“Alphabet Rain.” | image


POEM: “RUN-ON SENTENCE: At 47”: I am 47, the day is Jan. 2, the year is 2005, / my beard is stained white in several places, / my son is 14, my girl 10, my (borrowed neighborhood) / cat is named Mister Puzzlesocks, / my favorite red wine of the moment is / Trinchero Cabernet, my car is a white ’93 …

POEM: “The Cow Bell”: A great grief saddles me,/ rides down the pampas of / Virginia Dare Avenue, / until I am too tired / and we return home / together …

POEM: “Mission Statement”: To scratch the page,/ to pick the scab, / to mix and match the phrases, / enter the lab and whip up potions, / address the sky with curses, praises, / annoy the authorities, cause commotions …’

READINGS: “Stormtroopers & Grandmothers”: The balls of his black pupils stare at me intently. They are oddly echoed by the round marble of what looks like a self-shaved head, its yellow stubble hinting at what must once have been luxuriant blonde hair. Moments later, I have second thoughts about my diplomacy as lyrics to the band’s “Speak English or Die” batter the room.

POEM: “Earth Mother Lullaby”: Wrinkle-skinned earth mothers from / another decade, a far more interesting decade they profess, / nest live orchids in tangled-up hair, / black-cotton gloves rising past thin wrists …

POEM: Sunlight & Coffee: I want to run and embrace/ this tulip-yellow light. But/ where? Where do I stand and/ meet it all? Face to face with/ beauty bigger than myself, I / quail …

VIDEO: When the hummingbirds fly:: When an audio clip arrived in our ‘in-box’ from a buddy, Joel Preston Smith, featuring a live recording of hummingbirds dive-bombing his feeder in rural Liberty, WV., wings a-whirring, we asked if we might illustrate it with some action-packed hummingbird video

MUSIC/VIDEO: “Sonata for Piano & West Virginia, No. 1”:: I invite you to take five minutes from feeling harassed by the news or our own hectic heads for “Sonata for Piano & West Virginia No. 1.” It offers another way of looking at West Virginia and those parts that remain uncorrupted, fresh, and true.

GODS OF THE NIGHT: Fifteen Woodland Thoughts: Here in the quiet provinces,/ Wars pass via headlines, worrying us/ Solid citizens even from this distance with/ their loud report./ We in the quiet country have the luxury of/ Worry, second cousin to fear …

SHORT/STORY: ‘I can see clearly now’: Had to get out of town. Get lost, evade the race of human beings. Seek out geese and turtles, beavers and blue herons. Gunned the car 50 miles per hour, 70, 80. Slowed to make the left turn …

POEM: “Stephen”: Where have you gone, Stephen?/ Now, this night that I need you./ Need just you, the gravitas/ of your bulldog self. Your ancient/ belief in me. Rather, a belief that dates/ to 1977 or so./ Ancient enough …

POEM: 10,000 Thunderstorms: If I’m to be an insomniac, a fine thunderstorm is a welcome thing. To entertain. To relish and divert from mournful or misbegotten thought. I ponder getting up. Going to my front porch, storm-sitting perch.

NATUREGRAM: Nothing but pines: We can’t share with you the sweet aroma of a stand of pine trees in Putnam County, West Virginia. But we can share with you the experience of standing among them. A new WestVirginiiaVille shelter-in-nature short video.

PHOTOPOEM: “When Hay Bales Speak to You”:: Let’s talk hay bales. I have, perhaps like you, been spying hay bales most all my life. Yet, in all that time haven’t met a hay bale. Up close. The other day, I had my chance.

VIDEO: ‘Rosa Parks’ feet did not hurt: The actual story of the stalwart moment Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of an Alabama bus in 1955 was far more powerful than a supposed frail, tired old Black lady sitting where she shouldn’t.

VIDEO: “Chasing Birds in Snow”: Take a 2-minute excursion into the heart of the heart of Nature, as a bunch of birds play leapfrog in the midst of a West Virginia snow squall.

VIDEO: The Artist’s Work Considered As a Picture Show: Sharon Lyn Stackpole’s art considered as a video: “I always had a female character in my drawings either in illustration form or comic and I’d have her acting out whatever I was also living in my drawings. For some reason, this was reassuring and helped me to feel less alone.”

MAKEITSHORT: Three Not-the-News, Under-a-Minute Videos:: When you are suffering from an overdose of dire news, may we suggest spending a minute with a happy dog tooling down the road, a koto-fueled Japanese fire, and bird upon a Buddha’s head?

EDITORIAL: Shelley Moore Capito Remains Missing-In-Action:: It is Dec. 4—28 days after the 2020 U.S. presidential election was called for Biden/Harris. Yet WV Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has yet to formally recognize Joe Biden as President-Elect or repudiated Donald Trump’s dangerous lies about election fraud lies.

POEM: The Flavor of Grief: I have been getting familiar lately with the flavor of grief. It comes on me with no warning. While driving up-river, to shelter-in-Nature. At 68 mph, passing a too-slow, white Chevy truck.

MUSIC VIDEO | An “Over the Rainbow” Primer and Duet:: “Let the boys have the damn song.” How “Over the Rainbow” almost didn’t make the cut for “The Wizard of Oz.” A look back at a “sacred” song in the American canon, on the occasion of creation of a down-and-dirty music video version.


POEM: “Window No. 1”: One of my earliest, notable windows was in the basement bedroom I shared with brother Rick. It opened to the left, sliding open with a satisfying ‘chonk!’ Revealing the level grass of our backyard.

PICTURE|POEM: A Dozen Ways to Look at Chicago, Illinois: I’ve always been intrigued by human beings whose lives are lived just below and sometimes at the level of the clouds. They surround us by the thousands, the tens of thousands. In blue rooms, staring at TVs in their skyboxes. Doing Downward Facing Dog, 2,000 feet above the sidewalk.

POEM | “My Paragraph & I”:: ‘I want my paragraph to strut, carved cane in hand, the Left Bank, like a proper boulevardier. I want my paragraph to wow you. leave you wanting more. To, if possible, make you gasp. To make you—prose willing—cry. And then, to laugh. And then to laugh at your crying …’

POEM | “Body of Evidence”: ‘I’d no excuse not to grok the fact, or traffic in illusions of not growing old. Or denial of encroaching senescence. Or flipping the bird at Mister Death. It would halt nothing of my body’s fade, of our decay. I was, perhaps, whistling past my future graveyard.’

POEM | “Nous Celeron”: ‘Don’t you, Nous Céleron,/wish to lay down your arms?/Enter the Ohio’s cool darkness,/or the Chinodahichetha!/Sounding out each syllable/as a Wyandotte/might utter them …/

POEM | The Pledge: We must imagine/a better country, after/the orange man in/the white house. Tote/our losses & our/wounds. Revelations/about our neighbor’s/secret selves. The sign,/the flag, rippling in/the wind. That says—/’Off with your head’ ….

POEM | “Fridays”: I mark out my life in the passage of a flood of Fridays, the signposts zooming by in Friday cat posts by a favorite blogger.

POEM: Hundred Years of Silence: It should be recalled/most of human history/has been lived in silence.

PORCH POEMS: ‘Ms. Nature & Mr. Death’:: So, my day, which when fortunate,/ beg ins with coffee, cat, and dawn,/shifts at some point, to the deck, for some sitting beneath the same old sky,/ only this time, eyes closed./ Climbed up on the shore, out of the tumultuous stream of thought./ I’ve yet to grasp the meaning/of your collaboration, Ms. Nature,/ with your ally, Mr. Death …

PORCH POEMS: ‘Overhead’: ‘The clouds don’t care,’/ he said. Blowing a puff/ of cigar smoke at me/ from across the porch./ I sent a pretty good/ smoke ring back his way./ We were not/ six feet apart, so could/ be killing each other, should/ the virus hitch a ride upon our exhalations …

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OP-ED LIMERICKS: “Toady,” “Move Quickly,”“Fauci,” & “ Canary Meet Coal Mine”: When all else fails in trying to understand the current American political regime, there’s always the art of the Op-Ed Limerick. A new collection of four recent animations.

A LOOK BACK: When Elephants Walked in West Virginia: You may not believe it. I would well understand should you not. The querulous mind dances lightly upon the phrase—and then rejects it utterly. There have never been elephants in West Virginia. But you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.

IT’S A MOTHER’S DAY THING: One Rant, One Song, One Memoir: She had the greenest of thumbs, a bright intellect and dreamed of being the kind of writer that Toni Morrison, a hometown contemporary, became. What to do when your mother — in the late stages of Alzheimer’s — is moving mutely toward her departure from this life?

Pandemic Memorial Video Project: may7.2020: A couple of weeks ago, they began appearing. Brief, heart-wounded, heartfelt memoriams on Twitter. They note the passing of mothers, fathers, grandparents, kids. I began to screen capture some of them. I wasn’t sure why.

“What If You Knew Her?”: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, in which four students were gunned down on May 4, 1970. As a student journalist, I profiled a protest seven years later on the Kent campus, where the memories remained raw and more than a thousand converged to protest.

3PHOTOS: Peace & Geese & Hillbilly Hotdogs: I have settled on the title of my collection of essays about weird and wonderful sights in West Virginia: ‘Please Don’t Write on Hotdog.’ Here’s why.

IT’S A LAMB THING: Sheepish Thanks to an Old Friend: I spent the day before my birthday making a ridiculous music video that shows only lambs, sheeps and rams for three minutes. Here’s why

OP-ED LIMERICKS: “Folly”; “Canary, Meet Coal Mine”; & “Worthless Borders”: What do you get when you mix Donald Trump with a Limerick Master—and a little bit of animation?You get Molotov Limericks. Here are the latest 3 in an ongoing collaboration.

IN THE TIME of CORONA: Who Gets My Beloved Guitars: Dear Family: I come to you on a matter of some urgency. That is to say, the disbursement of my three beloved guitars, should ‘The Rona’ get me. This is who should become the adoptive parents of Michele, Gilda, and Blue …

3PHOTOS|NO.1: Images Outside the Pandemic Box: I’ve wanted to start a simple series here at TheStoryIsTheThing, called “3Photos.” The aim is to lay off the sprawling essays, the tangentialism, and attempts to be wise, but which may just be a bad case of P.A.W.S. (Pseudointellectualism At Work Syndrome).

HAVANAGRAMS: It’s ‘Complicado’: What do you get when you drop into Havana, Cuba for two days and start turning around to snap photographs in every direction? You get complications.

SONGS of COMFORT, SONGS of HOME: “Bring Sunshine When You Come”: A song for families that have lost someone in this pandemic. And for the many people putting their lives on the line to save our lives, plus the helpers who run to the disaster, instead of away May all see sunshine soon.

Somewhere, Not Nowhere: QUOTE of the DAY: “The challenge, these days, is to be somewhere as opposed to nowhere, actually to belong to some particular place, invest oneself in it, draw strength and courage from it …” Read on at the link.

SONGS of COMFORT, SONGS of HOME: May John Prine Awake in ‘Paradise’: John Prine has passed on. Here’s a video homage to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters—a video version of his tune “Paradise.” May he awaken in his paradise.

VISITING ITALY IN SPIRIT: ‘The Key To My Grandfather’s House’: Take a trip to Italy in spirt and in solidarity during this time of global pandemic and lockdown. What unites us is that we are all immigrants of one kind or another. Here is one family’s tale out of Calabria. What’s yours?

Molotov Limericks for the Masses: I am doing my bit to man the barricades by helping to Illustrate the op-ed limericks by a sister-in-arms in West Virginia. Baby Trump balloons feature prominently.

Ten Years After: Remembering the Faces from Upper Big Branch: It is has been ten years since the Upper Big Branch mine Disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners, from their 20s to their 60s. Here is a video remembrance of their faces, as still-grieving families brace once more for Don Blankenship to rub salt in their wounds.

“TAKING TO WING”: A Pandemic Diversion: If you can’t fly away from the Covid-19 pandemic, take this diversion into the skies, set to a 4th grade flute thingie, two guitars, and a whole lot of birds.

SONGS OF COMFORT, SONGS OF HOME: “Till There Was You”: They were young idealists picking up trash across America. One of them could nail a tune from “The Music Man.” (NOT “76 Trombones.”) Enter a ponytailed, cigar-chomping Cincinnati jazz pianist in a Parmesan-wedge of a club in the hazardous part of town.

HERE COMES the TSUNAMI: Getting Ready for Loss in a Pandemic: A huge wave of dying and grief is headed our way from the Covid-19 pandemic. And for that we must be prepared to share the burden—and share the joy, even—of coming together even as things fall apart.

“SKATEBOARD MAN”: Bruising Tale of Determination Caught on Video: Take a few lessons from Skateboard Man. Not quite so much about how to skateboard. But about how to be determined! To skateboard through life. It’s tough out there downtown.

SONGS of COMFORT, SONGS of HOME: May John Prine Awake in ‘Paradise’: John Prine is headed toward the coda of his life. Here’s a video homage to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters—my video version of his tune “Paradise.

10 Ways of Looking at West Virginia: With so many of us house-bound, my restless spirits may have been grunting about for some space and spaciousness. Here are 10 views from all around West Virginia for a little relief from cabin fever quarantine.

Take a 10-Minute Trip to Havana & Back: You couldn’t have a better traveling companion than to head to Cuba with Susan Werner. Needing a trip out of quarantine? Take a ten-minute jaunt down south to Havana.

Nature’s Not Sheltering in Place: It looks like the violets have returned from wherever violets over-winter. They are small, but distinctive. Kind of like the Pekinese of the front yard. Meanwhile, out on the deck the cardinals are just as prevalent as the violets. Flitting about like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe for us. Not for them.

SONGS of COMFORT, SONGS of HOME: “Two Guitars, One Heart”: Here’s an instrumental track I made yesterday, taking two passes on my Guild classical guitar. Calming music for crazy days. If you like it, download it for free at the link.

The Long Life of a PopCult: As life constricts to several rooms, I wish to look around and note folks still publishing worthy original content online. Back in the Days of Yore, pre-Plague, when we were all young and innocent and didn’t tweet-rage or sh*tpost, there were these things called ‘blogs.’

SONGS of COMFORT, SONGS of HOME: A West Virginia Medley: I don’t know whether spending the better part of a day crafting a music video from an old performance is the height of uselessness as global suffering bears down on the human race. But we could do worse, as we hunker down, than to listen to this Clementines version of Hazel Dickens’ great “West Virginia, My Home.”

WINGING IT FOR #LiveatHome: A soul-sister Appalachian pal sorta-kinda challenged me to record something straight to smartphone as part of the contagion social media movement afoot of Quarantine Performances. Here’s a first take from the John Lennon Memorial Studio of Appalachia.

THE JOY OF LITTLE THINGS, AND CARROTS, TOO: If we cannot feel joy in daily pandemic life at the moment, perhaps we can find some teensy joys in our shut-down experiences. as daily human interaction telescopes down to our living room couch. A contagion meditation on carrot videos, Falstaff and a ‘furiouser and furiouser’ ruling regime

DEAR DOUG REYNOLDS: We all let out a sigh of relief in the building when HD Media bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A West Virginia guy with deep pockets, if a middle-of-the-road, non-fire-breathing dragon sort. But still! A sort-of, quasi-liberal new owner, for one of America’s renowned, way-liberal, fire-breathing, storied small newspapers. But… did we get that wrong?

“WILD MOUNTAIN THYME,” via Scotland, West Virginia and the Quakers: In which we go deep on the gorgeous Scottish-Irish ballad “Wild Mountain Thyme and its faerie-filled backstory. And let you hear what this sweet ballad sounds like—twice. With thanks to Simon the Singer in a Quaker living room.

UP, UP and AWAY: NewYorkCityNotebook 2: I am standing on Times Square. Just arrived from out of the ground, like some gopher. Probably like most everyone else who is not a jaded New Yorker, my sense organs are in a state of stasis. Of overwhelm. Of a weird mixture of delight and alarm.

THE ARCHIVES: Ann Magnuson Channels David Bowie: Sometimes, nothing else will take your mind off crappy news of the day than Ann Magnuson channeling David Bowie. I’ve been combing through my old video archives and seeing what’s worth preserving and—as an old therapist liked to tell me—”lifting up” for your attention.

100 SECONDS’ of “Wild Mountain Thyme”: Here’s ‘100 Seconds’ worth of what can happen when you gather eight people in a Quaker living room and teach them a classic Celtic ballad while your smartphone is listening.

THE POET ON MY SHOULDER: I have decided I don’t need a shelf of poets in my life, right now. One, two or three—will do. But who? One’s for certain. I travel with him these days, tucked into a pocket of my rucksack.

MANHATTAN BLACK-AND-WHITE: NewYorkCityNotebook No. 1: Here are some black-and-white love letters from falling back in love with New York City, after a long time away and lifetimes ago, while still trying to say hello to David Byrne in person.

OTHER PEOPLE’S POETRY BREAK: W.H. Auden: When all the things you read sound like noise, propaganda or sales pitch come-ons (sometimes, all three at once), then it’s time turn to Other People’s Poetry, for a break. In this first of a series, Auden’s homage to fog.

PEOPLE I LOVE: Sister Mary Pellicane at 98: Sister Mary Pellicane has been at the business of being a nun—and being alive—a long while. On the occasion of her 98th birthday, meet this still feisty, still questing nun’s life story.

THE CHRISTMAS PEOPLE PUT THIS HAT ON ME: The Christmas People put this hat on me. A bright red hat with thick white fur. And a big ball that blocks one eye. So it begins.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH ALL THE JERKS?: What do you do when people act in a totally, unexpected, strange, unnerving manner in an age when civility is in the ER hooked up to an IV?

PAUL: A CHANCE ENCOUNTER: There’s a wheelchair and a guy in it at the end of the sidewalk. It’s an old chair, not those fancy Millenium Falcon chairs you see. An old guy, with skin weathered like an ancient saddle…

THE DECORATED WEST VIRGINIA MILITARY PILOT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: The 10-year-old Joe Turner watched, dumbstruck, as the jet fighter raced up the Kanawha River and then UNDER a bridge. Now, that was a job to have.

MAY YOU FIND YOUR INNER PEZ ONCE MORE: A few words to our PEZ Family as we go our separate ways. And may you be full of PEZ again some day!

SNATCHGRIN: Prologue: Fans of fantasy and dragons, take note. Take a peak at the prologue of “SNATCHGRIN: Tales of Another Earth,” as Prince Follett and 500 archers of the Seven Kingdoms face their first encounter with the dread beast.

IT’S A CUBA THING: Take a trip to Havana and some Cuba-inspired music in the debut episode of “The Listening Room,” featuring troubadour Susan Werner.

THE DANCER IN THE HILLS: The back-to-the-land movement brought hosts of wannabe farmers and dreamers to West Virginia. It also brought a dancer who brought big dreams into the deep hills.

THE WEST VIRGINIA DISASTER THAT CHANGED COAL MINING: A half-century later, one of the worst labor disasters in American history still reverberates in the courts and in the lives of families of the 78 lost miners from a conflagration for which no one has ever been held responsible.

THE CLOUD PAINTER AND THE BERLIN MUSICIAN: Robert Singleton had settled on painting clouds. Then, he stopped, hollowed out by too many losses from helping dying friends through his training with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. One day, a German musician stumbled on his site. And everything changed.

800 MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP: What happens when you embark on a Parental Mission of Mercy to rescue your son’s broken-down car 800 miles away and bring it back in the same day without obliterating a schoolbus-load of church kids. NOTE: Don’t try this at home.

OUT OF THE HILLS OF ITALY: My brother’s shoe scuffed a piece of metal in the grass on a Calabrian hillside. He’d found a key, both literal and figurative, that opened the door to our grandfather’s house and to a rich and layered immigrant family’s life

THE CATHOLIC BOY AND THE FIVE-DOLLAR BILL: An extremely short story about an encounter with Abraham Lincoln and a pudgy Catholic boy on the streets of West Virginia’s capital city. With a cameo appearance by the Greek philosopher Diogenes.

PARADIGM SHIFTING: LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI”S LIFE IN THE TRENCHES OF POETRY:  In this 1995 profile, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti forecasts “the revenge of the white man” taking place in contemporary politics in 2018 while reflecting on an epochal career as a poet, artist and essential figure in the rise and spread of the Beat movement.

8 DAYS AFTER 9-11: AT A BUDDHIST RETREAT IN THE WEST VIRGINIA HILLS: The ruins still smoking, thousands dead and the henchmen of 9-11 on the run, how do you concentrate on your meditation cushion at a Buddhist forest monastery in the backwoods of West Virginia a week after the planes strike America a blow to its heart? “Bomb Afghanistan!” says the abbot.

ACCOMPANYING YOUR MOTHER AS SHE PREPARES TO LEAVE: She had the greenest of thumbs, a bright intellect and always dreamed of being the kind of writer that Toni Morrison, a contemporary, became. What to do when your mother — in the late stages of Alzheimer’s — is moving mutely toward her departure from this life.

BELFAST DIARY: HANGING WITH THE DALAI LAMA AFTER THE BOMBS FALL SILENT: Getting close-up and personal in Belfast, Ireland, with the Dalai Lama and Christian monk Father Lawrence Freeman as they talk peace after the bombs between Catholics and Protestants fall silent.

Photo: Indiana Public Media / Flickr

HOW THE PAWPAW WAS FOUND, GOT LOST AND WAS FOUND AGAIN: Pawpaws have been rediscovered and celebrated in a host of products from pawpaw beer to pawpaw popsicles. But how did the custardy fruit get forgotten since a pawpaw patch today might have been one cultivated ages ago by American Indians?

HOW MOUNT HOPE LIVED UP TO ITS NAME WHEN DESEGREGATION CAME TO TOWN: The black kids went to one school in tiny Mount Hope. The white kids went to another. But when the court order came to desegregate, a funny thing happened in the hills of West Virginia. The white kids were sent to the black school instead of the other way around. Historic things ended up happening.

THE NIGHT THE HOUSE CAME CRASHING DOWN AROUND ME: A portrait of the artist as a skinny kid attempting the impossible task of fixing the most important relationship in his life up to that point. While standing there in his pajama bottoms and t-shirt as the house began to shake.

800 MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP: What happens when you embark on a Parental Mission of Mercy to rescue your son’s broken-down car 800 miles away and bring it back in the same day without obliterating a schoolbus-load of church kids. NOTE: Don’t try this at home.

ROUNDING UP A FATHER’S LIFE IN BITS AND PIECES: Fathers can be mysterious guys, especially if they were members of the Greatest Generation who didn’t talk about things like their ships being torpedoed in the Atlantic and whose go-to form of anger was volcanic utterance. But in the bits and pieces of a father’s life, I find the man he was.

YOU DIDN’T GO ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE ONE-ARMED BANDIT: The life of a journalist is filled with mundane daily tasks. Get the calendar edited. Rewrite a press release. Track down a source who isn’t returning e-mails. Then, you get to talk to Gary Mays. The West Virginia native, had his left arm shot off at age 5. What happened next was the stuff of legend and lore, complicated by the racism that likely defused a pro sports career.

DOCUMENTING THE OPIOID CRISIS IN NUMBERS AND FILM: The numbers of deaths, shattered families and communities are grim when it comes to the opioid crisis. But what happens next? In her Netflix documentary, “Recovery Boys,” Oscar-nominated documentarian Elaine McMillion Sheldon takes a look at the attempt by four young West Virginians to kick opioids by working on a farm in the West Virginia hills.

A SURPRISE ENCOUNTER WITH A SHRUNKEN REPLICA OF THE VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL: What happens when you shrink Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial down to a third its size, making a replica featuring all 57,661 names and then ship the thing across the country and bolt it together, say, one day beside the Ohio River? Oddly, the exact same thing that happens with the real thing in Washington, D.C.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE WEST VIRGINIA MYSTERY PAINTINGS: There is this old farmhouse in the heart of West Virginia. No one lives there anymore, but why is the door locked? That’s because there is an artistic and mysterious surprise upstairs on the second floor. And, wait… what’s that you say about a Dalton Gang connection to the work inside?

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