The war on poverty

I heard the news. Someone won the war. I guess the message got lost in the mail, because I checked my lottery tickets, and it wasn’t me. I checked the lines on my face, and the register lines at Sheetz. They were just as long as yesterday. Maybe even longer?

The bank called. I’m two hundred and thirty-four dollars overdrawn. The car needs new brakes, and my wife needs new glasses. But I’m one of the winners, so I guess the bank doesn’t know yet?

Someone won the war, so things are good. I’m sure they must mean me. And we are going to party! Order a pizza, maybe some pick up some diapers and milk, because the rent isn’t due for another week, and the car still has a quarter tank of gas.

Things are finally getting better, right? Soon?

Somebody will fix everything. They said they would. They’ll make sure the bank knows that we won the war. I heard it on the news yesterday, so I guess it’s true. The message just got lost in the mail.

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vanities

For three years, we shed our clothes at night and washed the colognes and perfumes and civilized secretions from our skin. We stripped away our public vanities and fell into wet venality, fierce from our own stupid heat.

And then you divorced me with a steak knife, and we ended our marriage with a shoplifted bottle of Baby Duck sparkling rosé. The knife never left the table, and your hand cramped around the handle. You rubbed your thumb against the serrated edge until it bled.

The lawyers and the paperwork were an afterthought.

The land

The land takes hold and humbles and diminishes. It punishes a soul for the vainglorious hope of harnessing it. Rich brown, powder gray, it makes no difference; it overwhelms and chokes a man’s thoughts. It lodges itself upon the skin, under the fingernails, inside work boots and carburetors, it’s always there, at the foot of the bed, in the washing machine, behind the ears, laying claim to you, reminding you it’s there and soon you won’t be. You will be buried in it in time, and even if a hard wind comes and pulls your bones out of the ground, it will mock you, mock your arrogance.

This was our life, and we expected no more than a decent crop, grocery money, medicine money, repair-the-tin-roof money. Warmth in winter, clean water in summer, the haunting fragrance of corn to placate our shabby mortality.

Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer – Available from Amazon for Kindle devices and in paperback.

7:15, 7:32

Do you remember? We used to live in black and white, inside crisp shadows and under GE light bulbs. We were excellently photographable: me in my clean strappy T-shirt and creased linen trousers, you in your Ivory Soap slip and brassiere. We were neat and sharp, locked in a post-sepia, post-coital daydream.

I kept my Brycreem beside the soap dish, and every morning shaved the same whiskered face, and made the same geometric adjustments to my hair. First cup of coffee, 7:15 a.m.; second cup, 7:32. Eventually, I noticed the pattern and tried to alter it. My hair did not grow, my morning beard did not change.

And you: you were always curled in the same comma shape on the bed when I woke you, and you exhaled the same breath, a sour gust of cocktails and Lifesaver Wint O Greens. We were black and white and chilled martinis.

I know we exchanged morning kisses and entertained each others bodies, sacredly. I don’t recall any of the other rooms in the house. We were permanent and affixed on simplicity. I don’t know what changed, sweetheart. Was it me?

Now we are creased photographs in someone else’s nostalgia collection. When our page is turned – we’re on page 715 or 732, I think – we are clumsily framed against a dark fake-velvet backdrop, bordered by cracked Scotch tape.

But… oh, honey, do you remember? I don’t think the memory belongs to us anymore.

ghost

I trip over the sound of my own voice and fall into a complicated place where there is no whiskey or cigarette money. I am a ghost you probably see, a man you probably don’t, slouched, no doubt, or crouched between the moments, starving for silence, with traces of red lipstick still on my cheek.

Honor

call me old-fashioned

A perpetual yesterday dressed in ash;

grief, do not whisper but lay hard upon my breast, 

and ache, yes, as I reach for my faith.

Death’s sore words are set upon the tongue, but keep her, Lord,

for mercy, yes, and love.

***

In honor of my mother, who unexpectedly passed April 14/18. And I, in another country, mourn her.

Ordinary Handsome, et al.

Published works, synopses, and reviews. Thank you.

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Ordinary Handsome

Fifty-seven years ago, a young man named Euart Monroe came back home. Only two people knew what happened to him. Years later, the man responsible for Euart’s fate is paid a visit. But is it Euart’s ghost? Or is it the boy grown up seeking retribution? Welcome to Handsome, OK, population 883 and fading. It’s a place where some men bury their mistakes, a town on the edge of becoming a ghost.

“…the writing is textured, rife with precise detail, stunning imagery, and raw emotion. Baird is a master at finding the perfect word and painting a picture that shifts and clears with each new perspective.” 

“(Baird’s) writing is exquisite, the subject matter is temporally relevant, and there are characters to both pity and loathe. Ordinary Handsome, in its grit and precision, tells of extraordinary misfortune and strife.”

“Ordinary Handsome takes you through the fragmented life story of a dying town, told from the perspective of its soon-to-be ghosts. It grips you from the very beginning and stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. I absolutely recommend this book.”

Ordinary Handsome (e-book) is available here

Ordinary Handsome (oversized paperback) is available here

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A Very Tall Summer

“It was a very tall summer in 1957, and I’ll tell you why…”
And so begins the most terrible summer for Charlotte Windover.
She and husband Jeremiah began a new life together surrounded by a wide expanse of a corn and sky. After years of brutal disappointment, she finally resolves to change her life. When Jeremiah is suddenly killed at an abandoned homestead, life becomes more isolated and harrowing. And with the threat of random fires being set by a mysterious figure known only as Croy, Charlotte’s life has become even more desperate.
In a land of big skies and small dreams, A Very Tall Summer is the tale of a woman’s resolve to overcome her broken past, and at any cost.

“Baird is a master wordsmith, painting a vivid world of sound and motion, rife with feeling, and deadly in its inevitability.”

“Baird’s use of language is both elegant and gritty. It is layered and often unexpected; and it makes something striking out of an otherwise simple story. He uses his skill to pin you to the page in a way which both pleases and disturbs, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance which will both repel and compel you. A keen observer, he will activate all your senses, sometimes in ways you wish he would not. You will find you are unable to turn away from the taste of sweat and the crunch of cartilage.”

A Very Tall Summer (e-book) here

A Very Tall Summer (oversized paperback) here

Maggie-final

Maggie

Maggie Day is a pregnant young woman who escapes to the only place she’s ever felt safe. As she copes with past tragedies and trauma, she is guided by her grandmother, who helps her discover courage and self-respect. Maggie is a tale of love and strength, and of overcoming the wounds of a dark past.

“Baird is a master of ‘voice,’ capturing the unique beauty of each personality through their thoughts and words. In a rural world of poverty, self-sufficiency, and few prospects for change, emotions run deep and rich with insight, honesty, and love.”

Maggie (novella) is available here

The Motel Fatigado

Oh, honey, there are shapes beneath these roads. They push me and they drag me, and, God help me, I’m yoked to every mile. I’m numb to the drizzled headlights and smudged taillights, the curves, the swerves, the nerves of bumper-to-bumper, the mathematical sinew of the overpasses, the poster board landscapes, the flat hallucinations of the Alpha and Omega.

Oh, and sweetheart, the construction, the obstructions, the crazy and the caffeinated, they want to pour their horsepower into the concrete while I’m steering left-handed, trying to pry the goddamn plastic lids off the goddamn Styrofoam cups, and honey, I always spill the hot coffee on my fucking wrist.

These have been my nights and days since you left me.

And then I came upon this place: a slender space beside the swagged shoulders of an unmarked highway. I recognized the tarnished ancianos who were waiting for me. There were six men and a woman, and they were sitting in a straight line on the sloped walkway of the Motel Fatigado. A flat line of hands rose to guard eyes against dust and sun. They studied my silhouette for a moment, then resumed their pinched slouches.

An old man dismounted from his chair and approached. He was wearing a shredded straw hat and baggy jeans. His shirt was a clean button-down, a faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old World priest soliciting confessions. More likely, he was tired of sitting.

“You have el bagaje? Suitcase?” he asked.

I nodded.

He pulled a packet of folded tissue paper from his shirt pocket, and offered me a cigarette. He told me that Room 8 was vacant and clean. He did not ask me my name. I accepted his tobacco, and he lit it with a wooden match. His hands were narrow and veiny.

He said his name was Cándido, and the woman was called Melancholia. “The new guests always ask about the woman,” he said. “You see her? The beautiful woman who sits among the dogs? She is clean-handed. You understand? Inocente. She knows magic. You prey on her, you will leave with bruises.”

I nodded.

“Sit with us,” Cándido said. “Melancholia keeps plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”

I declined.

***

(My apologies if this looks familiar. It’s a revised version of something I posted in early October, and it’s a piece that I’m really drawn to. I’ve been struggling with writerly insecurities and self-doubt for quite some time, but this has been in the peripheral for awhile… I think I’m finally ready to chase it down. Thanks for the indulgence, and thank you always for reading. — Steve) 

The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.