Boys from Shaw, Kansas by Claudia Mundell

20 02 2014

Lets ride that carpet back to Kansas!

Heartland!

Claudia Consolidation closed rural township schools,
Brought the Shaw boys to town.
Swaggering down locker lined halls,
Wearing button down Madras and smelling of Brute,
Their flushed, sun freckled faces
Tossed flirty smiles at glancing girls
Like horseshoes shooting for a ringer.

Muscled thighs squatted under football pads
Before skillful sprints took down half backs
And linemen in late summer practices
While wiry arms grappled teammates
Easily, like cottonwood and hedge pieces
Heaved into cords near a farmhouse.

Once afternoon buses rolled them home again,
The young studs threw hay off pickup trucks,
Cultivated standing soybeans,
Checked bulls fenced on a back forty,
Plowed up Osage arrowheads and
Pottery shards hiding in wheat stubble
While riding red tractor stallions
Across Neosho River bottom dirt.
Shaw boys returned to actual life
On the Big Muddy–
Just like before consolidation.

~Claudia Mundell grew up in Kansas with work life in Missouri. She has…

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For a Sonnet Maker

5 09 2013

I was cleaning out files yesterday and smiled when I came across this old poem I wrote (some  forty odd years ago)  for a boss who fancied himself a poet.  Maybe it will bring you a smile too.

One day as your fancy took flight,

Impassioned by Spring’s gay delight

You proposed an iambic dactyl

As a perfectly suitable style

For the small song you’d decided to write.

Innovation resides in the poet

(I’m confident, sir, that you know it)

But a foot with fifth beat

Is a difficult feat,

You’d be better off, sir, to forego it.

The Italians from whom you have borrowed

Might be filled with lament and much sorrowed

If they knew from the start

You had thought to depart

From their classical form, bone and marrow.

Now, you can begin with initial truncation

Or a Pyrrhic quatrain adaptation

But fourteen lines is the curse

That must structure your verse

On that, sir, there’s no vacillation.

So, tho in mysteries I miss where the clue is

And in who-dun-its don’t know who the who is

When put on to the hilt

I do sometimes blink TILT.

It’s not nice to fool Mrs. Lewis.





My Hero’s Have Always Been Con-Men (Weekly Challenge Stylish Imitation) Sam Spade

13 09 2012
Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right”.  (Sam Spade) Dashiell Hammett

“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”  (Sam Spade)

Dashiell Hammett                ********************************************************************************

I grew up in a dusty seedy little town  where nothing much of anything exciting ever happened, at least not out in the open.  Oh sure we had our share of punk hoodlums and scalawags, the Pharris brothers come right to mind but we chalked  their bad behavior up to a sorry  father who beat them just because he felt like it. When ever he felt like it.  And he felt like it a lot. When they weren’t scaring the pants off little girls like me with remarks like these hissed out to the grocery lady ” Gimme two cents worth of that haaard candy lady, because my teeth are, you know,really, really,  sharp, heh, heh, heh”  they were setting fire to the straw in the upper floor of the shed in the back of their ramshackle house while trying to light the hand rolled cigarettes they took such malicious pride in or jumping out from under the   bridge on my way to town,  in broad day light  at scaredy cats and causing them to lose their mama’s cigarettes, or else they’d be down in the mud along the river  catching catfish with their bare hands.

In the summer the City Library was a big deal, second only to the radio so when I didn’t have my ear glued to the family Motorola I hung out in the musty corners of the top floor of our municipal building where the goods were stored, racks and racks of them. It was here  I discovered Frank Yerby in paperback  just as I was entering the 7th grade.  Now my mama had never read Yerby’s books and I didn’t know it then but  that was a good thing cuz later the next summer she caught me reading the biography of Gypsy Rose Lee out in the shade on the front porch.  Very quickly  she jerked  that book  out of my hands, closing it with a icy glare ” I don’t think this is a book a girl your  age should be reading.”

And that was that.

I was  married  before I knew the story of Gypsy  Rose Lee and even then I read the book with a tinge of guilt.  So, let me tell you, her black hair would of  turned every shade of white if she’d of cracked a Yerby book and I’d probably  have ended up in a convent somewhere  or worse at my grandma’s out in the country feeding chickens and gathering eggs for the summer. No chance of getting in to trouble there. But books like that are  another story.

So what was a skinny  scaredy cat girl  doing, headed towards home  with an armload of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammet, and Raymond Chandler paperbacks on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of  ’51, with maybe a Yerby  slipped somewhere  into the stack?  Well, she was  jumping into the dark and dangerous  paperback world  of a cynical tough big city detective.  Into a world peopled with smart mouthed women and deceptive partners.  Learning the heft of the disarming come-back and  how to stand your own  ground, how to bluff  and when to fold.  Learning the value of that cynical outlook  or the arching of one brow and how  to look beyond the obvious.  Learning that everybody  has a code  they live by and you can write your own if you’re tough enough.  Learning that things aren’t always exactly as they seem and that even  hero’s have flat feet.  And that’s OK too.

And yeah,  I know the title of this little piece is sort of a con in itself,  but hey it got you this far, didn’t it?

The truth is my hero’s have always been authors and there is a little  bit of the con in every story, don’t you think?

Hammett homage

Hammett homage (Photo credit: Koocheekoo)


 “When you write, you want fame, fortune and personal satisfaction. You want to write what you want to write and feel it’s good, and you want this to go on for hundreds of years. You’re not likely ever to get all these things, and you’re not likely to give up writing and commit suicide if you don’t, but that is — and should be — your goal. Anything else is kind of piddling.”― Dashiell Hammett
To see how other bloggers   handled this week’s theme of  Stylish Imitation,  click here.




The Captive

30 08 2012

I’m writing about sounds this week as part of a challenge and thought this episode from my past might  be worth telling as it shows some ways that sounds influence our life, our emotions and our memories.

Port Arthur

Port Arthur (Photo credit: Mathew Knott)

In the late 60’s I moved  myself and my five children, a son and four daughters,    into a beautiful old 1920’s  house along the ship channel in Port Arthur,  Texas while my husband built office buildings in Houston.  He stayed with a brother there  during the work week coming home to us late  Friday then returning on  Sunday.  Through the rest of the week I was a ‘single’ Mom.  Money was tight so several things had been  postponed till later while we got the Port Arthur  household set up and the kids enrolled in school.  A phone  and a TV were  on the ‘postponed’  list but I’d grown up without either so it was not a big  deal.  The library was close  and we had neighbors.

For a family from the middle of Kansas it was like living a great adventure  in a foreign  country.  The  street our house sat on was lined with palm trees,  from our  front porch we could watch the barges and ships navigate the channel, feeling as  well as hearing the melancholy booms coming from  the horns of the passing ships.  The sea wall was within walking distance for a son who loved to fish.  The beach was a short drive away.

On one  side of the house lived  a tree  so overgrown with  entwining wisteria  it’s vines created a green, cool, intensely  fragrant  bower-like  cave. The kids spent many make-believe hours playing inside this enchanted space calling  it “Heaven”.  In the evenings after dusk the  songs of backyard crickets, cicadas  and frogs  blended with those of the ship  horns to create a comforting if not melodious background  to accompany our end of the day routines.

One evening, after we were all upstairs in bed, the kids quietened at least  if not quite asleep and me reading a book,  I heard a different kind of  sound. One I did not like.

Quietly, I put down the book and concentrated on listening very carefully.

Again I heard the familiar but disconcerting sound of wood slipping against wood. I thought back, going over all the steps in my ‘closing down the house’ routine. The doors were all locked – I was certain of that.  We’d had some windows open downstairs letting in a cool breeze.  Surely I’d checked, closed, and locked each window  on the sun porch and the kitchen.  But what about the ones on the back wall of the dining room or the living room? Unquestionably, I knew I had not checked every window downstairs.

Again that sound slithered through the quiet of the house.

Heart pounding I slipped out of bed and put on a house coat.  Remember, we had no phone, it was on the postponed list  and these were pre-911 days.  On silent feet I moved carefully across the hall to my son’s room knowing there was a baseball bat in a corner there.  Shaking him awake gently while telling him to keep quiet,  I whispered to him that I thought I had heard someone opening a window downstairs, I thought there was an intruder.  Retrieving the bat from a corner I told him my  plan, he was to stay close behind me as we moved down the stairs and towards the doors directly beyond the stairs.  When we got to the doors  he was to  run next door and get the neighbor while I stayed at the bottom of the stairs with the bat. You run no matter what happens, I told him, I have the bat and it will be enough till you get back with the neighbor.

Scared, filled with dread we made our way as noiselessly as we could through the dark, down the hall and carefully down the top three steps, me with the bat, my son right behind me when once again that slipping sound wedged itself into us.

“Mom, it that what you heard? It that the noise that scared you?” my son whispered.

“Yes.”  I nodded in the dark.

 “Mom, that’s my frog.”

“What?”  me, not quite  so quietly.

“My frog”  he said again “the one I’ve got in the coffee can  in my closet. When he jumps,  he hits the lid of the coffee can and it moves a little bit across the floor and it  makes that noise. Come on – I’ll show you.”

End of that  story.





The Sound of Noon

29 08 2012

Noon (Painting II)

The sound of noon was the same every single day of the week, Sunday as well as the other work-a-day  six, every single month of every single year I lived in that small town in a slight  valley  not far from the cool brown of Gyp Creek in the middle of wheat fields, in the middle of a state, in the middle of the country in the middle of the ’40’s  and ’50’s.

That sound was as dependable as the cycles of nature, it  never had a sick day, never  took a vacation and it never malfunctioned.

Our Town  Whistle   blew   reliably  each and every  high noon with a shrill and arrogant audacity,  mounted on the tower, powered by an air compressor, sounding like a cross between a steam  organ on steroids and the shriek of a banshee, breaking the working day asunder, signaling  that half the work  was over.   On Adams  St.   teachers  were compelled to lay aside  books and send the  town kids home  and the country kids down to the lunch room,  some for hot meals, some for cold.  Lucky ones got to spend a penny on the candy jars in one of the two grocery stores on Main street.   Elsewhere  a workman laid down his work, picked up his lunch bucket and  headed  for the closest shade. A little further out from town a farmer untied the bandana round his neck and wiped the tyranny of the field from his face and headed on up  towards the house.

On any given  Sunday that sound  reminded the Preacher that a chicken  dinner was also a needful thing.

Every once in a while that jolting sound of noon came crashing, careening through the stillness of  night, tearing dreams apart  and wrenching  us all out of bed and down the stairs in a frantic  attempt to get the furniture up on blocks out of the reach of the  cold dark waters rushing, breakneck,  down on us from Gyp creek.

On those nights  the  sound of noon became our one  thin  shield against calamity.

I get back to that sweet-smelling land sometimes and drench my ears in the sounds along country roads; the rustling sunflowers, the whispering cottonwoods, the sound of a breeze so slight in the fields it almost isn’t there. Later hot and dusty, I wander down  towards the fountain on the square for a drink of cool water.

And once again I hear it.

The sound of noon  remains there still, unmuted and fierce,  the audible  promise of community still loud and clear,  still unchanged,  full of ear rending clarity, clanging out it’s song of  one for all and all for one  to  any body who wants  to listen.





29 08 2012

I’ve committed to Post A Day 2012 and thought this challenge was a good way to start. I’ll be posting on a different sound each day this week starting today and will also be following the Weekly Writing Challenge guides. Could be interesting and may help with my DDS ( Discipline Distraction Syndrome).





The Red Azalea’s

5 06 2011

My ‘across the street’ neighbor’s red azaleas bloomed their  little heads off this spring. Jane planted those bushes at the corner of their car port, back in 2001, where she and Stan could see them, first thing, every time they came home. Everybody on our block knew how little green there was in Jane’s thumb, so we were taken back that spring when she put those bushes in and not just one but three  of them . High expectations we smiled to ourselves.

To say they didn’t really ‘take off’ those first two years would have been  kind. But somehow they made it through that summer and stubbornly straggled through the 107 degree days of the next. Stan was careful not to cut them down as he rode around the modest lot on his mower though the blooms those years were sparse.

Then, that third year, Jane’s cancer was confirmed and Stan spent that summer awkwardly, painfully, hopefully, trying to make it better for her.

By the next spring she was gone and a good part of Stan went with her.

Life can be full of irony, pain,mystery and joy.

Earlier  this winter, before there was a solitary bud on a single limb of those azalea bushes  Stan, too,  crossed over to that better land the hymns promise us.

It’s taken a whole 10 years for those azaleas to come into their own but this year those bushes that Jane had so optimistically planted  were rapturously glorious.  Looking out my window, across the street at them, they were just pure, plain,  bittersweet  joy to behold……. remembering Jane.








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