Plainly clothed

I have seen the moon perched high, nay, at its vertex, its light cast upon the bones of men thinned by plague, abased by desire. And I have seen its nimbus drawn around the scalding sores of the poor and nescient. I have wept — yes, wept — at each passing, for there are none like those who have nothing, and are nothing but the singularity of their hearts.

This place was once pure. An old man may remember, or his father, or his. I have seen blankets of grass, tumbled folds of timothy and amaranth, miles of green, fathoms of sky. I have breathed in the succulent sweat of handmaidens and the palsied flesh of kings, and I have kissed their fevered cheeks.

Their furies confound me, their impatience sets me to rage, their innocence smooths my brow. And, too, their simplicity dazzles me: is there not more? And there is, there is. The complexity of their hearts is a feast, a table set for my pleasure.

Yes, I am that Angel you fear, or rush to embrace. But most of all, I stand before you without slyness or judgment. I do not hide, I am plainly clothed, plainly seen. I am what I am. You are the one who dresses me in the dark.

I am Death and I will reach for you with a kiss, and soothe you with my faithfulness.

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I, Buyer

The scratches on the walls are hardware store hieroglyphics.

Coupons from the departed, I would guess.

Messages with black cats and vases and GE appliances

and oh,

those insidious Maytag spirit guides, screeching

“15% off through Memorial Day weekend!”

 

I fear this isolation may be driving me mad,

but not inside a new BMW 3 Series which would be nice;

but instead an old ’77 Impala with bad brakes.

I’ve seen it in the hieros, you know.

 

There are mice beneath my floorboards,

or maybe rats with long elbows

charging ruthless interest

(they have mood swings like you wouldn’t believe).

They are greasy crawling things, but that’s not all, I think.

 

Oh, those boxes under the stairwell,

the smell of mildew and rot,

infested with my lesser judgment.

I dread their capricious cargo, ancient and non-refundable, you see,

everything useless from A to Z.

 

The scratches on the walls from

the postal workers who haunt me:

they want me to let them in.

And I shall,

for they may deliver me from this place

in three work days or less.

One trick, god bless

This has been my one trick, throwing bricks at the past.

My reptilian brain doesn’t heed or need the past, only the steady stream of supply and demand; what fed me yesterday will feed me today, and so it will again. But the human brain, God bless, parses the cosmic elegance. The years may erode my architecture, but the basic geometry is still here. The luster of boyhood is still somewhere, salting the shade of a hickory tree, and stockpiled inside my old Rambler V-8. And my people?  Sure, some frowns have grown their own flesh, but at least their old grudges have stayed country-fresh. The scars are recited by rote, and the tempers served up like fruit cocktail floats. And on and on. Those old stories, at least, never grow yellow, except through the drunkenness of the drunk tellers.

The past is on pause, and I can watch it later, when I have the want. But I don’t have the want, because I’ve moved on.

And that is some fierce kind of bullshit, right there. Why is it so hard to remember that the past is the same dog that always runs us, and, God bless, we all run out of time and we all run out of bricks.

As we went along

You said our wedding rings should be shoelaces. I suggested dandelion chains, but your idea seemed better. So the dandelions, and a few yellow-wearing ants, became your bouquet. You said you didn’t mind. I placed the bunch under your chin, and you asked if the reflection on your skin was the color of butter. It said it was, and it was.

There was no ceremony, no preacher or guests, just you and me and the juncos and the plovers and whatever creatures showed up but declined to chase us away. It was a pretty day, full of air and whispery sounds. You said it was as if we drew ourselves into a coloring book and July crayoned us in. 

We were without guile, you and I, guilt, or greed. We said our I do’s on a rough swath of buffalo grass, you giggling, me stammering, neither of us paying any mind to what this was supposed to mean. Maybe it seemed a bit pagan, making up our vows as we went along, but we spoke as seriously as we could, and the words splashed on us like rain water as we tried to say everything we felt, everything we hoped. I know I felt a shiver when we tied the laces around each other’s finger. I think you did, too.

“I do,” you said.

“I do,” said I.

And you at seventy-seven and me at eighty-three, we probably should know better. And so we do, but this we shall finish.

Dancing queen

I watch my wife dance.

Her hips move, her feet glide,

slippy-slide on the hardwood floor,

her arms splay in an awkward spider-legged oopsie.

I watching her dance vibrato

after a glass and a half of Muscato.

I’m not sure she cares if I’m in the room, and that’s alright.

She does her best rocking to John Denver.

What?

Okay.

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.