amish farmhouse: white, uncurtained, with its black carriage, black horses, the hair of the children pale as corn silk. They looked up from their chores when one passed, and never spoke. At the field’s far edge the natural-gas pumps reared and dropped like monstrous egrets.


September was the fat thrush in the thicket, singing his heart away.
September was the Queen Anne’s lace like ladies’ hats with their one inexplicable splash of purple.


September was the month of the beginning of labors, of the ripening of labors begun long ago.

Eleanor walked in September memory under a light forever blue, dry, immutable as the blue of a jewel. She called it “blue” but “blue” wasn’t enough. Blue the wild chicory hinted at. Blue of Siloam, blue of the waters that lie above the earth. Blue over all, blue arched and domed like the roof of a great church in a book. Oh, blue sky, blue sky she chanted as though it heard her, and would respond with love, She looked in her boxes of pastels for the softest blue, a robin’s egg lace, the wing of an ephemera. If she could touch that blue with her hand it would ring. If she asked it in the right way, it would reveal the figures moving past her, mysterious in that first moment, without names and without a history, lost.


Eleanor stopped at the exact right spot on the brown road. The easel banged her shins until she ground its three legs it in the dirt, until she angled it to meet the wind on its narrowest side. She came to paint.


She listened as she worked. She waited for somebody to call her name from the cemetery where gray stones marked the sleep of the Tildens and the Allyns and the Bancrofts and the one lone Haupt, her exhausted mother under her rhododendron tree. Year after year Ryder Road lifted from her house at the edge of the cemetery to the Amish farm perched on the hill. The blond children stared and never spoke. Year after year the St.John’s wort, the vetch, the Queen Anne’s lace covered the gashes of ditches, the whitening bones of road kill. The voices calling from the stones changed, ghost faces melting back into the granite when she turned to answer. The road itself changed so slowly no one lived long enough to see.

If she would call to me. . . if she would whisper what it all was for–


Eleanor came to paint. She worked the legs of the easel firmly into the soil facing the chocolate road between the tossing fields. She chose blue. That blue, the one which was momentarily perfect. That blue alone on white canvas was sufficient. She needn’t touch it. Walk away. Let it be. A strike of blue upon blue-white under all that blue. She squeezed the tube a little harder, though the last stroke had been perfect. The next one would be less, and the one after that less still, but the world goes forward, doesn’t it? How could it be helped?


She had grown so old, When the wind whipped her hair in front where she could see it, it was gray. How had this happened?


Oh it is gray. . I am gray. . . the gray against such blue is almost beautiful.

Reasons to thank the Quarantine

Since I came back from Ireland on the last day you could do such a thing without mayhem, I have been writing, writing, writing. I want to introduce these projects, beginning with ones I think are “finished,” and then venturing into works-in-progress. This excerpt is from JASON OF THE APES, about a college professor who goes green by emulating Tarzan and charging through the wilderness during summer break. He also is instrumental to the beginning of a revolution, but we’ll let the book appear before we reveal that. Wherein several well-known academic characters are revealed. . . . .

From Jason of the Apes:

In summer, when he didn’t need to keep up appearances, his black hair flowed down his shoulders. Wild and dirty he was beautiful. He knew this from regarding himself the quiet pools, which he did over extended periods of time, as though he’d met an alien in the wilderness and was trying to get to know him. Jason contemplated his own beauty as one would ability at woodworking or skill at mathematics, to test how far it would take him, to test its power, its limits, who would be impressed and who not. Jason practiced the slight upturn of the lip that made him look rakish and dangerous. That was a good one. He should remember that. Narrowing his eyes made him look impatient and ready for action. When put to the test, beauty usually served him. Or, to put it another way, he had not yet found the boundary where beauty failed him. His woods were ringed with homes, and girls lived in these homes, and if he chose right, merely standing in a backyard would elicit an invitation. While they prepared for him, he’d stand at the bathroom mirror, regarding, maybe plucking twigs out of his hair. If a panther had become a man. . . it all made sense. He had chosen right. There was time to cultivate other virtues when beauty failed him. Who had, after all, made beauty but God? Sometimes the women asked him to shower. Sometimes they did not. He never asked their names, though sometimes he already knew. It wasn’t a big town. Anonymity worked better for all parties.

The very first conquest, though, he knew her: Tilly.Tilly lay sunbathing in her father’s side yard, which rolled down to a boggy vacant lot, the far edge of which touched the forest. He watched her for a long time. He had not attached the word “beautiful” to her before, but once he did, she was. She rolled onto her side, then she rolled onto the other, toward him, where he saw her bra was undone and her back bare. She shielded her eyes with her hand. Mostly she swatted at mosquitos. Jason had been naked, but he reached into his satchel for the pair of shorts he slipped on when naked simply would not do. He couldn’t see Tilly well enough from where he was, so he crossed the boggy lot. The muck made little sucking sounds around his feet, and that might have been what alerted her, for she was staring straight at him when he got close enough to see her eyes.
“You.” she said. “I thought you were away at camp or something.”
“Yeah. I am. I just. . . “

Tilly smiled as if she knew it was a ruse. “Whatever it is, it’s working for you. Look at those pecs.”
Without meaning to, Jason did.
“You were spying on me.”
“Sort of.”
“Where were you just now? Unless you fell out of the sky.“
Jason motioned to the line of trees. Tilly said, “Clayton said you’d gone Tarzan-happy. I didn’t know what he meant. Do you swing on vines?”
“Yes.”
“Do you wrestle crocodiles?”
“When I come upon one.”

Tilly’s suavity impressed in recollection still many years later. Without his suspecting she was going to do it, she shrugged out of her bra and let fall onto the grass. The bra was blue with tiny, colorful flowers on it. She leaned back, and the glory of her first bloom shone white in the harsh summer sun, like a beach, like the summit of an Alp. She said, “Daddy gets home at 5:30.”


Maybe she’d been dreaming about exactly this as she sunbathed; she seemed ready and prepared. She directed the operation. Whatever she said to do, Jason did. Put your hand there a minute: the hand went there. He realized he liked that. He liked for a woman to tell him what she wanted. And, no question, Tilly was a woman. His first. He’d left the girls behind. Take to the forest and become a man. The Lord of the Wilderness does not do girls. She was strong, and lifted and righted him if he happened to miss the spot. Daddy’s tires were grinding on the driveway gravel when Jason sprinted over the bog and back into the trees. He looked behind a couple of times. Tilly was sitting on the rumpled blanket, watching him.

From “The One with the Beautiful Necklaces”

Bann held Saint Oliver Plunkett close to his chest. They squatted on a tuft of grass. The grass sent long shadows away from the conflagration, as though it were red day and not some minutes before midnight. Their mother was keening and walking toward the house, and then back when the heat of the flames drove her away. She keened as you do when one is dead. Bann kept counting in his head, trying to determine if they’d left somebody behind in the fire.


Saint Oliver Plunkett, Ollie his brother, was simple. He was three and had not spoken yet. His great long name redressed that evil, or made it worse, depending on how you looked at it. Ollie alone of them had no fear. He held his translucent hands out to the flame saying “Ooooo. . . Oooooo.” Bann felt himself saying Oooo along with his brother. It was somehow comforting. He was trying to figure it out, what was happening.


The other voices spoke English. They read something official from wrinkly paper, but no one understood a word of it. Nevertheless, they knew it was an eviction. Cen Fath? Jaime kept asking, Cen Fath? Mother saved the money; Jamie had stayed out of the Peelers’ way. They gave no warning. It didn’t matter. The English could do what they pleased. After an eviction, the landlord made sure the tenants would never come back by burning the house behind them. They had heard of it, but somehow never imagined it would come upon them. Bann and Saint Oliver Plunkett and the rest were given just enough time to get out before the torches were laid against the straw roof. The mother stood as near the door as the heat would let her, so that as the flames grew she had to be pulled back. Embers settled on her shawl and smoked a moment before Aoife could brush them out. The sister Aoife stood beside the mother murmuring “mammy. . . mammy. . .” You knew by her lips she was saying that, though nothing could be heard above the roar of flames gobbling the thatch roof and the five small beds and the cupboard with the dishes her mother had got from her mother when there was money in the family.


The landlord’s man struck Jamie Keenan with the butt of a rifle when he tried to stand between them and the doorway. He was the oldest brother, and he thought he had to defend them, but now he lay in the dirt with his collarbone broken. He was crying, “I can’t do it. . . I can’t do it,” as though anyone expected him to stop the event now in its flow.

The One with the Beautiful Necklaces

You’d think the Pandemic would be a perfect time NOT to fall behind in a literary blog, but–

On the other hand, I’ve been working hard on actual composition, about which I’ll boast at another time.

Actor Dwight Chiles just brilliantly performed my brief play “Wesley’s Shirt” as part of Sip’n’Scripts’ distanced theater project.

A project long on the burner is boiling toward completion, and that is the publication by MOONSHINE COVE PRESS of my 3rd novel The One with the Beautiful Necklaces. We’re aiming for November publication. The One with the Beautiful Necklaces will please all who like a little Magical Realism to go with your Appalachian Family Saga. The Keenan family flees Ireland sometime before the end of the 18th century, and ends up in Madison County, in a valley called Two Mountains. One of the mountains shines blue under the full moon, the other white: it’s a mystery. Anyhow, though they’re the first white folks, the valley is already inhabited in unexpected ways, and the book slowly (though not too slowly, I hope) reveals the history of cohabitation between the “real” people and the people of the forest. Think “100 Years of Solitude” in the Blue Ridge. Those who have read my other books will be thoroughly perplexed. Please await this publication anxiously, and while you’re at it, check out the full, fascinating catalog of MOONSHINE COVE PRESS.

Supplies of my other books are not quite exhausted, so please consider the prize winning The Falls of the Wyona and the not prizing winning buy very fun Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers for your home library.

Catching Up

February 1, 2020

 

In the desperate hope that I really will keep my blog up-to-date this time, let me give my invisible friends an accounting of the past year or so.

My novel The Falls of the Wyona won Red Hen’s Quill Prize for queer writing, and was published in May, 2019. It is available from Red Hen Press, from Amazon, from your local independent bookseller.

an excerpt from The Falls of the Wyona:

It’s possible to know a river longer than you’ve been alive, if your father knew it before you and his father knew it before him.
The river flows sad sometimes because everything changes and he alone remains the same. The river remembers when the industrial park over on 414 was a grove of trees. The river remember boys shinnying up the waterside sycamores, and who now sleep in the Baptist cemetery with the thrushes hymning them at evening. You could fall in love with the one at the barn dance you passed over your arm, and you would live with her until the day you died. In parlors, on dressing tables and dusty mantels, sit portraits of people whom nobody remembers but the river. They’ve sat there so long and people have dusted around them so long that they’re part of the decor, and will not be moved until the last aunt dies and the house is sold to someone new moving uphill from the crowded cities. Everybody remembers something, and somebody remembers everything, and that’s what knits the fibers of the world together.

*

Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers , my second published novel, was actually written a long time ago, and wound a complicated road toward the light. It is available from Black Mountain Press, from Amazon, and can be ordered from your local independent bookseller. It is the story of Asheville and its budding art scene in the late 80’s and 90’s, taking up eighty years after Thomas Wolfe left off,

an excerpt from Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers:

Friday nights a tribe of drummers gather under the sky in Pritchard Park, dozens of them sometimes, surrounded by locals and tourists, spilling out into the streets around the park, throbbing up into the arched firmament one remembers as an eternally accommodating blue. The drummers are mostly boys with their shirts off. Sometimes they’re girls who want to be boys with their shirts off. On the open pavement before them trance dancers leap and dervish-step. The next layer out are regulars nodding their heads and trance-dancing in subtler ways, feet shuffling or hand clapping, physical adjustments necessitated by age or dope. The old hippies love all this, and gaze at each other’s dimming eyes with the expression that says, “don’t we remember when?” The next emanation from the drum center is children, then cops, then old black guys playing chess oblivious to what else might be going on behind them, then the crowds of everyone else. The throng is sometimes smelly and crude. Sometimes it is holy. Sometimes it is all this at once. The drums can be heard throughout downtown Asheville, hypnotic, throbbing, sort of boring unless you’re one of the dancers, or unless you’re passing by on your way to something else, in which case you bless your little town for being so weird.

*

Moonshine Cove Press has accepted my third novel for publication, possibly in November, 2020. The One with the Beautiful Necklaces is a Magical Realist chronicle of the settling of a Two Mountains Valley in Madison County, NC, by emigrants from Ireland.

an excerpt from The One with the Beautiful Necklaces:

She turned around on her seat, to see if she dared to stand up. If it is a bear, you lie still and hope to go unnoticed. Something was there, and not a bear, hidden behind leafy branches and a weave of shadows which seemed to be unrelated to the landscape. It moved. Dinah stood up and said, “Who are you there?”
A man walked from behind the rhododendron shield. Dinah said “a man” in her mind then, and indeed the thing it looked most like was a man, but it wasn’t a man, exactly. The gleam it gave off–Dinah was one of those who could see the gleam of a soul inside its skin– was not a regular man’s. He didn’t answer her.
It’s impolite to eyeball somebody too closely when you first meet them, and Dinah held that in mind. But she couldn’t help noticing that he was stark naked, with a torso that gleamed like marble you see rain-polished high on the mountain. His hair was a tangle of brown. She had seen a man’s thing on her brothers, but his was stiff and pointed up like a dog that just then caught the scent. Dinah figured she should be embarrassed in a whole passel of ways, but she wasn’t. She said, “You ain’t got a lick of clothes on you.”
Dinah suspected that the man was an idiot or deaf or something, but the change in his expression when she mentioned his nakedness told her that he had, at least, understood that. He grinned. The edges of his lips were up, and white teeth gleamed in the shade of the rhododendrons. His scalp tilted back on his head a little with the hugeness of his grin. It was then that Dinah noticed something else. He was beautiful. Johnny Marrs in her class was what she thought was beautiful to this point, and everybody said her brother Tecumseh took the cake for handsome, but Johnny was a sliver and Tecumseh whelp beside this wild thing in the forest. The muscles of his torso moved with his quiet breathing. He looked like a statue, and then he looked like a boy, and then he looked like a terrible warrior. Sometimes if she looked straight into his eyes he looked like Jesus. Dinah had a revelation.
“Are you Jesus?”
The man collapsed onto the leafy floor, holding his face in his hands. He was laughing. You know how, if something’s really a corker, you can laugh for a second or two before any sound comes out? Well, that’s what the man was doing. His face reddened. Tears streamed from his eyes, ran down the wrinkles at the eyes’ edges into the golden fuzz of his cheeks. Then the sound of the laughter came. It touched Dinah as if it had been an open hand, clear as a bell, warm, almost fragrant, if a sound can be fragrant. It made Dinah laugh too, though before she hadn’t thought there was anything that funny about Jesus.
Finally the man said, in a voice way more normal than Dinah expected, “No, darling, I ain’t Jesus.”

*

A new book of Poetry, Peniel, was brought out by St. Julian Press. The poems in this volume, as the title might suggest, tend to explore mysteries of faith.

The Annunciation

Jan van Eyck

In this Northern Annunciation,
do not anticipate conflict
between conviction and observation.
To be thought of is to be achieved.
The rainbow hilarious archangel
warps the floor with real weight.
The Holy Ghost descends like a
circus dancer on a golden wire,
smaller than doves in life,
as if to affirm the miracle
survives the carnival of externals.
Mary says her lines upside-down
for His convenience.
The agent of a bashful love,
the angel brings her lilies,
smiling sweetly at it all,
ear half cocked to the tramp
of kingdoms in the lily’s throat.
The Testament, an afterthought
cut in an incidental floor,
holds this jewel, this sky-larking up.

*

In Other News:

Sublime Theater staged a wonderful reading of my trilogy Father Abraham under the direction of John Crutchfield.

The Magnetic Theater here in Asheville produced the premiere of my play In the Assassins’ Garden, which deals with the rich energies of anarchism at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century.

My story, “Approaching Dollywood” was featured in Tulip Tree Press’s Genre edition.

My story “Corin and Dorinda” won second place in the Doris Betts competition and was published by the North Carolina Literary Review 

 

Good Friday Meditations

 

 

Good Friday Meditations

 

1.

Peony snow-white,

Peony rose-red,

springing out of naked dirt

where some strong god has bled.

 

Rose in her thicket now

is thorn laid over thorn.

She can’t allow–this leaden hour–

her blossoms to be borne.

 

Peony rose-red,

Peony snow-white,

all things shall be crimson

before the end of night.

 

2

I thought I was working in my garden.

Blaze at my back. Blue. That incomparable sky.

Music of a bird, or three birds, different.

 

Delving, I thought to bring, in due time,  something forth

from the tangled complexity of roots whose flowers are forgotten,

from foundations that do not remember what they lifted up.

Worm. Bones.

 

Me on my knees,

music of three different birds,

then one I could not tell the name of.

 

3

The flowering crabtree said, abide!

I’ve kept my flowers  an extra day.

Take the dry spear out of your side.

Pack the prickly crown away.
Judas with silver in his palm,

George with cross upon his shield,

lie down in the rose-red calm

with dragon in the dragon’s field.

 

Sit in my shade and think your thought

of what are the goods and what’s the price,

of who has loved you and who would not,

of tragic saints mewling of paradise.
Here’s my pink in the holy gray town;

there are the terrible tableaux.

Earth kissed me when it rocked the temple down.

It’s all for you to choose, you know.

 

There stands his solemn cross-beam tree;

here in the gushing sunbeam, me.

Shake out your beautiful hair and go

round us and round us, and never know.
4

I will color, said the Spirit.

I will dye the sharp hills.

I will enamel the twisted valleys.
The greens–said the Spirit–

by the time you finished naming them,

I will be on to something else.

 

What is high, said the Spirit,

I will lift as I lifted the hills.

What is deep, delve. Deepen.

 

The quiet I will make

into a taut string. The singing, see,

is beaten to a golden road.
Are you finished? said I

to the Spirit.

Night came with her curve of moon.

 

5

The night bird would not leave off

calling even in the dawn light.

 

He that was strong is broken.

He that was beautiful is marred.
The night bird will not leave off,

mingles with the voices of the wrens.
I see it now, the unexpected approach,

the small bodies bending the grass,

afloat on shadows the shape and size of them,

now hesitant, now bounding forth.

They encircle me. They ask “What day is this?

Oak will not bear us. White lily

weeps with her sisters on the eastern path.”
He that was strong is broken.

He that was beautiful is marred.
I bend down to comfort the mole in his sadness.

Snake sighs and leans his head against my hand.
I whisper, “Sing your lamentation as you can.

Do not leave off until full light.”

In the Garden of Moma

 

 

In the Garden of MOMA

Movement in the pool at some distance from the fountains

is long, intricate, at first taken by surprise by

and then reconciled to

imminent cessation against the far wall.

We did not begin here, but here we will end.

The water moves through marble,

whose smooth perfection allows

the element full realization of its nature,

free of the  multiple detours and imperfections

which plague the natural world.

Water, of course, must be contained.

This is the source of its apparent freedom.

The pool is finite—small, in fact—and, despite appearances

the water must, at a certain point, turn back,

undetectable beneath itself,

just above the greenish bottom.

Must fold. Repent.

Return to be once more fountained up,

once more make its way in chops and glidings

under the blue, dry air.

One cannot see oneself in it.

One will see the color of his clothes

and the color of his body madly distributed,

like shards of stained glass in a bombed cathedral.

Does the water miss its role as mirror?

Difficult to tell—though, of course

it may be mirroring something other than us,

something moving as it does between the profundities,

suggestible, implacable, shaped by the order that contains it,

wholly itself in the instant

before it turns and starts again.

Parkland, Florida, 02/14/18

 

 

Parkland, Florida
February 14, 2018

 

You promised me a daughter
with squeals of joy in the hall,
over this, over that, over nothing.
She came home and I would
shut the door behind her,
speaking my spells to the lock
that it admit no demon,
no bad dream, that the powers of night
amass to keep her safe.

You promised me a daughter
to race over the green fields
with her hair in the wind
and her lips open to the wind
and the long legs of her
marrying the horses and the chariots
of the wind. And it
would lift her, the sweet west wind,
when nobody was looking.

I might have asked for ease,
but you gave me something hard:
a daughter in her curved and hidden ways.
She clasped my finger on her first day.
She wept against my collarbone.
The little gods came and asked me
“What do you lack” and I said “Nothing.”
The great gods came and said
“What would you?” I said
“I would keep this close forever.”

There was a place where I had not
spoken the words the gods gave me.
There they shot her. They murdered
my daughter with her playmates.
They killed her with the awkward boys
who stood on the front porch
hoping for a kiss. I heard their cry.
I could not reach them. When I cry
back I will not at first be heard.

But it will open out there like a flower,
toss the ringed planets from their courses,
drop the moons. I will not hear it.
I will not see it, my hands before me
groping into agony’s next room.
I think I don’t want anyone to sleep tonight.
I think I want you watching wide-eyed
with your blankets up against your chins.
See my daughter pass by
in the grieving moonlight, see their sons.

The Falls of the Wyona

I am proud and humbled to announce that my SECOND novel, The Falls of the Wyona, has won this year’s Quill Prize for Fiction and will be published by Red Hen Press. The Falls of the Wyona follows the lives of four boys growing up along the Tennessee/ North Carolina border in the late 1940’s. Below is an excerpt:

 

From Chapter IV of The Falls of the Wyona

Every so often we renewed acquaintance with the Falls of the Wyona. We’d have a boys’ night at one of the old camping spots, hauling our illegal booze and our dirty magazines up from the parking lot– instead of miles on foot through the forest, the way we did when we were kids. The swifts went away in the winter, so on winter junkets we didn’t hang around much at the lip of the Falls, where it was blistering cold anyway. We’d huddle around the fire and crow about how wonderful it was to have the women off our backs for a weekend, how high maintenance they were and all that– though one noted we talked, at least for the first few hours, of very little else. We never opened the magazines. I guess the girly mags were there in case anyone came across us all cuddled up in the dead of night. Tits and ass would make that OK.

Glen wasn’t dating yet, but he’d laugh whenever we’d make a joke about our girls; he’d listen closely when we needed to talk about them seriously. He was good company, the perfect confidant. I assumed his fling with Vince lay way in the past, Vince being such a hound-dog and all these days.

One evening Jake Hannerty sauntered by our camp. He was with the Church Street gang. There were six or seven of them, and we could hear them bellowing and carrying on through the acre of woods that lay between us. A prime weekend night, and all the guys in school were hunched over sloppy little fires with their buddies, complaining about girls–or lusting after the ones they didn’t have–easing out of the tensions of the week. Hannerty had to take a piss or something, and when he walked past us we all waved and looked away, to let him have his privacy, but he stopped dead and said, “Copeland?” Copeland was Glen’s last name.

Glen said, “Hannerty!”

‘Shit man,” Jake said, “Don’t you get enough of this place? I see you every time I come.”

Jake made his way a decent distance into the woods. We could hear him pissing into soft pine needles.  Maybe I was the only one to take heed of what he said. The expectation – tacit, unarticulated, but an expectation nevertheless–was that one would not come to the Falls alone. The surface reason was that it was dangerous. The more subtle reasons included the feeling that it was the setting for the deeds of the Brotherhood, and without the Brotherhood, nothing should happen at all. Maybe I heard wrong. Maybe Hannerty was bullshitting, the way one does.  I was watching Glen. He had that look on his face you have when you’re hoping nobody paid attention to what was just said.  I couldn’t help myself. Vince and Tilden were off doing something, and I took the occasion to say, “So, Glen, you’ve been coming up here yourself?”

“Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Not for. . . not for anything like that.”

Glen saw that I had no idea what “that” meant. He sighed. He opened his backpack and pulled out a canvas bag. It wasn’t a bag, really, but a flat sheet of khaki canvas rolled around and around layers of something. Slowly he unrolled the bag. Inside, pressed flat between sheets of wax paper, and then rolled up like precious oil paintings, were fern leaves and liverworts and bright feathers fallen from birds Glen might have known but I did not.

“What do you call that?”

“Oh. . . specimens. I don’t know.”  Glen shrugged, but it was all right. He was a collector. A scientist. That was all right. It was firmly among the activities that would have been all right. I sighed in relief of a danger averted, without knowing exactly what the danger might be.

Tilden and Vince had been back in camp for about ten seconds when a commotion arose in the temporarily overpopulated woods. I thought they’d set fire to something or taken a crap on somebody’s bedroll, but when the noise began– most of it seemed to come from the Church Street camp– they looked as bewildered as anybody. Jake Hannerty came sprinting back through the woods. He was tall and lanky, and looked like a giraffe loping on, pushing the pine boughs to one side or the other. The look on his face was not graceful. “Hansen!. . . Hansen!” he managed to gasp out.

Glen said, “Hansen? What do you mean? Timmy Hansen?” Hannerty nodded frantically and continued flying through woods. We could hear him a way off crying “Hansen! Hansen!” at the next circle of sleeping bags.  It would have been nice if we hadn’t known what he meant, but we did. Tilden jumped up and stamped out the fire. We all got ourselves arranged and lit out at a dead run for the brink of the Falls.  The upper reaches of the gorge came alive with boys climbing up and down crying “Timmy! Timmy!” If he’d answered, I don’t know how he would have been heard in the din, but adrenalin was so high it was not the time to try to talk it down.

This kid we all knew, Marky. . . Marky something, sat on a stone with his feet in the water. When we first came out of the trees, his face hid in his hands, but he lifted it up in a second and screamed. His face was red and swollen. You had to pay close attention to make out what he was screaming. It was: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED! HE WAS RIGHT THERE! HE WAS JUST FUCKING RIGHT THERE! His face would fall back into his hands, and a couple of the Church Street boys would pat him and coo to him that it was all right. Everybody knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t all right. In a minute the scarlet swollen face, streaming tears, reared up again, howling: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED! HE WAS RIGHT THERE! HE WAS JUST FUCKING RIGHT THERE! Easy to read.

Marky and Timmy had been horsing around at the rim of the Falls, showing off for one another. Marky looked down to swat a deerfly on his leg, and when he looked up, Timmy Hansen was gone. It was that simple. The Falls got at least one every generation. That was the lore. That was the truth as we told it.  No one would admit to heaving a sigh of relief that the sacrifice for our generation was now known and accomplished.

We kept climbing around and screaming for the kid, but we all pretty much knew what would be found in the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls. Someone had jumped into a car and headed for town, for about an hour into the drama, the police cruisers showed up.

Chief Dadlez had come up from Asheville to helm the village force right at the New Year, and so far he had been all about garnering good will, helpful and cheerful and spruce, getting kittens out of drain pipes, that sort of thing. I didn’t see him when he arrived at the gorge rim, but Vince said it took him a while to get oriented and organize a party to find the body. We were ahead of him there.  I knew the trails and the footholds pretty well, so I managed to get to the floor of the gorge, all the way down.

The spray of the falls cooled my sweat. I could hear boys hollering over the roar of the water; none seemed to have gotten down this far. I hoped they’d stop trying, so nobody else would fall. I slipped my way over the slick rocks toward the plunge pool. Rainbow stood in concentric arches over the green moss and the blinding white stone. There were seagulls, two of them anyway, wheeling and soaring as though the din were surf and not a plunging river. I stopped myself from noticing how beautiful everything was. It was not the time.  Down by the pool there were two shapes. One was horizontal, a body, shedding red plumes into the relatively calm pool it had drifted into. The other was vertical, standing by the water: Glen Copland. The light hit his Boy Scout knapsack covered with patches so it looked like a tropical bird had landed on his shoulders.  The force of waters buffeted Timmy’s body slowly to shore. Glen waited for it. When he was close enough, Glen knelt down and pulled Timmy in by his baggy denim cuff. I know I could have run and helped, but I sensed something sacred going on, that I should stay out of it until I got the signal. So I watched as Glen hauled the poor broken boy out of the water. Timmy was bigger than Glen, so it wasn’t easy, but Glen got him out onto the encircling shingle of round stones. Glen didn’t know what to do now any more than I would have, so he knelt down and took Timmy in his arms, to keep him warm until help came. I walked to their side then. I didn’t know what to do except to hold Glen as Glen was holding Timmy.

At last the firemen came with ropes and a canvas stretcher. Dadlez had held them up for some regulation or other, but when he finally set them loose, the firemen, who were town boys too, muscled down the same paths and footholds we all knew.

It had been a while since the Falls had taken anybody. The town had forgotten how to deal with it. People looked at each other in the streets with the look that said, “What are we supposed to do?” They put Timmy’s face on a poster and stapled it up in the grocery stores and on the church bulletin boards. They were up a long time, the posters were, until they faded too much and someone took them down. He was a good kid. Everybody liked him. We all knew the Hansen family. It was just awful. Nobody admitted to thankfulness that there remained three sisters and two other brothers in the family. The numbers of the remnant didn’t make it any better, but they kept it from being worse.

Chief Dadlez reacted to the tragedy by closing the park. This was a mistake on many levels. For one thing, you could close the park (which was a parking lot and a few picnic tables) without limiting access to the Falls very much. Most of us came up through the woods paths anyway. The cove boys used the imposing metal “Keep Out By Police Order” signs for target practice. They made a lovely “ting” when hit with bird shot.

But Dadlez had a hard-on about this. He kept throwing people in jail for being at the Falls, until the county prosecutors told him to stop because they weren’t going to prosecute. They made him take the barricades away, it being State property and not the chief’s private domain. We understood, though. We never wanted to go through that again either. Had Dadlez been local he would have understood that safety is achieved not by barricades, but by brother looking after brother.

Marky was a mess for months, not because anyone blamed him (they didn’t) but because he was supposed to look out for Timmy, and for the briefest and most excusable instant, he had not.  The chief did have thick blue lines painted at the cliffs’ edge, to tell people how close it was safe to come. Nobody begrudged him that. He ordered the lines repainted and repainted until long after people–except the people who were there– had forgotten who Timmy Hansen was. It was a time when parents would almost never ask “where are you going?, ”  for there was almost no conceivable trouble one could het into in our little town. They asked then, for a while. “Where are you going,?“ they’d hiss, as if tigers and rapists lurked just outside the door. You learned never to answer “To the Falls,” for what was the use in upsetting them? The Falls would have whom it wanted.

Furthermore, the Falls claimed one every generation, and Timmy Hansen had made us all safe until we had sons of our own.