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Caesar’s Breath

As they tend to, this poem arrived almost fully formed a few years back. I don’t quite remember the context, to be honest, but I remember thinking: “Well, suddenly time to write another poem.”

I just can’t force them. I’ve given up trying.

A thought or sensation becomes a few words, which become lines, which become the piece. I may alter a word or two, maybe delete something a year later, even, but the bulk of any poem I ever share was written at the first pass.

You shouldn’t go out on the Charles anymore

The ice is too thin, I think.
You shouldn’t go out there when it’s like this.
The ice is too thin and you might fall through.
I know it’s tempting.
Believe me—I know it’s tempting…

Falling through

But don’t go out there anymore.
Spring is almost here. Soon it will be spring.
The ice will melt to water and go back to where it goes every year.

We’ve all got Caesar’s breath in us they say.
That’s a statistic: they say we’ve all got Caesar’s breath in us by now.

But which?
His dying breath,
Or just one in between?

A Few Places You Can Find My Writing

In case you were interested in something(s) like camping, hiking, the history of nuclear proliferation, terrifying sea creatures, homemade hot sauce, or the true meaning of April Fools’ Day, you can check out my articles on some of the websites to which I am a regular contributor.

I recommend starting with these two; may the general interest rabbit hole consume your lunch hour and beyond:

https://www.themanual.com/users/steven-john/

http://www.theclever.com/author/steven_john/

 

Good Old John Muir…

I spotted (OK, my wife spotted) a great John Muir quote in a magazine the other day, and I thought I would share it here; Mr. Muir’s wisdom so often strikes a chord with me, I can’t imagine others won’t appreciate hearing his words as well. But when I went to the web to cross-reference the quote and make sure I had it correct, I stumbled across one I liked even more. Here’s the OG mountain man dropping truths about mountains:

“Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer? Up here all the world’s prize’s seem nothing.”

Truth, pure and simple. Those of you who bag summits are nodding.

Trying To Take Twitter Seriously

It’s been made rather clear by certain people who will remain unnamed (but who should not hold high office) that Twitter is a real force to be reckoned with. I should have been using it for a long time, but hey, no time like the present to hop to. In that spirit, I have started what I hope to be an ongoing series I’m calling TwitLitTips. It’s basically just stuff about grammar, writing, and diction I wish I could insert into conversations without coming across as pompous ass. That’s what these platforms are for, right?

Here’s a sampling of the first few #TwitLitTips… let’s see where this thing goes…

A Pithy Quote All Writers (and All People) Need

I came across this quote from the author Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Moneyball, and a few other notable nonfiction books) that got me right in the guts. He’s right on, and most of us are guilty as charged. Heed this one, people:

“People waste years of their lives not being willing to waste hours of their lives.”

Damn. That’s the truth.

The Death of Antonio José de Sucre

I wrote this story using excerpts from the essay “The Assassination of Sucre and Its Significance in Colombian History, 1828-1848,” by T.F. McGann, published August, 1950, in The Hispanic American Historical Review. Thomas McGann was my grandfather, though I never knew him; he passed away a few months before I was born. I hit on the idea of writing a short story using some of his words and some of mine a few years ago, and this is the product of that work. I kept a version with his writing made distinct through italics, but prefer to simply let the prose mingle.

 

The Death of Antonio José de Sucre

by

Steven C. John and Thomas F. McGann

                  The night of June 2, 1830, Antonio José de Sucre slept in a rude hut by the side of the trail leading from Popayán to Pasto. The hut was ten feet long and eight feet wide and set back a short stone’s throw from the road, but a thick stand of untended banana trees blocked sight of it from the path. The trail was rutted from wagons pulled through deep mud caused by rain that had fallen throughout much of the previous month, and the going had been slow.

Sucre and his men rode atop mules ill-suited to the poor mountain roads, having thus far spent their lives attached to plows. But there had been no time to wait for proper mounts, and no time to wait for the mountain road to dry out and harden. José Antonio de Sucre, the Grand Marshal of the Revolution, was homeward bound to Quito after the closing of the “Admirable Congress” in Bogotá.

“Admirable,” he whispered under his breath, looking around the small, dingy dwelling. “Mierda, puro mierda, nada más.” How many years had he given to this cause or that? More than any of it would last, surely. Almost surely, anyway. Read more

The Rocks Have Been Rolled Smooth by Waves

I wrote this poem while sitting at a sun-drenched table outside the main entrance of the main office building of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. At the time, I worked in that towering structure, the same building featured in Diehard as Nakatomi Plaza.

That was a while back, that part of life. This poem is one of the better things that came out of the whole ordeal. But that’s another story. I can’t remember the exact inspiration for this piece. Most of the limited number of poems I’ve written with which I’m truly happy take shape in my mind rather quickly, with the first and final drafts not differing greatly. I can write poetry well only as long as I never try to force it. Thus gaps of a year or more often passing between any decent verse.

So it goes. Anyway:

The rocks have been rolled smooth by waves

The rocks again rolled smooth by waves.

Some had once been humble mountains

Some had been old soldiers’ graves.

Others once were Grecian fountains

Hewn by long forgotten slaves.

Some had borne the painted wonder

Of shivering men who crouched in caves.

Many once were rough; were mighty

The rocks have been rolled smooth by waves.

Some had been the works of man

The rocks rolled smooth by countless waves.

Writing Is Hard – Part 1: Re-Ignition

Truth be told, writing comes rather easily to me. That’s true at least inasmuch as I seldom struggle with the mechanics of a sentence or to express an idea with relative clarity. I credit this to myriad sources, including a family adept at using the English language, a series of fine teachers in elementary and high school, and to the fact that I was all but constantly reading books between the ages of eleven and fourteen or fifteen; after that I still read heavily enough, but also did the other things teenagers do. Like whittling and leather tanning and such. And also, sure, there’s aptitude. We all have our strengths and stretches. Expressing ideas in writing is easier for me than for many; completing simple mathematical equations is, on the other hand, impossible.

So why do I say that writing is hard? Because when it comes to the type of writing in question, which is, FYI, narrative prose, the simple fact is that writing is hard. Especially when one has — like I have — spent too much time away from it. Read more

A Short Story Based Off a Short Moment

This basically happened. I didn’t catch all of it verbatim, no, but the awkward little moment is essentially rendered as-is. Or as-was, rather. We’ve all had these moments, and usually we let go of them, as we should. But this one stuck around in my mind, so finally I went ahead and let it sear its place even deeper by writing it out.

 

An Old Dog

                  You want to talk about Left Field? About something coming right the hell out of Left Field? Get this: so I’m in a pharmacy the other day, drugstore/convenience store kind of place, not like a medicine-only kind of place (who goes to those, anyway?), and I’m buying, Christ, what was it, even, it was something so goddamn insipid, like literally tissues I think. Anyway, and I’m walking toward the counter, and on the ground is one of those long plastic mats with the outline of feet on it every eighteen inches or so and then a curve at one end with an arrow pointing toward the cashiers and the words WAIT HERE above a red line, this all with the intention that blisteringly stupid people will look down and think: “Ah, I’m supposed to form a line and then go up to the cashier(s) after the people in front of me have gone up to the cashier(s).”

Anyway. So I’m walking down this little strip of foot outline-demarcated PVC toward the WAIT HERE line to wait my turn, standup citizen that I am, and from one of the aisles—let’s call it the Hallmark Cards aisle, because it was, I think—this seriously old man comes bearing down on that WAIT HERE line at a pace that says Fuck That, and he’s pushing a shopping cart, which is always weird in this place, because it’s not a grocery store, and usually you forget they even have carts, but anyway, so this guy blasts past WAIT HERE and instead he waits where he wants to (THERE, I guess) inches behind a woman who was already at the cashier counter.

Now, me? I’m more than patient enough to WAIT HERE even when some old guy cuts me off. In fact, even if it had been a young guy, I probably would have mumbled to myself “Pick your battles” and convinced myself that was righteousness, right there, but this guy was old as a motherfucker so case closed. The woman who had already waited her turn and made it up to the main event — paying — was paying with cash which she had not thought to maybe get out of her wallet which she had not thought to maybe get out of her purse and so on down the line; long story short it was taking a while. Read more