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Michael Estabrook poetry

Internal Monologue

I see these bent misshapen old men
with stooped
shoulders hobbling
along on canes and walkers
and I get angry.
Really? That’s not fair.
All of them aren’t bent
because they’ve neglected
their health and they’re stupid.
Some have legitimate problems.
I don’t care.
I’m guessing you are angry because
you do not want to end up like them.
I don’t care. I hate them.

Howie Good prose poetry

A Loss of Faith Brings Vertigo

What kind of conclusions can you draw when you’re watching the sun go down? Or you’re watching the sea or the forest? They’re certainly things that keep me up late. I want to go totally nuts, shout “Fuck yeah!” But, of course, what happens? I begin to feel dizzy. There’s now a cookbook of everything Brad Pitt has eaten in a movie. The guy who runs the souvenir shop in the basement next to the bathrooms seems unimpressed. He pictures himself lying in the shade of beautiful trees. It’s a place I’d go as well if I just knew how to get there.

When Fake News Becomes Real

It’s important to test during the day whether or not you’re dreaming. You probably won’t look like the real you. Chances are you will be in somewhat of a panic. Check that the doors and windows of your house are locked. Start naming the things in the room. Is there a window where a painting is supposed to be? Remind yourself that you are not going crazy. Try to notice the cold, wet sensation. If you can’t after fifteen minutes, just sit or stand there. Signal to somebody to help you as best you can.

“OrBo Zi-In III” by Gary Robinson

OrBo Zi-In III did not like being made to explore this strange planet with its hotter-than-hell temperatures, senior-citizen politicians, and reality TV Shows. When OrBo Zi-In II said he had to, OrBo Zi-In III hemmed and hawed and even crossed his eyes to make a bad impression, but OrBo Zi-In II knew what he was up to and threatened to go right to the top, right to OrBo Zi-In I, which would land OrBo Zi-In III in the doghouse for sure. So he had no choice but to accept the mission and get onto a spaceship and voyage beyond the galaxies, and if not for the drugs he had smuggled aboard, he might have gone completely crazy.

It was a peculiar evolutionary trait of the OrBo Zi-Ins that they could imitate any shape, which gave an advantage in a tight bind. For example, if they had to hide from a collection agency (the OrBo Zi-Ins were famous for not paying up) they could assume the shape of a cactus or a can opener so that the bill collector would come back empty-handed and frustrated, though he must have had his suspicions that the debtor Orbo Zi-in was camouflaged and snickering away. But what could he do about it?

In fact, the OrBo Zi-Ins were always turning into something else to get out of work or bad blind dates. One day their leader, the aforementioned Orbo Zi-In I, stood in front of 5,000,000,000,000 OrBo Zi-Ins (when they weren’t malingering or wriggling out of sticky situations, they were screwing like lunatics) announcing new measures to decrease absenteeism and boost productivity when a voice yelled out: “SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!”

When Orbo Zi-In I tried to find out who it was all 5,000,000,000,000 OrBo Zi-Ins (in a show of solidarity) changed into carrots.

Now OrBo Zi-In III was travelling in outer space, so stoned after months of smoking weed it was a wonder a Rastafarian singalong didn’t break out, when the ship entered the destined planet’s atmosphere and, after a turbulent descent, touched down in stealth mode at the programmed location.


Half Tex drank coffee inside Johnny Rio’s, a restaurant in Woody, a small Arkansas town of less than 500 people. Half Tex was the son of Big Tex, a local legend who had served in Vietnam and even volunteered for the Gulf War but was too old by then to go. Big Tex was a notorious bigot who disliked most minorities, hippies (though hippies were few and far between in Woody), and poets (fewer and more far between). When Big Tex was drunk you stayed out of his way, since he always carried a Colt .45 and would fire it in the air like at the rodeo or aim it recklessly, thereby terrifying anyone who chanced upon him.

Nobody knew why Half Tex was called Half Tex, seeing as he was six feet five inches while his father was barely five feet in his thickest socks. Big Tex Junior would have made more sense, everyone agreed, whereas Half Tex made it seem like he was weirdly truncated or missing something. A guy with his legs sawed off maybe, which was not the case at all. For fuck’s sake, he was six feet five inches tall!


Ed, Ted, and Zed were in The Blue Monkey bar, across the street from The Orange Monkey bar, where Big Tex drank every day. No one who wasn’t insane wanted to be in the same bar as Big Tex with his Colt .45 that was like a fateful prophecy just waiting to be told to some poor son-of-a-bitch. But it wouldn’t be Ed, Ted, or Zed who sipped draft beer as a fly swirled around the room like an erratic helicopter. This brought up an anecdote that was never far from their thoughts.

“Didn’t Big Tex once shoot at a fly in The Orange Monkey?” Ed asked.

“That’s what Rudy the bartender said,” Ted replied.

“The thing is,” Zed continued. “Did Big Tex hit the fly or miss?”

The anecdote never went past this, like a door they didn’t dare open and step through. They ordered another round of beer.


At that moment Big Tex lifted his head and stared in the direction of The Blue Monkey. “It’s because of homos like Ed, Ted, and Zed that we lost the Vietnam war,” he said to himself. On the table were three empty pitchers of beer. But if Big Tex was anything, he was generous with his criticism. He also blamed the military industrial complex, smartass politicians, dot-com millionaires, Ynternet providers and Twitter. Then in the grip of a memory, like a loop or a ghostly rollercoaster, one hand reached toward the Colt .45 as his eyes shut into evil slits and his voice became searching and furious as tinder: “NOWWHERE’STHATGODDAMNEDFLY?”


Half Tex stood at the front window of Johnny Rio’s. He was watching a wall that had mysteriously shown up in the middle of the street, dividing east and west. It had not been there one minute before, but now here it was. Half Tex believed this was pretty unusual. He drank his coffee and tried to make sense of it. The wall was familiar. It looked a lot like one of the outside walls of The Orange Monkey. It even had the same graffiti and piss stains. Who the hell would take a wall away and put it in the street?

“Hey, Max,” he said to the owner of Johnny Rio’s. “Come and look at this.”

“Holy shit, what’s that? Isn’t that from The Orange Monkey?”

“Yes,” Half Tex said. “That’s what I thought.”

Timmy Weedmark, the newspaper boy, came into Johnny Rio’s. Timmy had red hair and an irascible temperament because fewer and fewer people were buying the Woody Chronicle. “Nobody wants your fucking paper, Timmy,” they would tell him sadly. This made Timmy depressed, and more than once he considered buying an assault rifle and shooting up the hick town.

“Hey, Timmy,” Half Tex said. “Go to The Orange Monkey and tell us if it’s lost a wall.”

Timmy thought Half Tex was an asshole, but he went and looked.

“It’s not missing a wall or anything. It’s all there,” Timmy said before he left a copy of the Woody Chronicle with Max.

“Shit,” Half Tex said.

Something was up.


This was not what OrBo Zi-In III had in mind when he wandered into Woody. First, the heat was a killer, and he was still woozy from the drugs and the long journey. Then there was the practical consideration of aesthetics. If it hasn’t been mentioned yet, maybe now is the time: the OrBo Zi-Ins are really ugly. An OrBo Zi-In looks like an octopus with eight enormous bowed legs, which is bad enough, but there is also the matter of a long red thing on its head that resembles a dick. In their world it is considered rude to stare, and some OrBo Zi-Ins even put on hats to try and avoid any crude remarks. The ability to change their appearance is a godsend to the OrBo Zi-Ins, which is why if you visit their world you won’t see any, since they are ashamed of those things on their heads. The OrBo Zi-Ins prefer to be mistaken for boulders or furniture or corn on the cob, anything than their real shapes.

OrBo Zi-In III knew he couldn’t go around without causing a stir. Now this is when he stumbled into Woody and all the buildings began to worry him. He felt terribly exposed out here with his octopus features, eight bowed legs, not to mention the dick on his head. Just then he heard a sound nearby: “WHERE’STHATFUCKENFLYGONETO?”

A noise like an explosion, and OrBo Zi-In III panicked. Quickly, he glanced in the direction where it’d come from. Without thinking, he became the shape of the structure or what he was able to see of it. He kept very quiet.


A crowd led by Half Tex gathered at the wall that had appeared out of nowhere and was now blocking the main street of Woody. Ed, Ted, and Zed were among them. They all agreed that, yes, it was strange that a wall looking like it had come from The Orange Monkey was where it shouldn’t have been. They walked to the Orange Monkey, gave it a long stare, then tossed out some possibilities: a joke by college students too bored with their lives, an illusion brought about by a magician who was no doubt laughing at them right now (the son-of-a-bitch!), a government black ops to be used in urban warfare to confuse the enemy, or maybe it had come from a parallel universe, which meant somewhere, in another universe, a duplicate Orange Monkey was missing its wall and somebody was mad as hell about it.

As they went on OrBo Zi-In III had a hard time not cracking up. Humans sure were dumb bastards. He only hoped they would move along and allow him a chance to get out of here. He had explored this planet enough. If OrBo Zi-In II pressed him for information when he returned he would make it up. Just then a gunshot rang out. Big Tex staggered over, screaming, “THATGODDAMNEDFLYHASNINELIVESCOSHOWTHEHELLCANITTAKEABULLETLIKETHAT
TIMEANDTIMEAGAINANDNOTDIE!” Very carefully they moved away from Big Tex and his drawn Colt .45.


Half Tex explained to Big Tex that no one had any idea but it wasn’t from the Orange Monkey, that was certain. A glint twinkled in Big Tex’s eyes like a spark of divine madness. He smiled, drooled, then lifted his gun and shot at the wall. He shot a second time. “IT’SFROMFUCKENOUTERSPACENODOUBTABOUTIT!”

The afternoon was getting hotter and more humid in Woody. Sweat big as marbles rolled down everyone’s foreheads as Big Tex whipped them into a frenzy, and this was fast becoming a recipe for a lynching.

OrBo Zi-In III was shitting his pants.


Just then, like in a Medieval miracle, but without the swords and castles, an SUV roared into Woody. Out jumped several young women – huge tits and tiny skirts like probationary porn stars – and an older man with a Van Dyke beard and enormous retro bell-bottom jeans. In front of the startled townsfolk a display was quickly set up made of a stand with a colored sunshade and bottles of wine arranged in rows. Attention turned from the mysterious wall to the bearded stranger who sized up the crowd like a malicious dentist. As if on cue, the women thrust out their chests in a classic gesture of overkill. The stranger cleared his throat and began speaking with a French accent: “Americans, friends, how are you this fine day? My name is Jean-Luc LeCanard, and I am here to offer a sample of what is the greatest gift to civilization. And what is that, you ask? Well, simply put: French wine. The best wine in the world, my friends.”

A murmur started.    

“Yes, my friends, put away your American whisky and beer and California wine – so inferior, to be honest. Yes? But here is the best wine from the vineyards of France. Your tongues won’t just drink this wine, no, your taste buds will make love – l’amour – and your senses will know la petite mort, which we French experience every day. Come, try some. Who will be the first?”

“FRANCEYPANTS!” someone yelled out. Everybody laughed.

LeCanard went on: “My friends, I bring you not just wine but culture.”

“FRANCEYPANTS!” They laughed again.

LeCanard got a weird expression, a Zombie some would later say, though others swore it was more like he was in a Wagnerian opera. You could imagine him holding a trident or a lightning bolt, singing “La Marseillaise” as music crashed all around like the sound of wine bottles breaking. But when he finally spoke, it was almost in a trance-like whisper and so low you had to strain to hear: “French wine is better than American. A Frenchman built the White House. The Iraq War was immoral and illegal. Disneyland Paris is an abomination. André the Giant was never defeated!”

The murmuring escalated, and more than one voice cursed Jean-Luc LeCanard, who suddenly brandished out of thin air the French national flag, which prompted a few locals to run home, grab the Stars and Stripes, and begin waving it. LeCanard: “André the Giant was never defeated, you stupid Americans! Never defeated!”

At that moment shots rang out and everybody, including LeCanard, who snapped out of it, began running. Bit Tex was firing in the air and pointing his Colt .45 like he was still in Vietnam. There was hollering and cries of: “Stop, Big Tex, you might shoot someone.” But Big Tex kept on shooting and screaming: “WHERE’STHATFUCKENFLYIKNOWITSHERE!”


It was during the ruckus that OrBo Zi-In III saw an opportunity to ditch this place. A creature had landed by him for a second and the alien quickly copied it: a fly, it turns out. It wasn’t easy to navigate a flight path, but OrBo Zi-In III managed to return to his space ship and take off, avoiding detection. Without any drugs, the trip back to his planet was a long and boring one.

“Secret Secret Secret” by Katrina Johnston


When I first met Sharlene Susan Sanderson she stood in front of me and idled for about five seconds with her hand outstretched. I didn’t stop what I was doing. She told me she wanted to be called “Triple S.”

I couldn’t stand her, or her alias. She had arrived just in time to bother me. My dislike hit me in the chest like acid reflux. This wasn’t solely because she was my competition, although it might have been.

No matter how I set my mind and tried to be professional, my resentment expanded deep inside. I was appalled by her mannerisms. But she was only one new person, a minor sour element invading my supportive community of long-time friends and colleagues at the Melvin Community Market. I’d have to suffer, but only for a single day. It was our last selling time, a bookend market for the summer season. I tried to be fair-minded. I decided she wasn’t worth too much upset.

Triple S was very young and noisy, and she swore with ease. She tested the limits of my patience when she kept dancing around, trying to look precocious. I took a silent dislike to her attention-seeking behaviour. She was skidding around, showing-off and schmoozing. I wondered. Could I? Should I? Would I ever trust her?

I’m not normally suspicious, but I found her presence unsettling. She must have been at least 19 or 20, because someone would have double-checked and verified her adult status, but that was hard to believe. She wore ultra-tight Yoga pants and lots of makeup, and she carried around an Android phone as if it were glued to her palm, the earbud wires dangling until she shoved them under thick strands of unkempt hair.

She’d already slid past my kiosk three or four times, but never stopped. She’d been extra busy visiting with the other vendors, yakking with everyone – not me. Anyway, she didn’t introduce herself until she was rushing by yet again, and the timing was crucial because it was only moments before we would open to welcome our customers.      

She pulled up breathlessly in front of my selling area, stuffed her cell phone and related gear into her tight front pockets. Her own tables were organized and only a short distance from my kiosk. She had laid out all her items earlier. Those tables were long and cluttered with candle holders, place mats, crystals, picture frames, belt buckles and more. Some of her merchandise was jewelry. She had pins and pendants, as well as other pieces, and that annoyed me. Upon cursory inspection, I saw that her jewelry was not quality. But, she was my competitor.

“Sharlene Susan Sanderson,” she said. “Call me ‘Triple S.’ I like to think it stands for ‘Secret Secret Secret.’” She snorted out a crazy laugh and didn’t look me eye-to-eye. “That’s my name as well. Just don’t ever call me Sharlene. No class in that, no individuality.”

I cringed. She stood there waiting for me to quit what I was doing. “Actually,” she said, “I don’t care what you decide to call me – just do.” She persisted with holding out her hand. “Most folks call me Triple S,” she said. “My friends. You know, they think it’s ultra fun. Either that or they say the Secrets – all three. Sometimes we chant out my mantra and just like this: Secret, Secret, Secret.”

I didn’t put aside the supplies that I was dealing with. I kept working, but I nodded my chin in her general direction. I’d been carefully arranging my own display of jewelry and both of my hands were occupied.

“I understand that we are the only two jewelry sellers,” Triple S said, shoving a wayward hank of hair behind her left ear. “I’m here for today. Then I’m history.”

“Is that so?” I kept on spacing out the merchandise. And then I added: “Yes, I guess you’re right. We’re the only two.”

“Are you…?” She looked at me with a catty expression. “I hear that you make your own stuff. Like, it’s homemade.”

“Hand-crafted,” I said. I straightened up and adjusted the black velveteens that I use as underlay to enhance the appearance of silver, gold and the polished inlays. “Pauline,” I said. “That’s the name that’s printed on my birth certificate. I’ve been an artisan jeweler for 27 years. My designs are unique.” (I emphasized the words “artisan” and “unique.”) “The stylings are one of a kind.” I carefully adjusted the short and long pendants on the underlay. “I work with semi-precious stones, silvers, golds and polished rocks. I’m a specialist in claw-form mountings. I produce the pieces at a jeweler’s studio on Pedder Avenue, which I rent from another craftsperson.”

“I’ve heard that the market always gets a fantastic bunch of tourists,” Triple S said. “Like, from the cruise ships. Gobs and gobs of Americans. Yeah? That means sweet-ass American bucks.”

“There’s a lot of regulars,” I told her. “Most of them are locals from the downtown.” I almost added that our total sales had been down this year considering that foot traffic had been reduced, and that there were other financial complexities and economic pressures. Alternate activities vied for tourist attention.

“Well – I hope you break a leg today,” she said. And Triple S, aka Secret Secret Secret, smirked without any hint of sincerity. She was hauling out her phone again.

The way she presented herself to me was too off-hand. The way she spoke to me I found irritating. But many young people are just this way. I rationalized and tried to let my annoyance slide. “You don’t have to wish me good luck by saying break a leg,” I told her, somewhat irked in spite of my intention. “The customers prefer my designs. They know my jewelry is first-class. And I dare to say that my pendants are truly beautiful and the stylings are always in demand.”

“I should get back and check on my own crap before we start selling,” Triple S said. “Break an arm then…or a wrist…a big toe? Try not to break a hip.” And she snorted at her own derisive humor. Her smile dismayed me. She spun around with a flamenco dancer’s move, but she had no skirts to flourish. Only those tight-ass pants.

I continued setting out my inventory. “Likewise,” I said as she retreated. I sorted out the silvers from the golds and untangled a couple of the longer pendant pieces.

I’m not exactly sure why I detested Secret Secret Secret. She wasn’t deceitful or outwardly obnoxious. She was probably like many other young people whom I’ve encountered during my 62 years. I guess I was like an old wrinkled prune to her younger point of view. She acted as a lot of girls might at around the age of 15. At that magic time female adolescents could be totally insufferable. Triple S was just one case. But she wasn’t just 15.

The morning advanced. We began to settle in with a warm fluidity as the tepid sunshine broke through the low-slung haze. Potential customers gathered and then the market began to swing.

A few people milled about checking on the goods. The other merchandise included a conglomerate of preserves and baking and fresh produce. All sales would be final because it was the last opening and we didn’t set it up for the fall or winter.

We were located at the mini-park where Melvin Street meets Brandolin. Occasionally, a local musical trio joined the day, offering a set of background tunes, a folk-rock or a jazzy mixture. But there wasn’t music on the scene for our final performances. Nevertheless, we presented a cool atmosphere. No pesticides, no fears. Most of the farm-fresh vendors boasted organics. The other sellers shared concerns about the protection of the environment and the naturalness of their products. Merchandise for sale included knitted crafts, small woodworking pieces and organic dog treats.

I thought that Triple S was an empty shell, too loud, far too crazy. I could hear her joking around and flirting with the guys. I did not trust her as far as I could pitch a feather.

She presumed her welcome. I could tell she enjoyed attention. The others were friendly, as they always are. They’re a tolerant society. But, this is my community, my soul, my haven. The regular sellers generally support and organize diverse endeavours. I’ve always felt a fuzzy warmth every time I’m there and I belong.

Many of the other sellers had presented Triple S with their own free samples, like jam, tea and homemade soap. I wondered why a newcomer actually deserved so many perks and freebies. Especially just for showing up, and only once. Most of us worked conscientiously each weekend and helped the market to succeed through consistent effort. At least, we showed up every weekend or we paid our dues.

September had seen our busiest sales, but still not great. I really needed to make a showing. My dentist bill was huge, my taxes overdue. I needed extra money so badly now that I was sweating through my socks. I might be otherwise unemployed, and fairly soon. That reality depended on the clinic where I worked daytime shifts as a medical receptionist. Rumors abounded – ones that said the clinic might actually close completely and go under with no retirement funds forthcoming.

Triple S’s jewelry included silver-toned pieces similar in appearances to mine, but they were cheap. The stones were fake, the settings were plastic and fixed together by adhesives.

I do admit that Triple S might have been considered attractive considering the blessings of her youth. The guys clued in and crowded her. Other customers too. They seemed to find her charming. She had an edgy veneer as well as an aura of optimism. Except she annoyed me further with her arrogant laugh, which sailed across to me, bringing the tonality of a whooping bird. First, there was a big snort, and then she cackled.

That morning, nothing was working for me. Peter Compton’s farm-fresh produce separated Triple S’s area from mine. We had only a few wooden racks of cucumbers, kale and tomatoes as a buffer. I peered at my competition by stepping around the vegetables. She was in the midst of great success, robbing me. I started to percolate a case of jealousy. She had awesome luck and the confidence of the uninhibited. “Not fair!” I muttered, sending resentful complaint to the Great Creator. I had none of her customers. Folks were crowded at her tables. None at mine.

It was evident that she could talk to strangers without any hesitation. I overheard the banter. Even the hot-dog seller, an old Croatian guy who rarely speaks. He sauntered right over and joked with her. He offered her a free bratwurst on a wholegrain bun. My stomach rumbled.

I decided that Triple S was not worth a skeptical second look. Except I couldn’t help staring when she wasn’t aware that I was staring. I do not like such raw envy inside my heart. It gives me a spiteful feeling. And I fretted.

Why did she have to invade my turf? This was supposed to be my holy space, my ad-hoc community, my support and a wonderful market place. They’re like my non-blood related family, but I require so much.

I was not feeling well. I thought about shutting down and going home to obliterate myself with beer and cookies. First, I would buy a lottery ticket, a hoped-for and unrealistic miracle. When I had not sold a single piece of jewellery for two hours, I elected full retreat.

The Market danced around me like a frenetic, too-bright circus. I began feeling dizzy. The produce stalls seemed extra rickety. The jars of preserves appeared to be floating in mid air. Triple S had her pendants dangling from a rod. Her customers could push each pendant aside and then examine the next. No need of an underlay or any thoughtful layout pattern or design.

Apparently she could sell anything – tulips to the Netherlands, fish to the sea, helium balloons to a rabbit.

I starting feeling faint before I realized I should eat. I’d fallen into a state of green-eyed nausea, wholly depressed. I continued closing down my kiosk. I needed a long nap and a huge bottle of the strongest headache medicine.

It took about 20 minutes to dismantle and stow the jewelry and the underlay inside the carry-all. I snagged it tight with twine. With this awkward bundle swagging from my shoulders, I wandered around, checking out the goods. The tea blends might be helpful. Many were concoctions of herbal remedies.

Across from the organic dog treats, a woman named Nita was selling whole-wheat and soy products. I purchased a half dozen sweet and sticky buns, remembering that I’d skipped my breakfast toast. On a broad bench at the side and over at the periphery, I sat down. The perch was far enough away from the action. I ate three and a half buns. Then one more.

And very quickly the world began to shake. My eyesight tricked me. Clouds came and danced like cotton animals. I began to cough. My airways constricted. I couldn’t cough hard or long enough to clear my throat. I hacked. I couldn’t suck in breath. The world was cold. Couldn’t focus. Blackness came and swallowed me…


Who am I? Where am I going? Trying to understand. Trying…

I felt myself resurfacing, fighting against a murkiness, up from the deep-end pool and through a stew of black squid ink. I regained myself. My mind was coming up for light. My head felt kind of floaty and my thoughts were thick.


“Ah hum. So, welcome back to earth.”

“Huh. What?”

A voice.

I brought into focus a fine-boned, angular and well-tanned face. A masculine vision bent over me. His nose was close, his amber eyes concerned. His breath was sweet. “Don’t move too suddenly,” the vision said to me. “Try not to jerk the IV line. Lie back now, relax.”

“Where am I?”

“You’re in the back of an ambulance on your way to City Hospital.”

“Really? What?”

“You’re fine. You’re going to be a hundred-percent fine. You’ve only been unconscious for a few seconds.”

“Why? What happened? Who are you?”

“I’m Ravinder. Your EMT, the ambulance technician. That’s where you are. You’re in the back of an ambulance. But no worries. You’re not in trouble. You’ve had a severe anaphylactic reaction. You ate some pastries, had an extreme allergic reaction.”

“I’ve had what?”

“You passed out.”

“I did?”

“You bet.”

“Stopped breathing?”

“Well, you almost did. We arrived and got you fixed. Just in time. Lucky for you, one of the other folks who was working at the market quickly noticed you. She saw that you were in severe distress and jabbed you with an EpiPen. That rushed the antidote straight into your system. Like I said, you’re going to be one hundred percent just fine. Try not to worry.”

“It was? What? I mean…. I might have, uh…. You mean I could have died?”

“Well, it was a fairly severe allergic reaction.”

“Those buns….”

“Yes, perhaps it was the buns, or another antigen. It doesn’t really matter now that you’ve revived. Maybe a specialist will be able to pinpoint and identify what substance. Incidentally, we’ll be arriving at the hospital in just a few minutes. Remember, if you can – it was all thanks to the quick action of a woman who was totally prepared. She had a brand new EpiPen. You’re going to be okay.”

“Who was that? Do you know who it was?”

“Let me see…I have her name noted somewhere here on the data entry. It was the same woman who called in 911 on her cell. She really kept her wits during the emergency.” The ambulance attendant scrolled through his computer information using a handheld device. “Ah hum, got it. Here it is,” Ravinder said. “The woman’s name is Sharlene Susan Sanderson.”


“And, she’s been very thoughtful. See, she’s made sure you have your bundle of personal stuff with you. Look here, beside you. There.” He indicated my carry-all of jewelry, which was squashed against the stretcher. “That young woman… Well, she must be a very good friend of yours,” Ravinder said. “You’re lucky she was present, and she was immediately on the scene with the counteracting dose of epinephrine.”

“She’s a gem.” I told him. I let my aching head fall back down onto a low pillow, and I closed my eyes for a minute. Maybe a minute and half, maybe two, perhaps longer.

I was determined to let the universe take charge, and I floated with it. I would not think. I did not have to move or change position. I did not have to jump about or try too hard at anything. I existed.

And this guy – Ravinder – soothing and compassionate – offered comfort to me. I was going to be okay, and I owed my life to a young woman who called herself Triple S.

Should have known.

I kept my eyes sealed and inhaled thirsty gulps of oxygen, allowing humble thanks to rule my brain. I did not fully comprehend all my deep-set feelings, nor did I acknowledge any worries that continued from within. I became aware of the sound of my own heart. The quality of the heartbeat had an altered cadence and a brand-new amplitude. It seemed to whisper softly: “Secret Secret Secret…”

Allen Forrest visual art

Originally from Canada, Allen now lives in the United States. More information here.

Berlin in the 20s: Dancers

Berlin in the 20s: Dancers 3

Berlin in the 20s: Burlesque Dancer

Berlin in the 20s: Revue Dancers

Hawk Alfredson visual art

Originally from Sweden, Hawk now lives in New York City. Visit his site here.

Players of Strange, Meaningless Games

One-Eyed Angel of Your Rising Moon

The Dream Ambassadors

Palm Lovers Arranged by the Sky

Stebuklingas Drugelis

Michael Walker visual art

Michael Walker is a visual artist who lives in Pittsburgh. Visit his site here. Read his interview here.

Pittsburgh Traffic Purgatory Series: Loud Morning Sky

Pittsburgh Traffic Purgatory Series: Fort Pitt Bridge on ramp at West Carson

Eden is Lost and the Tree of Knowledge is Dead

There Were More Crucifixions in My Time, Son. Now Finish Your Peas.

Portugal. The Man (live)

We Built Our Cities Near Places of Wisdom, Yet We are Still Ignorant

David Herrle interviews Michael Walker, painter

David: Like most visual artists, you have a distinct repertoire of pet motifs: trees, sinister or dreamy silhouettes, black-and-white checkerboard patterns, ominous skies, floating orbs, telephone poles, devils, towering wendigo-like monsters and variations of the skeleton (the truly nude body). Are these deliberate choices, or are they embedded, so to speak, in your psyche or whatever the hell you call your subliminal self?

Michael: I try to use images or motifs that speak to our primal selves. Like the trees for instance. I’m not painting Bob Ross “happy little “trees here. Maybe it’s from living in a northern climate most of my life, but, I’ve always been captivated by the contrast of bare, skeletal branches against the blue of a winter sky. 

The checkerboard pattern goes back to when I was just discovering my style, if you can call it that. It’s a simple way to create motion for the eye, and it probably goes back to my reading of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at an early age and tripping out on the illustrations. A lot of the motifs I choose, such as the telephone poles, are used as tools to create perspective in my landscapes and compositions. Simple tricks at my disposal. As for the skeleton, why that’s the most primal of images for our human psyche. It is our true face.

I don’t feel like anything is deliberate in what I create, honestly. These works come to me 100% complete in my mind. In a flash. They change a bit in the process of creation, however, the choice isn’t really a thought-out process. So, I guess they are brought up from somewhere deep in my subliminal self as you put it.  [Image below: Welcome to Wonderland, Alice]

David: In Welcome to Wonderland, Alice you were audacious enough to paint your own version of John Tenniel’s illustration of the demented tea party in Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Your off-kilter style pervades, of course, and the scene’s surrealism has a paranoiac glaze, particularly in the eyes of the White Rabbit and the March Hare. Alice is a murderous harlequin/Goth chick, and the Mouse grips a Reaper’s sickle. Paintings – especially ones by Hopper – are fundamentally silent, but some of yours cackle, as this one does. You’ve reiterated/reinterpreted other iconic images, such as Storm Thorgerson’s cover image for Pink Floyd’s Animals, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Jim Morrison. How do you approach such projects?

Michael: Like the paintings of the original Icon I guess. Jesus was the Pop Star of the Middle Ages when it came to painters, sculptors and artists in general. Think of a photograph of the crucifixion. Could you imagine that? I’m sure that if the crucifixion of Christ were to happen today someone would livestream it on Facebook. We are so inundated with photographic images today, and there is such a wealth of photographic record of our idols and icons, that these images are embedded in our minds. I approach them with a sense of awe and love. To represent them through my artistic perspective but with all respect to the photographer, who is the true artist in this case, capturing those unique and sometimes candid moments of our modern icons, the celebrities and rock stars of our time. Our modern saviors from our mundane lives. The photographic catalog of images at an artist’s disposal today is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that there is so much to choose from for reference material and a curse in that you feel like it’s all been done and originality is dead.

I was given books when I was young from my artistic mentor and teacher, my uncle Peter Dragovich. He provided me with the fuel for a lot of my art today. One book featured a cinematic history of the horror and sci-fi films from the beginning, to the time of publication, which I think would have been in the late 1970s. This book contained the most wonderful stills from the great monster flicks of the 1930s through the 1950s: Dracula, The Wolfman.  The scenes were beautiful. The staging of the starlets and the stars in a soft, black-and-white glow. Those really inspired me in some of my earlier works in graphite and ink. A lot of what I do comes from my consumption of the entertainment industry and I just regurgitate it as my own art.  [Image below: Steadfast]

David: Speaking of stylizing iconic and/or familiar images, some of your best work is from your Pittsburgh Traffic Purgatory Series, which features selected urban scenes that are familiar to natives and seasoned residents, as well as iconic far beyond our famous city: Mount Washington, the Fort Pitt Bridge, PPG Place, Sharpsburg, etc. Some folks may notice a deviation from more traditional framing of scenes, unlike Kubrickian squared-in symmetry. Are your perspectives purposely skewed? Are these pieces sketched on location or rendered from photos?

Michael: The whole concept of the Pittsburgh Traffic Purgatory series came to fruition through me being stuck in our unforgiving, soul-sucking Pittsburgh traffic. As I drove to work I would be stuck in traffic and try to not hate everyone in front of me. I would gaze off at the surrounding architecture and landscape and lose myself in artistic thought. I would see these angles formed by the power lines and jutting forms of the buildings cutting into the sky. That’s what captivated me. I was trying to convey the view from the point of the hapless soul stuck in a tin can on the way to hell (work). I would snap a photo of the scene with my phone and work from there. I never sketch on-scene, and I rarely sketch out any of my works prior to completing the finished piece. If you could see how rudimentary my sketches are you’d laugh. I’m definitely a studio artist.  [Image below: Pittsburgh Traffic Purgatory Series: Mt. Washington and Fort Pitt Bridge]

David: Often, creating art as a second job can feel isolative and discouraging, but you receive some very worthy recognition: gallery exhibitions (a semi-permanent one at the Carnegie Coffee Company), the mascot/logo on a food truck for The Coop Chicken and Waffles, special commissions and the cover art for a Monolith Wielder album (for which Walkerian eeriness seems to have been perfectly destined). Do you have a preference for either public exposure or patronized projects? How do you view and handle the financial facts of producing visual art?

Michael: “Walkerian eeriness.” I like that! I hope that sticks. I’m fortunate and cursed at the same time. I’ve always created art and always will, but I support that habit by working full-time in other fields, so the frustration of being an artist is always present in my mind. There’s never enough time to create, so I steal moments when I can. 

I would prefer public exposure. I want to have people experience my art. The Monolith Wielder gig was awesome. They just contacted me via social media and were like: “Hey! We really dig this 13 Apostles piece and would love to use it for an album cover”.  It was a perfect fit. When I was a kid my dad had an extensive vinyl collection with the coolest album covers. Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf, Savoy Brown. The cover art spoke to me, and I would gaze at them and sketch them. If something I painted could inspire another human to create on their own? That would be fulfillment as an artist. I’m here to wake people up.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be relatively unfettered in the commissions I’ve received. My clients are looking for a style or edge for their projects that my work can achieve. The few projects I have “professionally” completed have been commissioned by people who want me to freely express my creativity, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m a starving artist, but I’m free.  [Image below: 13 Apostles as album cover]

David: You strike me as an autodidact, one who’s particularly driven by a personal, peculiar style and pretty liberated from pedagogic pretense. Tell us about your informal and formal (if any) practice over the years.

Michael: You are correct in that assumption. I have had very little formal training in the arts. You probably have a better working knowledge of the techniques and styles I use than I do. I feel that if I spend my time worrying about the academic aspect of my work I’m not creating, I’m just studying.

From a very young age, as I mentioned before, I was mentored in the art of drawing by my uncle. He was probably the best artistic influence in my life. He was self-taught too. Most of what I’ve learned came from emulating his style and copying from books.  I was one of three or four talented students in my high-school art classes who had free reign over what projects we worked on. It was a very liberal upbringing. When I left high school I attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for one semester. I remember my first figure-drawing class. The professor began talking about how she was going to teach us how to be artists. I raised my hand and said that that can’t be done, you either are or you aren’t an artist, all she could teach us were some techniques. Of course I was asked to stay after class to discuss my portfolio.

David: Are you less comfortable depicting human figures than you are of doing fantastic ones? Your rare humans have a slight sprinkle of Modigliani and Martina Shapiro. Tell us about human portraiture versus imaginary, mystical subjects.

Michael: The human form is one of the most beautiful and grotesque forms to render. Sometimes it can be a mystical subject. I wouldn’t say that I’m less comfortable rendering the human form versus the imaginary or mystical beasts that plague my work. I’m more attracted to the mystical creatures. They’re more fun to create and there isn’t much basis to their structure. If I elongate an arm or get something out of proportion, who’s to say it isn’t supposed to be that way?  When I do render the human form in my work I tend to focus on one section of the body. Set it off and crop it or frame it askew. Create a juxtaposition that isn’t quite right. Such as the piece “What Have We Done To Our Fair Sister?” The female form makes up the landscape. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with portraiture, it’s just that, to me, photography rendered realism in painting obsolete.  [Image below: What Have We Done to Our Fair Sister?]

David: In the preface of The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker sums up the primacy of our underlying dread of mortality:

[T]he idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.

One can’t deny your non-denial of death, nor can anyone accuse your art as a death-denying activity. On the contrary, death is dominant in much of your work. Please share your thoughts on our grisly common destination. Is it grisly? Do you feel a dread of death?

Michael: Death is a specter that has clung to me since the time I became conscious of being alive, and I keep it in the forefront of my mind. I think that all the money that is spent in creating instruments of destruction and death ought to be reallocated into serious research into what death is and how it can be stopped. Yes, it is the end of the physical self and this organic matter is what produces the consciousness that allows us to realize that we are one day going to die. But, what happens after and where the hell was my consciousness before it got brought into this mess? It is an abyss of thought that I have fallen into many a night. Usually it is right before I fall asleep, in the dark confines of my room so like the grave that the fear of the unknown creeps in and it’s like a complete panic attack for a split-second. Yeah, I feel a dread of death. Perhaps that’s why I keep it in my thoughts. In my work. It makes all our everyday problems seem like total bullshit, which they are. Nothing quite compares to it. I feature the images of the skull and the skeleton in my work as a reminder to myself and the viewers of the pieces that one day all they are will cease to be. It’s my therapy. As Dickens said, “we are all fellow travelers to the grave.”

David: One of my life’s crusades is repudiation of anti-beauty bigotry, which has been entrenched and wrongfully legitimized by forces such as the Avant-Garde movement, Nurse Ratched gender-feminism (not to be mistaken for creative equity-feminism), naturalism (Flaubert’s “the time for Beauty is over”), photojournalism and hysteria over so-called “body image.” I think much hope lies in the continued power of fashion photography and – dare I say – pornography, thankfully. Do you notice a demonization of beauty in art? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

Michael: I think beauty comes in several forms. The female form in its classic “hot” schoolboy-adolescent wet dream-/pin-up girl/angel/centerfold style is dead, in the sense that we realize that this has been spoon-fed to us for so long, to sell us shit we don’t need, and people are smarter than that now and are starting to rebel against it. But there is no denying that beauty is being scorned now by self-esteem police. Some people are just more attractive than others. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge beauty when we see it and celebrate it.

I paint angels and demons. Both are beautiful to me, but I’d rather fuck an angel.  [Image below: Mr. Mojo Risin’ is Nevermore]

David: Your hashtags make it quite clear that music is a fundamental inspiration for you in the studio. Muster an ideal painting playlist for us.

Michael: My playlists change for the piece I’m doing or a particular portion of a work. For instance, I played Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” on repeat until that image was complete in the Welcome to Wonderland Alice… piece. I guess I would have Portugal.The Man, Built to Spill, Savoy Brown, The Doors, The Beastie Boys, Modest Mouse, Jack White (in any of his many side projects or solo), Pink Floyd, Syd Barret, The Beatles and some Gorillaz.

Any musician or band that has heady, dark lyrics with a hypnotic beat is in my playlist. I’m happy to say that my sixteen-year-old son digs my musical choices, and I have been turned on to some great music by him.  Music is a constant in my creative process and my life. I once heard someone say that music is the highest form of art and I strive to infuse its power in my works. 

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