Untitled No. 12 by Marc Alexander Valle

I used to hate people, and I was certain that I was a lone soldier meant to swing a sword at the world through his art. Every stroke of the pen, an indictment on those who said or did something that hurt me. But all that happened was the sword landed on my foot every time, because none of those revenge pieces ever did anything but put a band-aid on it. 

I got tired of broken and bloody toes. But mostly I got tired of swinging the sword. 

I pay less and less attention to what I think it is that I think anymore. I’ve only ever gone back and forth, running slides through my head like those old projectors. Slide after slide, thought after thought, all year until a few years later, I’m a different person with different philosophies and different feelings towards different things. That’s just how it’s been. Definitely for me, maybe for most people. With every point, a counterpoint, waiting to make a fool of me and ready to tear down my views. 

I hear people say, “How can we be so arrogant to believe that we’re the only beings that exist in the universe?” Meanwhile we think our opinion is the only one that matters in that same universe, the same opinion that will eventually change.

But who knows. If everything is change, maybe I’ll go back to the old way. Or maybe I never left it at all. Maybe this statement is another form of what I claim to detest and I just am who I am and those unlying themes will never change. 

It just feels good to write and to express myself and to think without anyone telling me what to write and express and think. The freedom. The power. The choice. Where does it even come from, and what will it make of us? And would it make things better to even be able to answer those two questions?  

I can go on and on about these things, and there was a time when I would. At least in my own head. But not today. Maybe tomorrow. But definitely not today. There’s still some things that I’m certain of. And I’m certain of today. I’m definitely certain of today. 

A Twilight-Hour Note (from a first-time father to his newborn son) by Marc Alexander Valle

Your Daddy writes to be heard. Your Daddy writes to let the world know that he’s here. Your Daddy writes because he feels that he has something to say, a message that needs to be delivered and pulled out of his gut like some-type of science fiction movie. Your Daddy writes to not be interrupted when he speaks. Your Daddy writes to be loved. Your Daddy hopes to be understood, but at this point feels that most people will never understand him. Your Daddy writes because he cannot say what he means on the top of his head without the other person giving him time to think or respond. If Daddy were to try to verbally express what you’re reading now, he would sound like the under-educated, working class kid that he was. Your Daddy writes because he’s an artist. Your Daddy is an artist, someone that sees things so hidden from the world that if he could package it the right way and the right opportunity came along, it could become a product with an assigned value. His name could become a commodity in the world market, a perpetual machine that inflates worth based on perception alone. Your Daddy could be somebody.

Daddy never wanted to see the world in terms of transactions. Daddy was a romantic that just wanted to be loved and heard and seen without making a scene and just being good. This has been the cause of much frustration for Daddy. Sometimes it’s been the cause of great sadness. How can we express ourselves without being rejected or feeling that we have to alter the message? This is and has been Daddy’s life theme. This is and has been Daddy’s monster. From childhood battles with classmates and peers to adulthood interactions that seem so small but carry so much weight, this is The War, the search for validation without having to compromise one’s belief system. 

Your Daddy’s words have protected him from this reality, from becoming a casualty of The War, full of contempt and venom and cynicism, and he’s glad that he found his words at such a young age. Your Daddy has ridden on his words like a cloud in jetstream, like the initial buzz from a hard drink, like a child running down a hill with his arms spread open and the wind in his face. I am grateful for the words as I am grateful for your existence. I am grateful for your existence as I am grateful for the words. This is why your Daddy writes. 

. . .

Emile, you have arrived. Daddy’s been waiting. I love you.

The Yellow Cat by Marc Alexander Valle

THE YELLOW CAT

by Marc Alexander Valle

The yellow cat stopped by again. I saw it across the street, outside my open window, coming  from behind my neighbor’s single home. It sat down on the lawn and on its haunches and looked around the neighborhood. The wind blew hard, and I could see it squint its eyes. I thought maybe it was deep in thought. The other day, I saw the grey cat tackle a squirrel as I drove in the neighborhood. I cheered it on. But I’ve never seen the yellow cat do anything, but stop and pass, maybe once or twice a week. 

Something made me get up from my chair and walk to the window today. Maybe I wanted to see what it would do or where it would go. But there was something else. I wanted it to show something to me. Something about life and the purpose of existence. The expression, “Animals are more human than people crossed my mind.”  

I made a tisk sound with my tongue and roof of my mouth. For some reason people think animals like that, and I’m no different. It looked up and around. I tisked again, and it looked at me. And it stared. It stared for a few seconds, then it looked away and scanned its surroundings once again. It looked back at me. 

I’ve seen many cats in this neighborhood and after a few years I don’t see them anymore. They become replaced by a new generation, and I almost forget about the ones that have passed. I’ve labeled them by their quirks and demeanors, never giving them a name. The gray one that leaves as soon as it arrives. The tabby one that hangs around with the black and white one. The yellow one that keeps to itself. The cats will keep coming and I’ll keep watching and labeling.

It sat back up and walked towards the street. “Hey, kitty,” I said, and it kept walking. It kept walking until it got near the side of my house. “Psst,” I said. “Psst.” It looked at me, and then it kept walking. It kept walking until it went around the house and I could no longer see it.

I sat back down and stared at my screen and could do nothing but sit. I could feel neither discord or peace in my thoughts yet what I was experiencing wasn’t necessarily indifference.  I just sat. There’s branches of science and philosophy that study these things, but I can’t seem to remember their names. I’ve never been good with remembering names.

Trifecta: A Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

That budded dogwood tree doesn’t care about daylight savings time. Go ahead. Move the clock, and it won’t make any difference. It’s going to do what it wants, and it probably thinks your national attempt to save a buck is silly. Even if it did gain or lose an hour, it’s been here before you got here and it’ll be here when you’re gone. Kind of like a human to a mouse. Or a mouse to a dragonfly. 

In one month, those buds on those branches will be pink flowers, and I won’t be able to see the sky on the other side of it from where I’m sitting. 

The last ray of sunset hits the dogwood. I watch it slip away. It’s so gradual that I can’t tell at all. But it’s happening. I know it. I’ve watched it happen before. And it’s going to happen again.

TODAY I LEARNED THE WORD ‘PERMAFROST’ by Marc Alexander Valle

We do things to save our lives. 

Not real life. 

But ourselves. 

That little fire. 

The one you can see in a child’s smile and curiosity, picking up a rock and looking for a bug and wondering if every rock hides a bug and committing to the lifting of every rock until they find out for sure whether there is a bug under every rock or not.

That fire, that smile, that everything.

That fire started to die down in high school. 

Everything became a fog. 

Peers started dating and I didn’t have a clue, older brother started spending time with other friends, dad started yelling about my grades and how I was using my time, and the anxiety/depression started to take hold and take form. 

Everything I thought was real was crumbling. 

So I wrote. 

And all of it was bad. At first, it was bad writing for bad screenplays. Then bad poems and bad essays and bad plays and bad stories, all of them taking me now where.  

But I saved my life. Not my real life. But my life.

Over and over again I did it. Like a lighthouse fueled by imagination. I did it over and over again. That fire. That smile. Over and over again. Each strike of the pen, more exciting than a first date and more satisfying than hitting back the school yard bully. Again and again. And one day I stopped writing nothing but crap, and one day I found my voice. And the real voice of anyone of us is the voice of the Universe, using us to find its place in this world. 

Sometimes I get lonely and think most people just let that blaze die and this is how the world works. The schools and the streets and the bars and the workplace flowed with enough booze, gossip, dental benefits and Sunday football to make people forget they ever had an inferno inside. 

But the fire is warm and the fire is burning white birch and the fire is everything and outside the fire are the woods and the woods are the world and the eyes of the wolves can be seen hiding from the fire and the people of the world can be heard screaming and laughing out in the woodland darkness.  

The burning wood collapses and draws my attention back to the blaze, and I forget about the deep tundra outside the circle of light. I look into the coals at the bottom of the pit and know that I am warm. For now. And it’s everything to be warm. For now.

by Marc Alexander Valle

The Gordian Face: A Poem

THE GORDIAN FACE

by Marc Alexander Valle

Who are you? Can you tell me in a paragraph? I’m being generous and giving you a paragraph. Or is a paragraph too much? Would limiting you to a word or sentence, allow you to be more concise? Would that help? Or do you need a novel? Do you need plot and characters and action and reaction and every tool in storytelling to paint a picture? Would that aptly summarize you as a living being? Or maybe your definition should include body language. You could say something that could be misinterpreted, but because you smiled and nodded your head, I might more likely feel that you meant something deeper. Or maybe you could be tested by behavior. Maybe you could react to a hypothetical situation where you could make the wrong choice and get rewarded with your wildest dream and get away with it, or you could do the right thing and no one would notice. Would you be comfortable with that form of testing? You would never know when it’s going to happen to you. That would insure the validity of the test. Thirty years from now, maybe? Would you be at ease with that? Or maybe I’ll just ask people that interacted with you. Your mother. Your father. Your neighbor. Your friends. All your friends. Every single friend. Despite the circumstances. Despite the last word or two you had with each other. Would you have any objections to that?

But what if I gave you the power to choose? From the one sentence summary to the interviews to artificial intelligence systems that analyze every breath of your life. Take your pick. It’s your life. It’s your choice. How do you choose? How do you wish to measure your existence? But know that your choice will help in revealing who you are. It’s inescapable, isn’t it? We leave an imprint no matter how gentle we walk on the sand. And those who walk gently, thinking they will leave no trace are fools. And those who stomp quickly, thinking it makes no difference miss the point. Who are you? I want to know. I’ve always wanted to know who’s really who. How about you? 

by Marc Alexander Valle

©2020

The Olive Tree by Marc Alexander Valle

This piece was first published in NortheastPoetry Review 2020

The Olive Tree

I had a roommate in college that couldn’t understand it. His name was Frank and he’d walk in the room and find me sitting in bed, staring at the ceiling and the wall. He’d say, “How come you’re always just looking at the wall when I come in?” I wanted to tell him that I was actually staring at the corner between the ceiling and the wall, but I thought it wouldn’t matter. So I’d say nothing back.

I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t understand it myself back then. I would just lie there and think. In those years, I daydreamed a lot and I’d get very depressed, so it was probably a bit of both. But it really seemed to bother him on some level. It was the way he’d say it. Not with malice, but not jokingly either. Like he’d caught someone smelling their own underwear. In time, whenever I heard him approaching the door, I’d sit up and find something to do in order to look occupied.

Living with others forces us to be more self-conscious in a very uncomfortable way. Even if ‘living’ means living on Earth with co-workers and classmates and family and friends. We still have to walk on eggshells and look into what we think are other people’s mirrors. Even if it’s for a second. What a horrible encounter.  

I sat my ass in a nice chair today for 40 minutes with a cup of tea and stared at the wall, half-thinking and half-not-thinking at all. I hadn’t done that in a very long time. And when I did get to thinking, I finally thought of Frank and what he would say if somehow he walked in the room. Then it all came to me like a wild horse over a razor edge sand dune. Frank just didn’t understand. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I exhaled and picked up my tea. A few drops pooled at the bottom. I lifted the cup and tilted it toward my mouth. I could taste one sweet drop, and I swallowed it down.

Sometimes the one thing harder than life itself is picking the right place to just sit. 

With or without a ceiling or a wall.

Daybreak on the Banshee: A Flash Memoir by Marc Alexander Valle

Please, I welcome FEEDBACK. Feel free to comment. 

First published in Potato Soup Journal on October 20, 2019

Daybreak on the Banshee

by Marc Alexander Valle

The women cried and wailed and prayed behind us, and my 7-year-old mind thought the dead body would look like something from the movies. I never saw a dead body before, and I was certain that it would look like a skeleton from a cartoon or at least Freddy Kruger. It would definitely be something that comes out only at night.

I stepped forward with my father and older brother towards the casket. All the conversation and noise in the room became silent inside of my head. I could only hear my thoughts, and all I could think was that I had to let dad step forward first and to be careful.

The toy soldier in my pocket poked into my thigh, and I readjusted it.

“What’s wrong?” my father said.

I looked up at him. “Nothing.”

I peered into the casket, and took in a deep breath.

It was my adult cousin, the one who lived down the street. No skeleton or wounds or blood or winkled skin. Just my cousin. It reminded me of a wax figure. My cousin. Then the silence fell to the back, and I could hear the wailing and the prayers of the woman once more.

“That’s it?” I said to my dad.

“Yeah,” he said. “Quiet.”

I felt compelled to go into my pocket and leave my cousin the toy soldier amongst all the flowers. I didn’t dare.

Death had only been a concept to me. Outside of television and movies, I only had urban legends. There was the time they found a dead body down at the end of the street in tall weeds. My older friend, Vic, said that it was done by a serial killer, who broke free from the Allentown State Hospital. He said that the escapee planned on killing all of the adults and torturing the children to exact some form of revenge. Despite my father’s assurance against this claim, I feared a man was roaming the streets with a gun that night. I couldn’t sleep. They ruled it suicide the next day, and I was relieved.

There was the story of the boy, who drowned in the Lehigh River next to Bucky Boyle Park. They said he swam too close to the whirlpool that swirled in the center, and he couldn’t swim back. For that reason, they told us kids to not even so much as step into the water.

Then there was the story of the boy, who fell out of a window in our former Brooklyn apartment complex. They said his ghost haunted the court yard. I had nightmares about him until we moved.

The wailing and the prayers grew even louder, and it began to make me sick to my stomach. I had enough of looking and standing still.

I looked back up to my father.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.

“Quiet,” he said, then took my hand and we walked away.

Back in the car and on our way home, my father reminded me and my brother that although our cousin was dead in the physical form, he was still alive in spirit. And that spirit is everlasting and although we cannot see him, he’s still with us. The moment he described my cousin, I imagined the translucent ghost of Christmas past from a TV version of Christmas Carol.

“Do you think Freddy Kruger could beat a ghost?” I said to my older brother.

“I don’t know,” my brother said.

“Cause Freddy’s got claws,” I said.

“You’re dumb,” he said. “Nothing can beat a ghost.”

I looked back out the window and noticed that it was a beautiful day. When I got home, I would go outside and play with Mitch. Mitch was fun, and he would let me lead. We’d race and play with our toys, and I’d give him the soldier that was scarping my thigh, and I’d tell him that I don’t think I like funerals.

It was a beautiful day. No clouds were in sight, and I could see a faint moon above, immersed in blue sky. A couple of sparrow streaked across it. A gust of air from my father’s window blew into my face. The sun touched everything. And there was plenty of time before dark.

by Marc Alexander Valle ©2019

Mav The Writer: The Lost Years

There’s a time in my life that I cannot write about. There’s no story there that would be of interest to my audience. I even get bored, thinking about it. From my teens to my very early 30s, I neither acted upon nor reacted to the world.

I did my thing. I wrote in various mediums, I went to karaoke twice a week, I read my work at open mics, I had my artwork in a gallery, I went back to school and earned my degree, I experimented in photography, and I worked various low-paying jobs with colorful people. But for the most part it was my lost years. I took no risks and barely ventured out of my comfort zone. I hardly dared to ask out females, fearing what they might have thought of me.

Is time ever really lost? Does the brain collect and process data and turn it into wisdom no matter the circumstance? And do movies, books, and music count as life experience?

I got into a shoving match in second grade, and it’s one of my sweetest moments. Some kid bullied my best friend on the playground. He was high up on himself, because all the girls followed him around during recess. I cursed at him and pushed him to the ground. All the girls came after me and yelled at me. The bully stood back up and cried. It felt good.

The world acted, I reacted, and in turn I existed. Beginning, middle and end.

We grade our lives on curves and our view of ourselves is rich with self-talk rebuttals.

I see no good in those years except that it makes my story different.

To excavate our lives for a happy ending can be a brutal endeavor, but a necessary one if the left foot is to move in front of the right and the right foot is to move in front of the left. I still can’t write a lick about that era.

The 500th Block of Vincent Child: A Flash Fiction

Special thanks to Door is a Jar, who first published the story in the Spring of 2019. 

The 500th Block of Vincent Child

by Marc Alexander Valle (mavthewriter)

     Vincent Child watched as the young man assaulted the old man across the street. He wasn’t sure if it was a robbery and didn’t know what to do if it was. So he stood still, watching the young man grab and shove the old man in front of the tenement on the narrow one-way street.

Vincent looked around. No pedestrians. Only him and the two men on the sunless block. A knot formed in his stomach and he could feel the cold breeze more intensely, cutting through his black jacket and tan pants. The men continued to struggle.

He wished he hadn’t turned this corner. Yesterday, he turned onto another street. That was his usual route for the last ten days as he substitute taught for an eighth grade teacher at Jackson Middle School. But he’d read an article that said that if you change certain routines in your life, you can change your brain waves and create positive thought patterns. So he turned onto the 500th block of Chester St, a slightly downhill block of apartment buildings and tightly parked clunkers, then he crossed the street.

“Give it,” the young man said.

“No!” the old man said.

The young man punched the old man, who fell behind a parked Cadillac. The young man crouched down. Vincent could see neither of them now. He could hear sirens getting closer and wondered who they were for.

He looked around again. A woman pushing a stroller walked his way. He believed that she hadn’t seen the struggle across the street, but he figured she would soon. And when she did the woman would believe that he was a coward. She would tell the police that he did nothing and the news would quote her as saying, “No one did anything. He just stood there.”

Vincent pulled his cell phone from out of his jacket. He turned it on and waited.

     What icon do I press? Do I call 911? Are they already coming?

“Help!” he heard from the old man.

The young man was standing back up. “Stop!” he said, looking down and kicked.

“Give it.” He kicked again.

“Hey,” Vincent said. “Hey!”

The young man looked over. “I called the cops,” Vincent said, raising his phone to the young man.  “The cops.” The siren were blaring and getting closer.

The young man crouched down again behind the Cadillac.

“What’s that?” the woman said.

“I don’t know,” Vincent said, “Two guys fighting.”

The woman shook her head and kept walking with the stroller.

Vincent kept looking at her as she walked away, then turned to the Cadillac.

He could neither hear, nor see either of the two. He turned back to the woman with the stroller. She was nearing the corner. He turned to the Cadillac. Still no commotion. Then back to the woman as she turned the corner. Then back to the Cadillac.

“Hey,” Vincent said.

No response.

He turned and started walking down the block.

“No! Stop!” he heard someone say behind the Cadillac. “No!”

It sounded like the young man. But it could have been the old man. He wasn’t sure.

“Hey,” he said.

No response. No commotion. Vincent backed closer to the corner.

He heard the sirens, blaring and getting closer.

     The cops are on their way. I’m late.

     They were blaring and getting close.

     I’m sure they’re coming here.

He turned the corner.

“A 67-year old man was beaten to death yesterday on the 500th block of Chester St. at 9:00 am. Police were alerted by neighbors–

Vincent Child put down his phone on the desk. The incident he saw took place at 7:00 am. A full two hours before neighbors called. It’s impossible to have been the men I saw. He exhaled and stood up.

The seventh grade students would be arriving in ten minutes. He’d wanted to avoid seventh grade. He heard they were bad this year, but he was sent to cover one period after his break. The teacher’s lesson plan was at the center of the desk:

Students will be wrapping up their projects on How My Community Feels. If finished, tell them to post drawing on the corkboard. Some students are finished. Have them read a book.

Vincent walked over to look at the drawings. Most drawings had children playing. Some had children with family. A few had people arguing. But in one drawing there was a man on the ground with another man standing above him. Vincent read the words below it:

I saw a man get beat out my window and no one did nothing. Makes me scared.

Vincent looked at the image again. At the edge of the paper, a woman in purple held onto a yellow stroller. Behind her, a man dressed in a black jacket and tan pants. The man in the black jacket looked back at the two men with wide eyes and an open mouth. He saw “Period 3, 7th grade” labeled at the top of the paper. Vincent was in period 2 now.

The school bell rang.

Vincent took his black jacket and hung it in the closet. He doubled checked his pants and saw they were blue today. The students could be heard down the hall, yelling and getting closer. Part of his job was to serve as hall monitor in between classes, but he could only stand still, listening to them yelling and getting closer.

Vincent looked over to the drawing again and studied the face of the man with the black jacket. He had the vertical face his mother always said he had and noticed shaky lines to make him look more scared. He put his head down and took a deep breath.

Vincent turned to the door again. He could hear the kids coming down the hall, yelling and getting closer. Yelling and getting closer.

Marc Alexander Valle ©2019

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