Jim Doss is a founding editor of the Loch Raven Review. He earns his living as a software engineer and lives with his wife and three children in Sykesville, Maryland. He has previously published two books of poetry, Learning to Talk Again and What Remains, and, in partnership with Werner Schmitt, translated Georg Trakl’s complete poetical works into a volume entitled The Last Gold of Expired Stars.
Advice to a Ninth Grader after Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Don’t read odes, my son. To see the future read source code, map out object models, trace the nested logic of programs to their ultimate conclusion. Be vigilant peering through this lense. The days of troubadours are long gone so no point in singing, and don’t expect lists of the names of naysayers to be published in newspapers or nailed to the city gate. Things won’t be that brazen this time around. Just learn how to stay anonymous in your knowledge, wrap yourself in the algorithms of AI, plot the courseways of the latest quantum processor, make your face and fingerprints indistinguishable to the scans, encrypt the chip implanted in your body so you can be anyone you wish, and pass anytime you wish through whatever machine they devise. Manifestos are for survivalists and suicide bombers. Cloud computers will have everyone sorted out, categorized, filtered, and punished for the wrong beliefs without them even knowing it. Yours must be betrayals of the nano variety, little acts of sabotage from within to protect the defenseless, the unaware from governments and giant tech companies, their Orwellian group-think. Imagine bugs planted deliberately like grit blown into the gears of an engine exposing its minute flaws, little chinks in the deductive and abductive reasoning armor to let truth and freedom shine through, if only for a moment. This will be called resistance. This will be rebellion from the inside.
A Family Visit It's so very lonely, you're two thousand light years from home-- Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
He only felt safe behind the locks and security windows. We could see him visibly relax as he entered the room though there was some seventy year old hippie in pigtails chanting some Buddhist hymn, slowly turning circles lost in his otherworldliness. Just as we start talking, a Hispanic girl scooted in beside us to tell us she was really a Romanov princess and the KGB is trying to track her down, offered to teach us Russian, started talking gibberish as the orderlies apologized and move her back to her room. Then the lady roaming the halls with two black eyes, dressed in a hospital gown, no underwear, began beating her head against the glass, rattling the walls, screaming like a wild animal as the starfish on her forehead grew and grew. The grinning man across from us who looked like a ‘50s rock and roller dressed in grey sweatpants and penny loafers started stroking himself, slow at first, then faster. “What are you doing here, you’re not like these people.” He blinked, swallowed his pills, obediently did as instructed to keep the voices away, those notes we found scattered around his house: “Shhh! Be very quiet, don’t move, the people from the red planet are here. They’ll rip your heart out and eat it if you look at them wrong.”
Portrait of My Mother on a Windy Day
Who is this pale ghost gliding towards me in the guise of Dickens’ Miss Havisham? Even in the fluorescent glare by the nurses’ station
at the assisted living facility I can still see the candlelight darkening the hollows of her cheeks, reflecting dully in her eyes, her hair an unkempt, thinning grey
in need of a beauty treatment, her lips pursed like a winded athlete, always whispering secrets to herself, instructions on what to do next.
She lives her life in darkened rooms with the blinds always drawn, the figures of bride and groom taken from the tops of her wedding cakes sitting on the shelf before her,
a kaleidoscope of family pictures that she no longer notices covering the walls, the Depression-era need to horde in the nick nacks from the dining room piled on the counter.
The only revenge she knows now is time slowly removing the ones she loves, and leaving nothing but strangers who visit with their icy, unwelcome hugs.
“Tell me again how we are related. I just can’t place you.” “Are you from Allens Creek too? Could we be cousins?” “There’s no way you could be a Doss. You can’t be related
to my first husband. He was such a good man, cared so deeply about our children. Do you know them?” Yes, I do know them, all too well, and have spent a lifetime
being groomed to be the revenge for every opportunity she was denied, every wrong, every perceived injury from the orphanage to the workplace to the graveyard.
For what seems like an hour, we practice how to insert the key into her door lock, turn the handle, open the door, remove the key, the same mistakes repeated over and over.
Then we move on to the TV, the red on-off button of the remote. She practices changing channels back and forth as I watch her grow more and more transparent
in the flickering light until I can barely see her, or recognize there is another person beside me whom I love and who now loves me in the third person.
Saying goodbye, I kiss her on the forehead-- “What did you do that for?”-- and step out into the steadying wind and chaos of the real world.
An Everyman Odyssey
She wrote in cursive across my body the story of our lives together, the decades, the children, the love everlasting. It was a tale neither of us could finish, or even draft a clever conclusion.
And I wrote my story of love for her in indelible ink, or with a typewriter, a computer keyboard, my fingers harvesting the ripe grain of her skin with each stroke, my lips white with the salt of creation, the pen between my legs
accenting each syllable of our iambic pentameter. A life in verse, together, distilled into that gentle smile that first attracted me, the dance of blonde veils, a joyful goodness bubbling champagne from her eyes
onto everyone they gazed upon. My jealousy wanted to lock friends and family out, like a medieval earl building my castle around her hips and breasts, the drawbridge letting in only the invited.
But our world wasn’t like that. It was an epic adventure in the domestic, the oracle silent except at night, when we wrote and wrote, students looking to make a name, yet refusing to dot that final period signifying story’s end.
Heal thyself. Let the rituxan, bendamustine and velcade flow into your veins and do their job, peeling the cancer away like paint on an old weathered door. Watch the tumors disappear into nothing like the vision of an alternate reality. Become that temple again that you were meant to be. Renew the covenant with the mind to live forever in words and deeds. Lift the drug fog so I can concentrate again. Stop being this twisted bazaar of needles and bloodletting, this life weighed down with the history of ancient deeds. Stop being the weed in the garden that must be pulled because it chokes out the tap root of language. Be that flaming arrow you were destined to be when you left the womb on the island of Ithaca. Be the rebel yell charging with gun raised through the backwoods of Virginia as the enemy turns and runs. Be that hallowed ground bathed in moonlight where ghosts come to tell their stories. Be that paper hive some fool lights on fire every now and again to watch words pour out to sting the world awake.