Nearly a century and a half of music recordings and centuries more of musical compositions are at your disposal. Use it. Find it. Let it talk to you. It can help you at any time. Never expect it to solve the problem, but music can expose the underlying issues of your life that make the problem seem real.
I was sad in my early 20s. Very sad. Everything was tragic, and everything I tried to do seemed to end in failure. I felt as though I couldn’t even get a hello from people and from the world. I wanted it all to end sometimes. Music was that hello.
It talked to me directly, and it made me believe that there are and have been others just like me. They think like me, and they feel like me. Music was the code between us, and the message was, “I am an artist.” Music told me that my role was to reevaluate norms. I was never to be satisfied with what we assumed to be true, but I was never to change my core beliefs. There was nothing wrong with me. I was normal. It was the conversation between the individual and the world that was distorted.
There’s a link between youth and music and the way it shapes our views. How will you allow it to shape yours?
AN EVENING NOTE
(from a father to his 11-month-old son)
by Marc Alexander Valle
Much has already been decided. It was out of my hands. Out of your mother’s hands. Out of anyone’s control. I see it as you sleep soundly on this bed right now. Your mother’s dark blonde hair, your nose like mine, your cheeks like mine, your chin like mine, all out of my control. I orchestrated none of it. It was all God. It was all The Universe. It was all Nature. It was all Luck. Fate. Destiny. Chance. The Gods. Truth be told, I delivered some DNA that Odin would be proud of, but it was all in a genetic pool that I had no command over. And you are an extraordinary specimen, my son. Cary Grant. Marlon Brando. Superhero illustrations. Your face, so handsome and symmetric. The doctor said at your last check-up that you have a mug that she could stare at for hours and hours. I’d call her a weirdo if it weren’t so true. But it is true. And it was all decided without my authority and I am in love.
But what of these tentacles? These unwelcomed circumstances that are out of my dominion. What of the fact that your father is a peasant. And his father was a peasant. And his father was a peasant. I am a peasant. I don’t make too much money. We live with my parents. I have little saved up for retirement. I’ve never really traveled. I’ve never eaten crab in Maryland, and I never had Bar-B-Que chicken in Memphis. I’ve only been on a plane once. I get most of my news from mainstream outlets. I can’t get my weight down. And I buy dumb stuff on the Internet that I don’t even need. I am a peasant. And you will see your father struggle as a peasant. And work like one. And eat like one. And play like one. And maybe even love like one.
As you sleep soundly on this bed, I know that forces of the natural realm have already decided some things. Wherever you go, one way or the other, you will carry the ZIP code that you were born in. For that I’m sorry.
But what if I told you that I am a king? What if I told you that I cannot be touched? That I am impervious to the influence of the masses and their mob mentality? That the walls of mediocrity will never cave in on me? I am a king. With a mind burning as bright as magnesium lit by a 7th-grade science teacher. With the world’s greatest ideas stewing in my subconscious like your grandmother’s Puerto Rican kidney beans. With thoughts and emotions deeper than an atom at the dead center of The Sun. What if I told you that I put people at ease and that many people trust me more than their own lawyers, doctors, and spiritual advisors? Would I even really need to tell you that? Will you see it for yourself one day?
As you sleep soundly on this bed, I don’t remember what a restful night is like anymore. By the time I experience it again you’ll be your own man, and I’ll be closing in on the end of this life. The tendrils of time, space, and causality pull us towards a state of pure energy once again, and the crickets outside have been chirping for a good two hours. I think I’ll lie next to you for now. Just for a little. Just until you wake. Just to watch you wake. Just for now. I will lie next to you.
Happy 10-month birthday, Emile. Daddy loves you.
It’s Always in the Corners by Marc Alexander Valle
More and more I tell myself that it started in Algebra class, that I was Tourette’s-and-facial-tic-free until I sat in front of Axel Sidezski that sophomore year. That’s the connection I’ve made. I don’t remember having or feeling the tics before the age of 14. And I’m sure the syndrome is largely genetic, but something inside me believes that Axel lit the spark.
I googled searched Axel the other day, haunted by two questions: Is he still the same and is he doing better than I am? I searched for 10 minutes and I only found whitepage profiles and I couldn’t verify that any of them were him. I remember he had reddish-blondish hair and like most of my high school, touch-and-go bullies, they always wore a sports team jacket or a sports team t-shirt but they never really played any sports. Would he have that same smirk in his new picture? I looked on twitter and instagram and facebook and even youtube and after 10 more minutes of turning up nothing, a voice in my head said to stop cyberstalking. I closed the laptop and went to bed.
I let him hit me. Not punch me and not “I let him” as in “Sure! Go ahead and hit me” but I let him all the same. He’d push my head with an open hand. I think I told him to stop, but he didn’t. He’d hit me more than I’d like to admit and sometimes I even told myself we were really friends like I was Fredo in The Godfather and he was Moe Green and I don’t know why I’m telling you people this because I have so much shame for not hitting back that I blocked out exactly what happened and how it occured, but one thing for sure is that I believe there is a connection between the tics and his harassment. Like it kicked in right then and there in the middle of balancing an algebraic equation. And I’m not 100 % sure that there’s a connection but I’m 100% sure that I tell myself everyday that there is a connection.
Are we really who we think we’ve become? Can we ever let go of the weight?
I told myself that I would write things that no one else could write and express ideas that most people can’t verbalize or even process, and I’ve gotten to a point where I at least feel that I don’t have much competition, all to stand up and tell myself that if the Axel’s of the world ever came back and I once again stood down, at least I could do one thing better than they can.
It started in a math class that I eventually failed, and it all tied in with dreams and ambitions and talent and ego and suffering and neurodevelopmental disorders, all to make me who I am today, at least in my imagination. Axel Sidezski wins the battle nearly everyday.
Is he still the same and is he doing better than I am?
I don’t even think he’d remember my name.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Twitter, Instagram, Youtube Channel: Mavthewriter
“Wax on, wax off,” I said. Tanya laughed. I continued with more impersonations.
After the fourth minute, it was indisputable. The second grade blackboard was clean. I would have to impress her another time.
“Alright,” she said. “Mrs. Reed makes us dump the water in the sink when we’re done.”
Tanya approached the sink. I followed.
“I got it,” I said, taking the bucket from her.
“Mrs. Reed told you how to dump it, right?”
I grabbed the handle with my left hand and lifted. It wobbled. I held the bottom with my other hand. All I needed was to get it above the sink, way above, as high as I could get it without getting water on the counter.
Tanya stepped forward, “Mrs. Reed said–
I tilted the bucket.
“Just make sure you pour the water sl—
I dumped all of the water into the sink in one shot. Nearly all of it splashed back.
Tanya backed off a step.
I backed off a few.
But it was too late.
“Oh my God! You got water all over my dress.”
I looked at myself, “Yeah, I got it on me too.”
“Why’d you do that? You were supposed to pour it in.”
“I didn’t know.”
Students got out of their seats, looking over.
“Ooohhh, weeee,” they said.
I turned to Mrs. Reed’s desk.
She was walking towards us. I placed my hands in front of me to cover the water.