A gopherwood box

cloud-formation

I.

Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old. I love him, Lord, but his intensity wears on me. He plays with his toys under the porch, and the dried-up mud and boot-grit falls on the back of his neck. He flours up the dust, and it powders most of him, but his neck gets it worse. He shows me his dusty palms when he sees me seeing him.

Lorianne is on the porch with him now, and her hands are curled around his small shoulders. I’m grateful that she loves him, because Boyd Henry is different from most. He is my gift, he is my surprise.

Today is wash day, the day I float away. Watching Boyd Henry makes me lonely to think there was a time before him. It makes me lonely whenever the wash water from the bed sheets drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same hollows of my skin as it did last week, and last month.

The sheets and towels are to be washed first. They need to hang before the rain catches them. The wind has swelled up, and it tugs at my kerchief like a kite. Boyd Henry stops wiggling in Lorianne’s arms, and he watches me as I adjust it. Son is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. Daughter will wipe him down with a washcloth when she can. I smile for my children.

The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the sloping yard.

There are a half-dozen crows on the other side of the field gate, and they glide low to the ground. Abruptly, they ascend, like barn swallows, and there is a strenuous fold and unfolding of wings. Their constructs are not made for elegant flight, and they rise in an awkward lurch, and nearly collide with one another.

Lorianne’s face is serious, but she giggles at the strangeness of it. “Why were they flying like that, Mama?”

I don’t know,” I say, and it frightens me that I cannot answer her. Would her father know? This was his land before it was mine.

I left my mother’s house when I was young, and then I left my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. I came here when I married Javier, and I have stayed here since he passed, six years ago. This land belonged to his family, and then to him, and now to me. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopherwood, under my bed. It is all that I have left from my life before him.

II.

The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin noise. It is a loud and anxious sound. Lorianne has her collection of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the crayon papers, one color at a time, like he is unwinding string.

I stare at the wood stove and the slow tangle of flame. How long will it keep us warm, how long will it give us light?

And the rain, it still falls, seven days in.

Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my distraction, loves me in my worry.

My children are silver abstractions in the light. Every drop of rain cast its own shadow on the window, and each shadow weaves into the next, until they form a coarse cortina. The world we know is smaller because we are separated from the land by the sky.

Mama, when will the rain stop?” asks Lorianne.

Bless the child, the faith of that girl, that she believes the rain will ever stop.

I don’t know, Lorianne,” I say. “What do you see when you look outside?”

Boyd Henry studies my face, and Lorianne studies what lay bare beyond the window.

Rain?”

Of course, honey. What else? Look harder.”

Rain and puddles. And Mama, Boyd Henry is out there!”

I can smell the rain, I can smell the hay, freshly mown. “He’s right behind you, Lorianne.”

But he’s–” She turns, and Boyd Henry shows her his dusty palms. “But I….”

You saw his reflection, that’s all.” I breathe in the sweet clean smell of hay.

No, he was standing in the rain. And I didn’t see my reflection, or yours. Just him. Mama?”

A mirage,” I say, and sound foolish to myself. “The rain can do strange things if you stare at it too long.” I can smell Javier’s aftershave as I tend to the small cuts on his hands. I still cannot see his face.

I think the rain has stopped,” she says, and she presses her hands against the glass.

I can smell the hay, freshly mown. The rain smells just like his aftershave.

I think we can go outside now,” I say, and my two children reach for their boots.

(photo from Pexels.com)
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Fifty-four years following an unfinished burial

pexels-photo-208637

I.

The pigweed is choking out the old summer garden, 
and these morning glories have finally figured out 
the shortest distance between the dirt 
and the kitchen floorboards. 
 
The family pictures, all gone 
except for this one of Henry leaning against 
Mister Sam’s blue Chevrolet Coupe. 
You can see cousin Laurel’s shadow falling
across the patch of dandelions beside his boot,
him with a grin, and 
her, well, I don’t know
what happened  to her,
no one ever said whether living or dead.
 
That picture slipped behind the pantry shelves
and no one noticed it missing
for almost 60 years. 
Henry died back in ‘62. 
 
Spring, 1973,
another twister shredded 
the porch and the backyard tool shed. 
No one was hurt but 
for the way we thought about things.
We stayed on that particular patch of land.
Where else would we go? 
What else did we have?
 
Youngest brother Davy lost to lung cancer 
back in ‘89,
sister Marlene broke her hip down cellar
and it grew a blood clot, early winter, 2003. 
Mom, bless her heart, heart attack at 52, 
Dad, soon after that, broken-hearted 
and emphysema, 55.
And the rest that was left, cousins
and further-back kin,
well, they drifted away, you know, 
they just drifted apart.
 
There is no real hole in the moon
when it hoists itself up as a curled pale shaving,
it is the illusion of its incompleteness 
that sets your mind to doubt.

II.

Me and Lucille, we are the last ones. There is a particular sorrow in saying, ‘Remember Cousin Muriel?’ because no one does. Loo’s memory is fading, and I am right behind her. The years, you know, they pile one atop the other until the weight closes the lid. 

“They drift, honey,” Loo says, reading my mind again. “The memories, they drift like leaves, out of order, random as curtains. Sure, I remember Muriel.”

We are lying in bed, hearing/not hearing the oscillating fan that escorts us to sleep, thick family quilts piled by our feet, sardine-colored light pouring through venetian blinds. It is my turn to cook breakfast, but the floor is still cold, and I can see every word of our conversation turn to vapor. 

“I remember Muriel,” she says, and she squeezes my hand.

III.

Said my Loo: She was a very pale girl, short brown hair. Mousy hair.

I remember her lipstick, said I, what color would you call it? Brown?

Some kind of maroon, I think. It was an ugly color. Muriel introduced us, you and me, do you remember that? You were frightened of her, and that made me laugh. I don’t know why, because she scared me too. You lived just past the four-way stop, where it turned into Baltimore Road, and I spoke to you for the first time at church. You were quite a bit older.

I was two years older, Loo.

But I was a girl, she said. Two years is a lot at that particular age. 

Go on about Muriel. How did you know her?

Oh, said Loo, she sometimes taught Sunday school class, whenever Miss Barbara was ill. Her voice was so deep, like quarry water. She scared most of the girls, but she had a look in her eyes, a bedevilled look, like everything was a clever joke she constructed.

She was oddly built, I said. And her voice did come from her feet.

But she could recite those passages like she meant them. She could have become a preacher, in a different time.

And did she?

Did she what, dear?

Did she believe what she read, the gospels and the epistles, the psalms and the songs?

I don’t know, said Loo. I know she cursed when she was angry, which was often. Such vile words.

I remember her funeral, I said. It was an odd thing. It was so quiet until near the end of the service. You could barely hear the preacher speak.

No, wait, said Loo. I remember that, too.

Remember? Someone from town noticed she had been buried in the wrong plot.

They put her beside your cousin Henry, was that it?

Henry was not kin, I said. I’m not sure of his distinction. He was a friend of cousin Laurel, I think. Henry died the year before. Scarlet Fever? I know that Muriel was afraid of him, she made mention of it to everyone. No one ever explained to me why she was afraid of him. Oh, what a foolish mistake that was, burying her in the wrong spot. It made the whole thing feel so unfinished. I was twelve years old, and even I knew it was a bad thing.

Did they ever move her to a different spot?

No, I said. It would take too long, and cause too much sorrow for the family to go through it again. The church planted a rosebush between the two plots as a compromise, but the roses always died. In time, everyone who attended the funeral passed, or forgot, or stopped caring. Because that all happened in the old century, you know.

Just like us, said Loo, rather bitterly. From the old century. And then she smiled. But we still remember, don’t we, Charlie?

For now, I answered. This damn room isn’t getting any warmer. You want your eggs scrambled or over-easy this morning?

Oh, honey, you know how I like them. I trust you.

IV.

Take a look at this picture. It was taken by someone I don’t remember, of someone whom I can barely recall. But I remember the event, the time of day, the slant of the sun, the sound of the bees surrounding the morning glories, the smell of the illicit beer on Henry’s breath, my father laughing behind me, my mother watching through the kitchen window, and I remember my cousin Laurel sliding away from the camera. She was a shy girl.

Mister Sam drove his brand new Coupe straight onto our lawn, and he parked it beside the side porch. My father loved the lines of that car, coveted it for himself, and wanted a chance to drive it. The car was beyond his means, but he didn’t hold it against Mister Sam. They were friends.

Someone pulled out their box camera, Henry stepped in front before anyone was ready for a formal shot, and the picture was taken.

But look closely. Focus in on the shadow that leans into the dandelions by Henry’s foot. There is a second shadow intersecting the primary one. It belongs to me, reaching for a kiss from Laurel. She was trying to move away from me, and her shadow bumped into the portrait. She was afraid of me. It wasn’t my first attempt at a kiss. And she wasn’t the only cousin from whom I attempted one.

“Don’t,” she said, and then she ran away. She didn’t say anything when I met up with her later, when we were alone.

I have lost my dear Lucille, and my heart grows more weary with each step I take towards her stone. We were the last of our time, me and Loo, and now I’m the last. I will lay roses on her grave every day until I am unable, and hope they will survive me. She is the only one I need to remember.

It is the illusion of my completeness that sets my mind to doubt.

(photo from Pexels.com)

damages

these
there
are the scars she said a fleshybrown
hook on her belly a rage of adjectives against her
skin by hand under shirt under skirt look
here where the skin broke
at the damages she tolerates
for not knowing
his rages against the surface part of her,
the retractable blade
went here, look, touch these damages
they are only torn fabric silk and muscle bleeding
dye and plasma, dying
you hear a different meaning
from the language she has given you

The state of the body

He looked so hollow in his little box, surrounded by God and all the unlit penny candles. The living lines of his face were erased. I could see the gray in his hair, a fine drift of curls I had not noticed before. His untamed eyebrows were freshly barbered, his flamboyant complexion struck butter-dull. This is what was left of my father: a plastic sculpture of what he looked like, not who he was. This was not the Papa-Monster who rubbed his 12-hour beard across my giggling face, or the Singing Papa Bear, his hushed baritone leading me to the good sleep beyond the bad dreams. 

The church was empty and I stood alone. Perhaps Father Miguel was behind me, watching me become a man at eleven years of age, perhaps waiting for the first manifestation of physical grief, I do not know. I did not cry or whimper or buckle. The church could have been full, it did not matter, I was still alone, and it was right that I should be. Alone with my father. The state of his body did not matter, except that it meant his soul was nearby, studying me, listening to me, reading my heart. He helped me to walk through the rest of that day, and the days that followed. My grief, I decided, would be a private thing, something between him and me.

1967 lawn chair

My living thoughts of you
still follow me through the bramble
of crumpled bits of paper
where all the words
I write to explain you to me
falter in mid-stroke.
I cannot breathe
in the dust
of yesterday,
where you still live,
where I still pay rent.

There is a mean toll
for crossing that border
and re-walking all those miles,
climbing over the rubble,
pissing on all those tracks,
spitting out all that brine,
but that’s how it was,
that’s how it was
running away from your home

and wrapping my ass in
the given-up geometry of a
1967 lawn chair outside one
fleabag or another,
and I’m down
to the minimum dietary requirement
of crumbled corn chips and
leftover beer
discovered like a treasure
on top of the toilet tank
beside the drunken sketch of Angry Yahweh,
and that last viable cigarette butt
beside the fresh hole in the mattress

no I cannot breathe any more.

I trudge back to you every night,
my bruised eyes and
gravel-bitten feet kick up
dark puddles, dripping what’s left
of me onto crumpled bits of paper

and all my living thoughts of you
run on ahead and wait
for me to catch up.

The storm

We sit cross-legged on the scatter rug and listen to the rain peck at the windows. The water fractures itself against the screen and it draws patterns I want to trace with my fingers. We have a box of candles on the kitchen table, for when the dark comes back inside. She leans into me whenever the rain turns loud, and her face is solemn and so still. Outside, the wind carves itself into the hickory trees. She can’t hear me offer up comfort, so I lean back into her. We listen. We wait.

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

verytallnewtrucover2

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