Friday, October 18, 2013

A New Book (with excerpt)

I'm currently writing my first contemporary since Xylophone. Tentative title: Resurrection Man. It's about a young guy whose first love was a victim of urban gun violence. To honor a promise he made, the youth, sporadically homeless himself, tries to look after his boyfriend's now-homeless stepfather, an aging black man who goes by the name of Dizzy and shuns shelters. 

I've worked out most of the details. Never fear, the young MC and his elderly companion will NOT be a romantic couple. 

So . . . here's Elijah Colter, introducing his story.


“Dust is soil with the life sucked out of it.”

My great-grandpa Cyrus, born in southwestern Kansas in 1921, spent the early years of his life discovering this truth. He whittled away at the huge, shapeless horror that was the High Plains in the 1930s until he got down to something he could recognize, something that made sense to him. When he was in the middle of his growing-up years, Cy didn’t see anything as pure as what he thought Truth should be. He only saw mountainous dark goblins of grit fill the sky, over and over again. They lumbered in from whatever direction the wind determined, bearing down on homesteads and wheat fields, shedding scales of thick misery.

One typically parched afternoon beneath a typically brown-veiled sky, the local men gathered in town to consider hiring a rainmaker. Cy was at the meeting with his pa, although he wasn’t old enough to have too many opinions about too much of anything or to open his mouth and expect anyone to listen. By then they were three years into the invasion. The goblins kept coming with dismal regularity, kept dropping their deadly freight. A roller had just passed through a few days earlier. Each building looked gray and beaten. Even cavorting tumbleweeds were scarce. Farmers had been hoarding them to feed their withered cattle. And even to feed their families, when worse got to worst.  

But trying to bust water out of the sky with dynamite? Cy’s pa was dead-set against making so risky an investment. The Depression had settled in along with the dust. Money was tight. Besides, “The drouth ain’t the real problem,” he said to his neighbors. “We kilt the land. Dust is soil with the life sucked out of it. Dust is the earth’s haint.”

Bonanza Bill Lawton spoke up. “So what we s’posed to do? Persuade Jesus Christ to breathe life back into it?”

“We’ve all tried contacting him a thousand times,” a wag named Pokey Stiles drawled. “Seems he ain’t takin’ our calls.”

After their meeting, while the farmers jawboned a little more outside the feed store, Cy squatted and scooped up a handful of the powder that covered everything in sight. He let it sift through his perpetually dirty fingers as he thought of his father’s words. Finally, Truth appeared, right there in his palm.

The stretches of prairie his ma described so wistfully, the waving buffalo grass and rustling bluestem and nodding flowers, had lain belly-up for years. This dust was its ghost, relentless and punishing.

“’Spect you got every right to dog us,” he whispered.

So what form does the haint of a ruined life take? Maybe this form, blotchy-ink and smeared-pencil scrawls on mismatched pieces of paper. But they’re better than nothing. They’re better than the hole in my soul, and better than oblivion.  


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