DOWNTRODDEN

Betsy (middle) and the cotton mill girls
Georgia, 1909
Photograph by Lewis W Hine

Carry myself with pride, as my mama taught me. My name is Elizabeth but everyone calls me Betsy. I am sixteen, pretty and full of life. This is day one of my very first paying job – working in the cotton mills. I’m lucky and oh so grateful.

Mama is home doing chores and caring for my seven little brothers and sisters. Daddy left one day and never came back.

In my lunch sack is bread, an orange and a chuck of cheese. During my break I’ll sit by the banks of the Conasauga River and splash my scorched face. Life is good.

Carry myself with stooped shoulders. I’ve been in the mill for eight months. It’s hotter inside than the blazing Georgia sun. Humid, too, to keep the thread from breaking. Boiled potatoes, cabbage and river water for lunch. I’m sixteen. Maybe I’ll meet a husband here.

Carry myself on leaden feet. I work six days a week, twelve hours a day. I earn $1.00 each week. The air is thick with cotton dust. Nobody talks anymore; we keep our mouths covered but that doesn’t stop the coughing. I have no time or energy for anything else. I’m sixteen and feel like I’m sixty.

Carry myself with doom. I’m coughing up blood now and see nothing in my future except dying in the mill. I think I’ll just walk into the river and never come out.

Carry my dead body to the graveyard. I was only sixteen and my name was Betsy.

NAR © 2021

BLOW

It was the middle of February, probably one of the coldest days of the year, but that didn’t bother me. I liked the cold; people just assumed my persistent runny nose and watery eyes were from the harsh weather when in reality the cause was yet another hit of cocaine – my constant companion, my best friend and my most insidious opponent.

I was waiting outside the NY Public Library in Manhattan for my guy to show up with that lovely little glassine envelope of blow. He was running late, as usual, and I was freezing my ass off, so I decided to wait in the lobby. At least it was a little warmer.

Just a few feet from the entrance sat a bench where I took up residence. I was starting to get agitated, my fingernails tap-tapping on the wooden slats. It had been several hours since my last snort – an eternity for an addict – and I couldn’t still my scattered mind. A prune-faced woman sitting on a bench opposite me kept looking from my fingers to my face, clearly annoyed. Self-consciously I put my hands in my pockets, immediately coming in contact with my little amber bottle with the attached spoon – what a clever design that was, although I must admit the one with the little golden spoon neatly built into the inside bottom of the lid was pure genius. You know the one I’m talking about. OK – this was a nice surprise! I’d completely forgotten about it when I changed jackets the other day; I always keep my stash in my backpack.

Elated, I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, delighting in the feel of the all-too-familiar smooth surface. I could just walk to the corner of the lobby and pretend to blow my nose while actually taking a hit. I’ve done it a hundred times. One quick glance at the bottle and I cursed; it was empty. Hoping against hope, I decided to check my backpack just in case I’d hidden a spare bottle.

I reached down to retrieve my backpack from under the bench when I caught a glimpse of a bright pink book, obviously forgotten or misplaced by a library patron. Being a curious sort, I reached over to check it out and my heart stopped; in bold black print was the title of the book – QUITTING COCAINE: YOUR PERSONAL RECOVERY PLAN. That book and I stared at each other for a full five minutes. Was this some kind of joke, a sign of divine intervention or just a crazy coincidence. Well, I’m not the type who believes in coincidences; everything in our lives happens for a reason, whether we like it or not.

My leg was bouncing up and down like a jackhammer – something that always happened when I needed a hit – so I put my backpack on my lap, crossed my legs and snuck a peek at the book. The first line was a blistering slap across the face: “Keep shoving coke up your nose and you’ll be dead by this time next year.” No “probably” or “there’s a chance”; just a flat-out death sentence, literally. I read the first chapter in five minutes; still no sign of my guy so I continued reading. Forty-five minutes later I’d read the whole book and still no delivery. But I realized my leg had stopped bouncing; when did that happen?

Slipping the book into my backpack I noticed the author’s name on the back cover: Dr. Arnold M. Washton, an internationally recognized psychologist and author specializing in substance abuse treatment. A little further down was a picture of the good doctor, an email address, phone number and the location of his office. Holy shit! This was definitely no coincidence. His office was about a three-minute walk from where I sat at the library.

For the first time in my pathetic and broken life I felt like I had a purpose. I left the library and walked straight to Dr. Washton’s office. I had no idea if the place was even open but I knew I had to take the chance. When I arrived I hesitated for a second, then rang the bell. Immediately there was a buzz and the door unlocked. As I entered I heard a man’s voice call out “In here” and I walked into a dimly lit office. It was a very calming room with the smell of leather and black cherry pipe tobacco.

Dr. Washton sat in a large over-stuffed chair next to a blazing fireplace reading a book. He took the pipe from his mouth and looked up at me; his eyes were warm and kind.

“I need help” was all I said.

“Then you’ve come to the right place” was his response.

And I knew I had.

NAR © 2021

SCREAMING OUT FOR HELP

It was 7:00 AM when Jason Peterson’s cell rang. Reaching for the phone he saw the call was from Dr. Philip Zane. Jason froze. How long had it been since he last heard from Dr. Zane – twelve, possibly thirteen years? He hoped never to hear from him again. With great reluctance he answered the call.

“Dr. Zane. It’s been a long time. I assume there’s been a development.” Jason said with a strange combination of indifference and dread.

“Yes, Jason. Your father is showing signs of coming out of his coma. Considering the circumstances, I thought you’d want to be here when he wakes up” was the doctor’s response.

The only news Jason wanted to hear was that his father was finally dead. But no! The bastard refused to give up without a fight, damn him! Calming himself, Jason said “Thank you for the update, doctor. Please let me know when my father is fully conscious.Considering the circumstances’ as you said, I want to be the first person to see my father when he‘s conscious. I’m sure you understand. Goodbye.”

Gregory Peterson had been in a coma ever since Jason bashed in his head that night of unspeakable horror in the Peterson house.

Jason was only fifteen when he called the police in a state of panic screaming out for help. His family was dead, butchered by his father, Gregory. When the police arrived at the house, they discovered four people savagely murdered, an unconscious man crumpled on the floor and Jason locked in the basement. The victims were taken to the morgue, the injured man transported to a high security hospital and Jason brought down to the police station.

The detectives sat in stunned silence as Jason described the events of that night:

“I was at Mike and Dan Kelly’s house smoking weed. Mike and Dan got really stoned and passed out around 1:00 so I left. When I got home I found everybody dead. My grandma and little brother Jake were tied to chairs. They’d both been shot in the head. My mom and sister Janice were on the sofa. They were naked and beaten so bad I could barely recognize them. They’d been raped, too. My dad just stood in the middle of the room, staring straight ahead like a crazed animal. He was clutching a huge bloody wrench.

Then he saw me and snapped to life. He came at me like a wild man swinging that wrench. All I could do was run, try to get out of his way. I stumbled and fell on top of Janice. Her blood was all over me and I scrambled away as fast as I could. I saw the gun on the floor and dove for it. I pointed it at my dad but it jammed. I threw the gun at him and he lunged at me but the wrench slipped out of his hands. I grabbed it and swung at him. He was gonna kill me, too, just like he killed all of them. I had to do something to protect myself so I bashed him over the head. I hit him pretty hard and he went down. I dropped the wrench and ran to the basement. I locked myself in and called 911. It was horrible, a nightmare. How could he do something so awful?”

And he broke down, sobbing.

After checking out Jason’s story with the Kellys, the police saw no reason to detain him. The dead were buried, Jason moved in with relatives and Gregory languished in a coma. The years went by.

Three days after the call from Dr. Zane, Jason heard from him again. Gregory was conscious and speaking but repeating only one word: “Jason”.

It was evening at the hospital, that twilight time when patients sleep and hospital staff chat quietly. A bored policeman sat outside Gregory’s room, dozing. He checked Jason’s visitor’s pass, did a cursory pat-down and told him he could go in. Gregory was asleep, neatly tucked in and handcuffed to the bed rails. In the dim light he looked old and frail. Jason flipped the switch flooding the room with light.

Abruptly awakened, Gregory mumbled his disapproval. Approaching the bed Jason could see the apprehension in his father’s eyes as he focused on his son’s sneering face.

Bending close so that their faces were just inches apart, Jason whispered menacingly “I wish you died that night, old man, just like everyone else. I should have finished you off. That was sloppy of me. Think how much easier if would have been without having this to deal with all these years. Well, we can’t have you spilling the beans now, can we?” Jason removed his cell phone from his pocket, the same one he used to call the police that grisly night. Smugly he thought how stupid the police were not asking to see his phone. It was laughable but then again his performance down at the station was magnificent. By the time he was finished every cop wanted to hug him and make all the terrifying images go away. Smugly he showed his father one selfie after the other; each one was of Jason standing over the bodies of his family, his victims. The final images were graphic videos of Jason raping his mother and sister. Too bad their mouths were taped shut; he would have love to have heard their screams.

With each photo Jason grinned as Gregory became more and more agitated, his breathing labored and his eyes bugging as his face turned crimson. He opened his mouth to cry out but only silence filled the room.

What a shame to remove such works of art” Jason said as he deliberately deleted each photo, unfazed by the fact that Gregory was in extreme distress. He smiled coldly as his father died before his eyes. If only he could have bashed in his head just one more time.

Slipping into character, Jason strolled to the door of his father’s room and flung it open, screaming out for help.

NAR © 2021

KATHMANDU DÉJÀ VU

The other day I got some news that threw me for a loop;
I felt like a headless chicken running ‘round the chicken coop.

You see, I met this awesome guy who made me lose my mind.
A handsome man so witty and sexy can be awful hard to find.

We both had friends from childhood days who knew us oh so well.
They figured if we two hooked up we’d get along rather well.

My friend called me and his called him and we agreed upon a date
To meet at Charlie’s Ribs and Ale next Friday night at eight.

Well, I was pretty keen on the idea of meeting someone new;
The last few dates I had were dull as hell and that would never do

See, I’m the kind of girl who likes to go out and have some fun.
A couple of hours with some boring dude would have me on the run.

I’m really not high maintenance, I just need some stimulation;
The kind that gets my juices flowing and speeds up my circulation.

I know you know what I’m referring to; I can see it in your eyes.
I want a man who knows what’s what, the hows and whens and whys.

So, there I was at Charlie’s, me and my friend waiting for our dates
When in walked these cool guys who made me want to masturbate.

They came straight to my table and I knew right off the bat
This blue-eyed, bearded devil was a curious kind of cat.

He looked at me and I at him and our eyebrows began to rise;
When we thought perhaps we knew each other almost all our lives.

We’d no idea that this blind date would not be so blind at all
For although we thought we knew each other we couldn’t quite recall.

In fact, we never took the time to learn each other’s names.
Our paths crossed countless times before as kids playing kiddie games.

Yeah, we were nameless friends in school in days from way back when.
We even went to church at times, seeing each other now and again.

We attended the same college where we learned a thing or two
But we never said “Hey, what’s your name? I think I may know you!”

Now here we were having loads of fun, hitting it off like two peas in a pod;
But the incredible fact that we sorta knew each other was really very odd. 

The night flew by, we ate and drank; this guy could talk the talk
And deep inside my womanly mind I knew he could walk the walk.

So, I took a wild chance and asked him to come back to my place;
He looked at me, eyes twinkling and a roguish grin upon his face.

We tried to act all nonchalant, no need to rush the night.
He said he was a poet; I said “No kidding? I like to write!”

We sat real close on my old couch and he said “Tell me, what’s your sign?”
I turned to him, said “Pisces” and he said “Yeah? That’s the same as mine!”

He wove his fingers through my hair and slowly pulled back my head.
I opened my mouth and licked my lips saying “Take me to my bed.”

We started slow, real nice and easy, just feeling each other out
But it didn’t take long before both of us were doing the ‘Twist and Shout’.

This went on the whole night long; he was quite the voracious lad.
I met him thrust for thrust and lick for lick and none of it was bad.

We spent the next few days together; we got along really great.
He told me his name was Kevin and I told him my name was Kate.

He said he lived in Baltimore now but was born in Kathmandu.
His eyes nearly popped out his head when I said “Jesus! I was too!”

Things were really getting eerie now; we both knew this was bizarre
Especially when we simultaneously said “On March 10th at Paropakar!”

Now hold on, wait just a damn minute; how could this possibly be?
We were born in the same hospital on the same day in 1983!

Our piercing eyes stared at each other as we silently sipped our tea.
Who was going to ask the next question? Was it me or possibly he?

I grabbed the bull by the horns, so to speak, and said “What’s your mom’s name?”
He lowered his cup rather slowly and replied somewhat warily “It’s Germaine.”

I heaved an enormous sigh of relief which proved to be premature
Cos he was adopted; his birth mom’s name was Faye, of that he was quite sure.

I think I peed my pants right then and nearly fainted as I screamed “No way!
For you see, Kevin, I was adopted, too, and my birth mom’s name was Faye!”

Now this is no laughing matter, dear readers, for I’d just had me a fuck like no other
Who turned out to be to my shock and dismay my long-lost fraternal twin brother!

NAR © 2021

GUEST POST: TWICE AS SLOW AS MOLASSES

TODAY I AM FEATURING A NEW GUEST ON MY SITE – ROBERT CAMPBELL. HIS POEM IS ONE OF THOSE PIECES THAT REACHES INTO YOUR CHEST, GRABS ONTO YOUR HEART AND WON’T LET GO. IT PIERCES THE SOUL AND WRIGGLES INTO THE BRAIN TO MAKE YOU FEEL AND THINK AND PRAY FOR CHANGE. THIS POWERFUL HOMAGE TO ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE IS APPROPRIATE AND NECESSARY EVERY DAY, PARTICULARLY NOW AS WE CELEBRATE MOTHER’S DAY. THANK YOU, ROBERT, FOR ACKNOWLEDGING THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD. IT’S AN HONOR TO SHARE MY SPACE WITH YOU.

AND THE MUSE CAME AGAIN AND SAID,

“Bard, Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It
should make us ponder how our mothers
lived and died to determine if our society
should look for ways for it to improve in
regard to their welfare from the cradle to
the grave, improvements in areas such
as education, gender equality, and health care.”

AND THE BARD REPLIED,
“It would be wonderful if we would all so
ponder and make vast improvements.”

How Can You Call Yourself a Woman

***Oh Yes***

For to truly be a woman,
Is to get your joy from serving others,
And to be a beast of burden,
To your husbands, fathers, and brothers.

But, it all really comes down to,
Just kissing a lot a asses,
And watching your life go by,
Twice as slow as molasses.

***Yes***

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you weren’t molested when you were young,
And you haven’t been told by everyone,
That you are ugly, boring, fat, and dumb.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never been asked to be nice,
Or reminded to keep your nose clean,
And not have to be told anything twice.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never been taught how to cook,
To get up at four in the morning,
And be pretty for all who want to look.

How can you call yourself a woman
If you have never been told a lie,
And how you must learn to live with it,
To suck it up, and never ever cry.

***Oh Yes***

For to truly be a woman,
Is to get your joy from serving others,
And to be a beast of burden,
To your husbands, fathers, and brothers.

But, it all really comes down to,
Just kissing a lot a asses,
And watching your life go by,
Twice as slow as molasses.

***Yes***

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you were not raped on your first date;
And then hear all others blame you for it,
And say, “Some bring about their own fate.”

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you weren’t screwed on your wedding day,
And then got to find out soon thereafter,
You were forever in a family way.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you have never done no child care,
If you have never scrubbed a dirty neck,
Or gotten crap out of soiled underwear.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never been told a million lies:
Or if you’ve never had to believe them,
Or in a bunch of feeble alibis.

***Oh Yes***

For to truly be a woman,
Is to get your joy from serving others,
And to be a beast of burden,
To your husbands, fathers, and brothers.

But, it all really comes down to,
Just kissing a lot a asses,
And watching your life go by,
Twice as slow as molasses.

***Yes***

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never gone to Sunday School,
And had to hear all of the Brothers say,
“Be like us and practice the Golden Rule.”

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never forgiven everyone,
For each of their cruel and hateful acts,
And for everything else they have done.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you’ve never had a dreadful disease,
And never gotten help from anyone,
Unless you begged for it on bended knees.

How can you call yourself a woman,
If you have never died all alone,
And have felt oh so grateful for it,
And had “At Rest” etched on your tombstone.

***Oh Yes***

For to truly be a woman,
Is to get your joy from serving others,
And to be a beast of burden,
To your husbands, fathers, and brothers.

But, it all really comes down to,
Just kissing a lot a asses,
And watching your life go by,
Twice as slow as molasses.

Copyright 2016 The Bard & Mrs. Bard R. Campbell

A HIGHER BEING

Quick. When was the last time in the past 16 months you felt truly happy, safe from the perils all around, free to travel, visit your family or even simply take a walk? 

Oh, there were happy days but they were few and fleeting. For me and my husband it was the day our grandchild was born. I remember anxiously arriving at White Plains Hospital to meet our precious granddaughter. She, an innocent, peaceful, beautiful little soul completely dependent on family for every aspect of her life. We saw her exactly twice in the hospital before she was whisked away to the safety of her loving home. That was February 2020, just as COVID hit, and we didn’t see her again until May. We were among the lucky ones; in light of what was about to unfold, three months was nothing.

Think back to the time you brought your first baby home. Many of us had the wise and caring help of our parents to guide us and pitch in when we needed encouragement or just a break. We had friends to run to the store for formula or diapers, family to help cook meals and do the laundry. 

Now imagine as first-time parents bringing your baby home and you are stricken with an unknown and dangerous virus. That’s what happened to our son and his wife. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them but being a doctor herself, our daughter-in-law had to face reality; they obviously contracted COVID while she was in the hospital. She broke out in a cold, damp sweat fearing the worst, praying for the best. New parents, both sick with what was now categorized as a pandemic; could anything be more horrifying? Would they be ok? Would the baby be ok? Would they survive when so many around them were dying?

Thankfully they had mild cases of this scourge that raged like wildfire from north to south and east to west. They managed to get by while masked family members delivered bags of groceries and supplies, rang the bell and left. Our son would hold the baby up to the window as we waved and blew kisses, mouthing the words “I love you“. We would make the slow walk back to our car and cry – heartbroken that we couldn’t be with them yet thankful that – so far – we were all well. We all found ourselves praying more than ever before. Our son and his wife made it through the most terrifying period of their lives. They regained their health, the baby thrived and their faith was strengthened.

Finally that day in May arrived when we all agreed that our isolationist lifestyle and carefulness allowed us to visit our granddaughter. We were overcome with joy and thankfulness. There were more than a few tears shed that day.

As time went by how many people lost their businesses, homes, jobs, loved ones or their own lives? And through all this I am constantly reminded that there is a higher being protecting us. If we lose sight of that, we lose everything.

Our healthy son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter

NAR © 2021

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND


WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND

Children are a blessing, a fact no one is denying.
They come into our quiet lives all wrinkly and a-crying. 

Parenthood’s a heavy task you never learned in school
And if you think it’s easy then you’re just a God-damn fool. 

You take them home as newborns not knowing what to do.
Warm their bottles, wash their clothes and clean up all their poo. 

Those little babes can tire you out and run you in the ground
And when bedtime rolls around you pray their sleep is sound. 

You do the very best you can to teach them right from wrong
And feed them milk and vegetables to grow up big and strong.

Some kids are such a pleasure, they warm their mother’s hearts.
All they do is such a joy; you can’t even smell their farts! 

They do their chores, their homework, too, and never answer back
And when it’s time to go to bed they jump right in the sack. 

Then there are the nasty ones who don’t do what they’re taught.
Like Harry Potter’s nemesis they act like Lord Voldemort. 

They’re mean to all the other kids like a dog without its bone,
A bunch of little shits who make life miserable at home.

They say that kids learn from their folks to live a proper life
So try to fill your child’s world with happiness, not strife.

And don’t forget in sixty years-time, give a year or two
It’s your kids who’ll be feeding you and cleaning up your poo! 

NAR © 2021