Memoriam

A perpetual yesterday

dressed in ash;

grief never whispers.

***

Janet Robertson – 12/20/42 – 4/14/18

In honor of my mother, who unexpectedly passed last Saturday.

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Spoken words

My tongue felt bruised from too much talk, though I couldn’t recall the last time I spoke. I wasn’t sure I remembered how. From outside my door, I heard a can roll down the throat of the Coke machine. If there were a language in me, that was probably it: the awful speech of a soda can, clunky and agitated.

That was some especially  lonesome thinking, I thought. I’m sorry to say that all my words felt lonesome to me, especially the out-loud and dressed-for-dinner words, like ‘hello’ or ‘my name is–‘.

I tried on a couple of those words, and they felt tight around my chest: “Good morning,” I said to the bathroom mirror, which was greasy and unflattering. The glass saw my lips move, and my ears felt the vibration of those words, but it seemed pretend, like I hadn’t spoken at all. My throat was dry, and I wanted a glass of whiskey or a cup of coffee. Or maybe a can of Coca-Cola. But mostly just the whiskey.

I didn’t expect to see the sunshine again, but there it was, hanging from the edge of the curtain. I let it fall onto my fingers and across my palms like wash water. I waited for the outside voices to move along so I could go outside and see the sun in person, but I waited until it was almost gone.

***

My published works are available here. Thank you for reading. 🙂

Turquoise

Everything is bathed in turquoise. It’s like I’m drowning in an exclusive membership-only pool, and, well, hell, I’ve lost all my borrowed ID. So this may be an awkward passing.

I won’t tell you about the profoundness of the morning sunlight, since it’s been written unto death: its depth and its shadings, its horizontalness, and, well… (slow down, take a breath)… its godliness. Oh, and the way the light bleeds into the leaves in the parking lot, dappling all those Nissans and Pontiacs and F-150’s, and blah and blah and blah.

But oh my lord, my room was beautiful for a moment. Please, by all means, try and picture it: this standard oh-hell motel, straight up and down, stripped clean of its artificiality, its discount coupon barfedness, its insolent stink. For a moment, this room became a pure thing. And then an empurpled cloud rolled overhead and ruined the entire thing: the cracks in the walls became darker, the stains on the carpet became more stained, the spiderwebbed bugs became more worrisome.

In the turquoise light, I was something beautiful, I think. And then the room turned into a plain dirty blue, and I turned back into who I really was.

Mara

A whoop of dry wind hoisted me awake. The curtains were a catch-all for the early light, where it gathered in the folds and shimmered like river water. Morning was already dressed up, rosy-cheeked, wearing a braided stink of highway grit.

No one came to my door to remind me of late check-out time, or to let me know there was fresh coffee in the office pot, or to tell me the cleaning staff was waiting. But there were voices outside, muffled by the cool cinder block walls, and they spoke in a low auditory blur.

Every morning (how many now?), I stepped outside to take a piss in the low brown weeds behind the Motel. Every morning, I hid my face in the crook of my arm and cried until I was husked. I was still listening for you, and, hearing nothing, I waited by a dead highway.

Tú allí!” she shouted, and I jumped. “You there!”

Mara stood at the edge of the parking lot and gestured for me. She did not seem angry or irritated, but I did not know her well enough to know her. She often wore her hair plaited, sometimes wrapped in a scarf. Now it was loose, and it flowed below her waist. She wore a blousy ivory caftan that almost matched the color of her hair, and a pair of holystoned sandals.

For a moment, I saw myself caught in the geometry of light that boxed her against the horizon. If I were an artist, I would draw her in dark crayons, and if I were a photographer, I would have filled a camera with her.

I waved, but she looked straight through me.

***

From a work in progress, tentatively titled The Death of Edison.

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

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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.

Birthday boys

Can you imagine the doubt on their faces when I tell them?

Happy birthday, you old bastards, I’ll sing, and it’ll knock the bejesus out of them. They’re brothers of long-dead other mothers. That’s their in-joke, their hashtag, their pathetic frame of reference.

Oh, I’ll sing, but they’ll barely hear me. They’ll be waiting for the echos to catch up. They’ll be thinking about their measured ex-wives, or that deliciously wounded every-second-Tuesday lover, and all those wonderfully generic gals who sang said-song in an oven-warmed kitchen, or around a Comfort Inn pressboard desk. Oh, and there was cake and ice cream and I.W. Harper bourbon for later, and maybe, just maybe, a few more years left in the tank.

Oh, these boys will laugh about it in the daylight, sure, but at night, when the lamps are dimmed, all those doubts will prop their eyes open for a helluva long evening.

They are old men, and they look to me for reassurance. Do they think I can free them of age? As long as their boyhood faces are still reflected back at them, yeah; yeah, I’m sure they do. They’ll act wounded, but they’re still – still! – suspicious of their mortality.

What do they see in the mirror? The messy drift of eyebrows, the musty, uneven stubble on their cheeks, the dark scars under their throats? Ha! I think they see their boyhood. Boyhoods that are unfairly hidden by low-watt bulbs, indignant shadows, jaded sleep, cataracts, horror.

Happy Birthday, I’ll sing. I always wonder if I’m being too cruel. But you know, deep down, I think they know. And they know who I am. That’s my in-joke, and it’s one they’ll never get. 

Mood and sin

call me old-fashioned

Too much, you say, all this harsh color and fabric on your skin, how it coils around you, dry and sour. You’ll adjust, that’s always your fall-down position, your liquid alibi. I know how much cold blood runs through you, all vodka and mood and sin. You say your hands touch only corruption and apathy, but I will hold you, and I will pardon your raging howls. You know I always do. But you must also know this: soon and finally, I will howl back.

A paragraph without the letter E