Scoville Kicks an Acorn
Sam was young when he was a kid: shooting out street lamps with rubberbands and fencing staples, and smoking Catholic cigarette butts in the nearest vacant lot on the street. Sam's old man was a Presbyterian minister, and yet he knew the schedule of mass better than the pope. He'd walk the sidewalk during and after every meeting, collecting half-spent pallmalls in his pocket and dropping lucky-penny-hail-marys in their place.
He was sarcastic and his old man hadn't figured out a way to punish him that he'd pay attention too. In fact, when he was three, his parents decided he was deaf. After the tests, what the doctor said was this: "No, he can hear you alright, he just isn't listening."
Sam burnt that lot up in flames one day, smoking Catholic cigarette butts. It was a dry year. The fire looked like a gift-wrapping sunset till they put it out. So said someone. He didn't get to see it. The old man's belt came off when he took Sam to the attic. He was out of ideas and he'd spent his life knee deep in The Sermon on the Mount so he said, "listen, this is gonna hurt me more than it's gonna hurt you." Then he whipped himself, beat his own ass with the leather, and it was all Sam could do to keep from laughing.
Sam spent his first few years thinking the world was kids’ ice cream. All it took to end this dream of his were a few wolves in their wool sweater, taking any chance they got to test the buoyancy of their own egos. They sent fewer postcards than they received. They bought themselves new shoes and started a war in Vietnam. They asked him to go.
He came back before he went. He said ‘alright’ to the national guard, and they said alright back. The men in sheeps clothing bought Sam pills. They took money from his paychecks and gave it back as pension. He french-pressed his way through college. He cooked breakfast and wrote things down. He made people laugh and all the while his moods swung up and down like church-bells.
He had always been an one to have one hand on either pole: the mutually dependent poles of pretension and self loathing: his right and left hands, respectively. These two friends moved in and out like lovers, wove in and out like traffic, heaved in and out like sickness, and sometimes they would take turns taking naps.
He never minded, he would say, “because the ups are as up as the downs are down . . . and ‘ups’ this up don't come every generation.” But there had been coffee poured into a cup that was not yet emptied, the birds were weak from trying to beat the winter north, and Sam was talking to himself.
He had a wife and he said to himself, “If my Sam and her Sam met on a bridge they’d pass in silence. They would be strangers. Strangers don’t talk.” His eyes glow, then dimmed. His concentric circles widened as he looked around. It was fall. He felt clever at the thought that the leaves were the same colors as the stoplight. He checked himself for feeling clever, then prided himself on his humility. As he walked his way away from home, he imagined that the squirrels digging were desk chairs. He thought of his father, as people cannot help but do. Old and content, he thought about how he’d tried to relive highschool. He’d put a coke machine in his bedroom. His wife had made him take it out.
He still loved to take the tone of his fathers sermons into anything. He loved to sensationalize: the idea of a religion with no one to follow. He kicked an acorn. He spoke like he was preaching, out loud, to all things as he walked.
It's now autumn, and the leaves are all the colours of the stoplight.
If you look closely, you can see children trying to catch them as they fall.
You can also see freedom scurrying through the trees.
This world no longer offers silverware.
There is none.
Students ask each other:
'where has the cutlery gone to?'
This morning I heard someone ask:
'where are the knives and forks?'
they are everywhere. . .
the ground you're walking on, the air you breathe. . .
They are in that neon sign over there.
stacked on dunnage near the city docks,
and God is quiet as the snow.
and two by two like Noah’s ark they go.
Sam Scoville ended in a mumble; he was stopped and looking. He was staring at nothing. . . waited for a couple to pass. He was looking over a public stairway. The steps were wide as shoulders and the city had put them there so they could but a statue at the top. The statue was of Rimsky-Korsakov, sitting like Rodin’s thinker, but with his hands in his pockets. The Statue had a plaque, and Sam was leaning against it. Both Sam and the statue looked like they needed to piss. Neither did. He was watching people confront the steps, up and also down. He had started talking again, continuing his sermon, and choking on his own voice.
I've asked myself what I'd do in the face of a Godsent burning bush.
The truth is I've seen plenty and kept my shoes on.
California summers have whole forests worth.
The ash falls for miles and weeks.
The pillar of smoke is a beacon,
I spent four months watching from a distance.
and truth be told,
it makes for such a lovely sunset.
Time throws its hat.
Age rolls its snowmen, us.
We cannot slow or stop it.
We grow older, old, then die.
and if to resist is to piss into the wind,
then how eagerly do I wet my own ankles.
Then, being of the last generation to use his shirt-pocket as such, he reached up to find a ball-point pen. Sam felt like he’d finally found the word’s he’d needed since childhood. It was evening though, and he could not write in the half-light. He had nothing to write on. The pen was out of ink. His hand was asleep. He’d forgotten what he had to say. He walked home, people always do. He stopped in a darkened bakery window, under a street lamp. He looked at his body in the glass. It wavered slightly in the wind.
“Oh this old thing?” he said aloud, “It's just something I throw on when I don't care how I look.