Wednesday, April 19, 2017

After Dinner

Sometimes, looking back on a few of the details of his life, he realized that somewhere along the line a great deal of his life had not belonged to him. In fact, he couldn’t remember being in control of many of the choices set before him at all. He felt it was like being set down to a table filled with various dishes of food he wasn’t particularly fond of—but had no choice—but to eat them. Of course he thought he could have just refused to eat. But that wasn’t much of a choice was it?

Much of the past that seemed so relevant at the time had vanished into a thick purple haze of blurred details and grease smeared windows, impossible to see through and sticky to the touch. Parts of what he did remember seemed to confuse and depress him, so he felt that the past was better left just that, the past, and he chose not to eat that particular dish.

He thought of his father from time to time. He thought of him a lot. A man he didn’t know. Funny how you can come from a place you know nothing about. There were memories of him in there behind that sticky glass but they were beginning to fall apart, degrade into a soft and mushy version of the previous hard form of reality, so familiar until of late.

He thought of his father often enough to wonder what he must have thought of himself. A man who fought in a war. A man who left Texas with his son and never looked back. A man who appeared in a black and white version of a dreamscape in North Carolina and left as though he were written from the script of a television show. As though the writers simply couldn’t figure out what to do with him. So he stood around smoking cigarettes for a while on the set and then, he didn’t. Gone, as in gone. As in what the heck ever happened to…

His family didn’t leave much behind he knew, just old photographs and boxes filled with trinkets and old clothes. It was as if they were determined to disappear and cover their tracks. He still had his grandmother’s china and he thought it was pretty but he knew it was just cheap old plates printed with a knock off willow leaf pattern that she bought with green stamps at the Winn-Dixie back in the early seventies. What he had of his fathers, he could hold in one hand. It bothered him to the degree of bringing on a periodic depression, and a feeling of utter uselessness from time to time. What kind of a man leaves not a trace but a plastic box behind? Some old boots. A box with a hardware store giveaway screwdriver for your keychain, a broken watch and a cuff link, (yes, a cuff link, not a pair) doesn’t seem like much of a legacy does it?

Well it was pathetic. It made him angry and he wanted to punch out at the world and yell and cuss and fight the very God that created such nonsense. But you couldn’t do that could you? God didn’t fight fair. Never has. Never will. He doesn’t have to. He created the game remember? And on the eighth day God created man’s ability to be absolutely screwed by a world filled with snakes and apples. It seemed to him that God was very much like a child at times. Changing the rules of a game when it seemed to suit him. When the going got tough—so to speak. Erase the board, make smaller creatures.

So he just carried that ridiculous feeling of uselessness around with him and he took it out from time to time and he felt sorry for himself and then he put it away and he got on with his life. He knew there were people out there a whole hell of a lot worse off than he was and he felt sorry for them more than he did himself, and he knew that was a waste of time too, but he did it anyway.
Life was a strange trip indeed and he felt that he possibly never had the proper map on which to set his course. How does one take a trip without the proper course?

Maybe that was the point of it all he thought, we just wander around and look for a way to get out of the woods. Some people were just better at it than others. Some people had a better map, or a better compass, or easier woods. Some people never saw the woods at all. The trees were cut down for them before they got there. Maybe the point of life itself was just seeing how far out of the forest you could get before you started to forget the details. The details that built a life. That string of yesterdays with the choices set before you that you don’t want, but have to eat anyway. Or not. Not much of a choice.

That was it. That was how he saw it and he knew it was stupid to dwell on it but he did. The one thing he knew without a hint of a doubt, was that he would be better off if he stopped dwelling on it. He put his earplugs back in his ears and he turned on the audiobook “No Country For Old Men” and he picked up his chisel and he did. That was enough of that.

There was a legacy out there for him to build that wouldn’t fit into a plastic box. He would make damn sure of that.

Then he realized that he was his father’s legacy. He thought about that for a minute, pausing with his chisel in mid cut. Now that was something to think about. He would get back to that later. After dinner maybe. Somewhere in the next chapter, a little farther out of the woods.

The middle of the story.

Not the end.
Tony Whitford

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Hummingbird

John moved a couple of boxes out of the way and reached in behind the clothes and pulled the battered guitar case out of the closet. He took a minute to read the stickers haphazardly stuck to the surface, the slogans and names of bars long closed, music stores, tattoo parlors and bands from the past. He ran his hands over the battered surface, the vinyl ripped and torn and beautiful in its own way. This case paid its dues, protecting the valuable cargo it carried. He opened the case and took a moment to look at the guitar lying inside. A Gibson Hummingbird, introduced to the world in 1960, Gibson’s first square shouldered dreadnaught. She was a beauty, scars and all. He lifted her out of the case and strummed the strings. The guitar seemed to come to life, waking from her slumber like a princess from a fairytale. He tuned the strings and strummed an E chord, listening to the notes vibrate and hum inside the box, his ear against the mahogany, a lump in his throat, his fingertips resting on the bronze wound strings. The old familiar guitar, covered in a layer of patina from the smoke of a thousand cigarettes and the stains of a drunken man seemed to whisper to him. "You can't go back—but this place ain't so bad. Just let me get warm and I can tell you the story all over again." He closed his eyes and began to play, his fingers stiff at first but he could feel the notes beginning to find their way. He could feel the life begin again.

He played on. The story of love and betrayal, life and death. All of the wrongs and rights, the ups and downs, the lonely nights and hungover mornings rushing back to meet him. A cinematic, fantastic dream of hope and delusion and drive. A song of lost hope, lost love, lost money, and lost faith. He could hear the choirs of angels, and the screams of the demons. All of it was there in the music. The music, the life he lived, the life he left behind, and the pieces he wanted to keep alive.

He opened his eyes and looked at the walls of the room. He spoke to the silence. “Man, I missed you.” The guitar, still vibrating against his chest confirming and affirming the motion and the words.

“Come on girl, to quote a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, I think it’s time for me to move along, I do believe.”

He put the old guitar back in her case and kissed his fingers and placed the kiss on the guitar and closed the case. He stood, his knees popping, lifting the case and turning to leave the room. We’ve been gone too long. Way too long. He walked through the bedroom door, leaving the light on. He grabbed his keys hanging by the door and strolled into the future.

“They call me the breeze. I keep rolling down the road. I ain’t got me nobody, I don’t carry me no load.”

©Tony Whitford 1/6/2017

The lyrics from, I Ain’t The One, where written by Ronnie Van Zant

The lyrics from, Call Me The Breeze belong to John J. Cale

Credit where credit is due. And boy is it due.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Just one more word, that’s all he wanted, one word to finish the story. The perfect word. He sat staring at the cursor blinking at the bottom of the page. The story was told. Every other word in place. The last sentence incomplete. He read it again.
Adrianna felt the world would…
Would what?
Would what?
Nothing. Silence. Both good words, but not the right words. First of all they wouldn’t make sense. Second of all in the context of the story they were meaningless. He knew the obvious word would be or should be know.
Adrianna felt the world would know.
He wanted something better though. Something with meaning and style. Pizzazz. The sentence felt more like a question with the word know at the end.
Adrianna felt the world would know? You can’t end the story with a question, can you? He glanced at the email icon on the task bar. The number one superimposed over an envelope.
I have mail.
He clicked the icon, opening Outlook. Ughhh. A letter from his mom.

I’ve been trying to call you. Is your phone on?
(Yes mom my phone is on. I’m ignoring you.)
I just wanted to tell you that your father has a doctor appointment tomorrow. I think he’s nervous about it. He’s been particularly grouchy today. He nearly took my head off when I told him to take his medicine. You know if I don’t tell him to take it he forgets and then his blood pressure goes sky high.
(His blood pressure is sky high because you make him crazy, mom. Just like everybody else in your life because you don’t know when to shut up.)
He tried to cut the grass today but the lawnmower wouldn’t start. I could hear him yelling at it from the bathroom. It’s Tuesday and you know I go to the beauty parlor on Tuesday. Dorothy is coming to pick me up today. She’s using her son’s car. Do you know her son, James? I think you’ve met. Didn’t you play baseball with him? He’s a chiropractor. I don’t trust chiropractors; I’m afraid something will pop out and not pop back in. So I was getting ready and I could actually hear him from the upstairs bathroom yelling at the lawnmower. When I looked out of the window he was kicking the lawnmower and shouting at it. Maureen, you know Maureen our next door neighbor. Her cat has been sneaking over and pooping in the flowerbed. At least I think it’s her cat. The poor thing. I think she forgets to feed it. Anyway. Your father was standing in the middle of the yard kicking the lawnmower, shouting at the top of his lungs. It was so embarrassing. Do you think I should feed the cat? Have you been looking for a job? Please answer your phone.
I love you,

(God mom, you truly are batshit crazy aren’t you?)
He could picture the scene. His father, sweating, face red, his white tank top stuck to his back, back hair dripping, a wrench in one hand and beer in the other. Maureen clenching her robe tight to her chest, a look of shock on her face. The scrawny cat hiding behind her tree trunk legs.
He started laughing. It started as a small chuckle, a grin spreading across his face. And then it became a genuine laugh. Starting at the bottom of his feet and rolling through his body, shaking his insides. He sat back in his chair and howled with laughter, tears rolling down his cheeks, his knees banging the bottom of his desk.
The laughter rolled away like a summer storm. One minute here and gone the next. He wiped his face. The last vestige of laughter bubbling away to a simmer. He stretched his face, trying to make the goofy grin go away.
He closed Outlook and looked the page in front of him, cursor still blinking. He clapped his hands together, the sound of the slap refocusing his thoughts. Okay. Let’s get back to work. He giggled again and shook his head. His dad was a classic. A left over from a dying breed. He could hear one of the ridiculous sayings his father would inadvertently blurt out. A man from a different era, back when the ships were made of wood and the men were made of steel. Something like that anyway. He brought his thoughts back to the story.
Let’s see where were we?
Adrianna felt the world would…

©Tony Whitford 1/1/2017

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Thief

Gray was the day

And all within

Grass dying beneath yellow leaves

Thoughts hang in the mist

Like cartoon balloons

As I read them

They drift and they seek

They gather and touch

They say much too much

Strange gifts are they

Gathered such

Loose words all true

Yet others forget

Move away

As I breathe in the day

Have I lost all relief

Can I bring back the thief

Stolen thoughts

Tethered here

In their grief

Quiet the mist

The surface of each

The shapes and words

Float beneath

The lost

The absurd

What meaning

They serve

I fail to grasp

What they teach

© Tony Whitford 11/29/2016

Friday, April 29, 2016


Its funny how your life becomes the controlling factor in who you are.
I’m not talking about the life within you, your soul or essence, the force of being within you; but rather the life you live every day. The job, the hobbies, the food, the cleaning, the bills, the money or the lack thereof. It has a way of taking over. Then one day you realize there must be more to it. As the lyrics in one of my favorite songs explains, “You run and you run to catch up with the sun that’s sinking. Racing around to come up behind you again.” So you ask yourself, Am I not more than my job and the bills? Am I here - merely to feed the system?
Your life, controlled by credit.
Your life controlled by an overwhelming sense of losing it all.
Your life controlled by money.
Your life controlled by insurance?
Your life controlled by fear.
I shudder to think that’s all there is.
And the fact of the matter is. I believe it isn’t. We are so much more. We are Fathers and Mothers, and Poets and Artists, and Musicians and Chefs, and Writers, and lovers and husbands and wives. We are alive. We live on a big beautiful planet full of wonder and mystery floating in a galaxy of stars. That all by itself is amazing. We are traveling at 108,000 km/h or roughly 67,000 mph which means our planet travels 940 million km during a single orbit around the sun. Mind blown right there. We have numerous opportunities, every day, to learn and create and to tell the people around us how much they mean to us. We have the capacity to love, laugh and fill this world with art and joy.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, maybe we should look at it a different way. Life I mean. Maybe we should try to see each new day as a chance to change it all, our destiny, our perspective, and our world. Teach yourself something new. Google it. Right? You want to know about bees. Then learn about bees. Is space your thing? Art, Music, Food? The world is out there…waiting for you to see it-and learn about it and make it beautiful with your own special stuff. You. Your life. The real you.
The money problems, the insurance, the debt. That is not who and what you are. I fight with it every day. I do not want it to contain me, control me or make me less than I can be. Put your arm around your friends and family and support them. Help them be more. I’m willing to bet they will do the same for you. We all can be more if we stop thinking about the problems and start seeing the solutions. Just a thought…it’s not as easy as it sounds sometimes. But it is what we need, to be more than just - life.
Tony Whitford 10/20/2015

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The String

By A.W.Whitford                                                                                                                   

One morning, when I was a little boy, I found a string lying in the grass by a tree. I picked up the end of the string, surprised to find it there. I pulled on the string and watched as it lifted into the air parting the blades of grass, wet with the morning dew. As it rose from the grass droplets of dew sprayed into the air around it turning to mist, creating rainbows that wavered before me in the bright morning light.

I shook the string watching it zigzag through the air and swung it around in circles as if I were playing jump rope with my friends, amazed by the way it stretched across the yard and on into the distance. I pulled on the end of it wanting to gather the string and explore its length. The weight of the string seemed to pull back as if something, or someone on the other end were waiting for me to follow, for surely there was an end somewhere. Had I not already found one of them?

I began to follow the string, pulling on it as I walked across the yard, pretending that I was a mountain climber making my way across a vast mountain range, made up of black crumbling shale cliffs that could break away from under my feet at any moment. I followed it across the backyard, around the garage, past the rusting gardening tools and dry rotting old tires and down to the street running parallel to the small houses placed neatly in a row along its borders.

 I stopped and looked back at my house before following the string across the street, knowing I should not leave the yard. I stood there for a moment, feeling as though I left something important behind, feeling as though there was something I should say—or do. I saw my Grandmother standing at the sink in the kitchen, her silhouette clearly visible through the glass and sun faded curtains and I watched her there cleaning the morning’s dishes. I waved at her—but she did not see me—and so I said goodbye in a small voice heard only by the birds singing in the trees above me, watching with wary eyes and nervous wings. I began to gather the string and follow it, pulling the rough string with my little hands, feeling its fibers vibrate with anticipation each time I let go with one hand and pulled with the other.

 After a short while I turned to see how far I had gone, and the little house, the first one of my memory, began to slip away, becoming smaller and smaller as the string began to pull me along as quickly as I could follow.

I suddenly felt as though the string needed me to see something of great importance. It was as if whatever waiting for me there—on the other end—could not wait for me to arrive. A sense of urgency far too great for me to ignore pressed me onward, moving me toward something that I needed to see, something that needed to see me.

 Hours passed in seconds, weeks passed by in minutes, years passed by in days and I followed the string, looking up occasionally to see a house, or a girl with a beautiful smile, reaching out to me as I walked along with the rough thread sliding through my hands.  Still, I followed, amazed at the prospect of finding the end. For surely there was an end somewhere—wasn’t there?

 Once, when my feet grew tired, my hands grew cold and cracked, and my hunger for rest became more than I could bear, I tried to drop the string and go back home. Finding the end no longer seemed important to me. I wanted to be still and rest. I wanted to enjoy the world around me. I wanted to live in the moment. I began to realize that the world around me passed by as if I did not even exist, as if I were nothing more than a dandelion seed floating in the wind. I had become insignificant, an echo in the void.

 I longed to see the past again and feel the warmth of my small room filled with books, games and toys. When I turned to see where I had been, nothing waited for me there. The past was vanishing behind me as if an eraser of enormous proportions were wiping it from the pages of my life, leaving only blurred images, vague memories, forgotten words and faces.

I decided to let go of the string. I decided I would drop it, turn around, and go home.  No matter how hard I tried to let go—the string stayed in my hands as if it were a part of me. My Destiny, my fate, waited on the other end

 When I stopped walking in revolt against its power, it pulled me along faster causing me to run in an effort to keep up. The world passed by in a blur of noise and confusion. I watched as family and friends disappeared behind me, some said their goodbyes—their voices broken by the wind rushing in my ears. Some simply turned away, as if they never knew I was there.

 Trees grew and fell away; children lived their lives without me. Still, I followed the string, praying that the end was near. My body began to fail, my legs began to shake, no longer capable of supporting the weight and wear required of them. I fell to the ground and stared up at the sky watching in amazement as tattered clouds passed by chasing the Moon. The Sun rose and set bouncing on the horizon like the blinking of a giant bloody eye.

The string pulled me through the dust of time and over the bones of those fallen before me as I watched the stars above, dancing in the blue-black ocean of the night. I prayed to the heavens, to the gods of the Moon and the God of our fathers, pleading with them to let me go home. I closed my eyes and listened to the voices of the past and the voices of my weak and weary heart. I slept and dreamt the dreams of the forgotten.

I dreamt of a father and a little boy. I dreamt of a baseball glove and the smell of the leather and freshly cut grass. I dreamt of a child shouting at his grandmother that he wished he could hurry up and be older, so that he could be free from her rules. I dreamt of my purple spider bike, I dreamt of the huge rough hands of my Father, and the lines burned into the palms of his hands. I dreamt that I held his hands in mine and I rubbed the scars with my thumbs and asked him how he got them. He smiled at me and said, “From following the string that brought me to you.”

I looked up into his hazel eyes and I began to fall. His hands slipped out of mine and I fell through the darkness, flailing my arms, as the string tangled around my legs until I jerked to a stop hanging upside down in the dark, suspended in space. 

I awoke, startled and screaming and opened my eyes to the dazzling sunlight slicing over the rooftop of my childhood home. The sun shining on the wet grass created sparkling diamond reflections in the air around me. I rubbed my eyes with my fists as I rose to my knees in the grass by the tree where I lay—blinking and struggling to make sense of where I was.

Birds sang kindly in the limbs above me, welcoming me to the new day, and the string was gone. I looked at my hands; they were still soft and new, with only the faint wrinkles of life beginning to form in the smooth pink palms.

I stared at my hands opening and closing them, hands that would learn to play a guitar someday, hands that would build sandcastles and bookcases, hands that would pull wriggling fish from the ocean and the hands that would hold the hands of my children. I stood and looked around, I was home again and my heart filled with hope and relief.

I heard the familiar squeaking of the hinges on our screen door and I turned to see my grandmother walking out onto the porch wiping her hands on her apron. I ran to her and hugged her at her waist nearly knocking her down.

"Here now what's this about?" she said, pulling me back and looking at me, surprised by my sudden show of affection.

"I'm just happy to see you that's all," I said.

She looked at me with a question in her eyes, as if she knew something, as if something in my eyes frightened her. She held my face in her hands and smiled. She opened her mouth to ask—but then changed her mind.

"Go eat your breakfast," she said, and opened the screen door. I looked back for a moment, scanning the yard, making a mental note of the bushes and trees, the garage and the fence, the layout of my world, the way I would always remember it. I looked up at her, she smiled and nodded and I went inside. The warmth of the kitchen filling my soul.



Monday, February 22, 2016

The Middle of Nowhere

When nowhere looked like a good place to be
I set up shop right there
I hung the sign above the door
And filled the shelves with nothing
Content with my plan
I advertised
To help me spread the word
Television, radio, websites and magazines
The world beat a path to my door
They bought as much as they could carry
And then came back for more
They filled their lives with nothing
They worked both night and day
To fill their homes with more of it
From the ceiling to the floor
What their neighbors bought
They bought as well
To even out the score
Nothing here and nothing there
Nothing in their eyes
Great arguments were lost and won
With nothing to describe
So here in the middle of nowhere
With nothing in their lives
They wonder who they all should be
But there’s nothing there to see.

T. Whitford 2/22/2016