Kaminski Writing

"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” _Kerouac

Category: Uncategorized

That Old House

Malbec and manchego
aromas took me,
playing with my cousins in
that old house

the foyer draped
in royal green paisley.
green foam ball Tommy once threw,
greeted us in that haunted closet.
metal chain for the light,
smokey fedora.
I saw to the porch through fogged window.

I tackled my brother
on the canyon carpet.
dust spooled in our noses,
asthma, nostalgia
weaving into our sinuses
I smelled the wine.

dank smell of history, swamp darkness
in that thanksgiving living room
curled in hot sleeping bags
we were blobs of nylon when the morning came.
we talked until we woke our parents.

I held you in the doorway,
in the evening light where
we stuck out our teeth.
you spiked your hair that year before you grew it long.
my teeth were missing
I love you, you can see it pressed in Kodak.
you can smell it in the evening on 31 forest.

we left Grandma
in that old house
laughing in the background of every dream.
She taught us to keep kit-kats in the freezer.
we all sat on the wooden porch swing
Grandma sang to us:
She told us that it was the best time.

we went one september
to empty that old house.
the chill and the casket.
our uncle threw himself on the dusty oak.
our mother’s cousin
read empty words
from an empty book
in the empty home.

we laughed at the pink walls.
your sister smoked a cigarette.
a puppy that ran around our feet in the backyard
chestnuts dented car hoods in the cool wind.

We covered Grandma in a concrete cross
and memories of a fluorescent nursing home.
replaced with a mute stone
we thanked everyone for coming and headed home.

I haven’t been back since.
I haven’t tasted a raspberry since that final summer day.
I haven’t smelled dust since we left.
I haven’t felt the cool breeze.
I haven’t said her name.

but I remember that old house
my Grandma’s laugh
in a glass of wine.

_ Kevin Kaminski 2012

A Time Without Mercy

I was piss drunk in Buffalo a few nights ago. It was in this state I was confronted by God, or the Devil, or another drunk man looking for a cigarette. It all depends on your perspective and interpretation, maybe a little bit of experience too. After all, what religious experience doesn’t.

I don’t remember seeing him of course. With spirits and drunkenness, people kind of just appear. And when you mix the two—well, maybe that’s a story for another time.

The man was Latino with dark, knowing eyes, and in the incandescence of street lamps he looked real. His shirt was maroon and topped with a cross that looked like it was carved out of a bone.

I remember seeing the cross and seeing it was outside his shirt. I told him I liked his cross. He smiled and told me his son made it for him. I congratulated him on being a father and he asked me if I was a Christian.

“Yeah, I consider myself a Christian.”

“Oh yeah? What does that mean? Have you been saved, my friend?”

“Yes, I have.”

“What was it like for you, ‘I consider myself a Christian’?”

And so I told him, because I did have a conversion experience. I told him about how it felt like my body was on fire, how I couldn’t breathe. I told him that the Holy Spirit overtook me in a moment.

“Do you hear this!?” he said to my friends having their own conversation by now. “He says the Holy Spirit— overtook— him.”

I regretted using such lofty words.

“No, no, this is good.” He continued. “Tell me what it is you believe that you ‘consider’ yourself a Christian.”

At this point I had affirmed in my heart of hearts that I am not articulate while drunk. Nevertheless, I spoke on, following my words out of my mouth. “I guess I consider myself a Christian Agnostic.”

“Whoa! Now this is something new! Please, enlighten me! I thought Jesus had given his life for our sins, but this is something that I need to hear!” he was mocking at this point— or I suppose had been mocking.

“No, no, no. See— This,” I grabbed his cross.

“Don’t grab his cross, man,” my friend suggested.

“This right here,” I went on, cross-less, “this happened for us, for all of us.”

“What happened?” he challenged my words.

“Jesus Christ died and bled on the cross for the sins of humanity.”

“Okay.” He nodded and stroked his chin.

“But I know that I can’t know for sure, and I’m okay with not knowing.”

It was here when I started to catch up with my mouth. The words I helped color on a banner for my old church’s teen room came back to me, KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE, PREACH WHAT YOU KNOW, LIVE WHAT YOU PREACH. I thought about how I didn’t know what I believed and how I was okay with not knowing. I thought about the darkness of 4:30am and how there was so much doubt all of a sudden.

He asked me what God would think of that on judgement day. If I weren’t depressed by the conversation I might have told him that I think God would be just fine with it. But I was seriously thinking about this apocalyptic judgement and this angry God he was bringing me on the empty street.

“Do you know what it feels like to want to kill yourself, but not be able to?” the anguish was in his face just thinking of it. He gestured stabbing himself and said, “the Bible says, people will look for death— they will not find it.”

“Right, but I feel like in the end, mercy will win. If God’s love is infinite it will reach us beyond the grave even.”

“Oh no my friend… When judgement comes,” he squinted his eyes to focus us in the hollow street. “Mercy. Will be long… Long gone.”

“Why?” I think I really asked him this.

“My friend, you are confused. I will pray for you and your friends.”

With that, he vanished into the dark, Buffalo night. I walked behind my friends thinking about a time without mercy. The thought unsettled me. I dug my hands in my pockets and found my way up the steps to a strange doorway. I imagined God was inside, sitting on a throne waiting to have it out with me. I’d be the first to admit I got it wrong.

_Kaminski 2012

In the Height of Heaven Stones

I’m going to grow my hair long
while I’m young and living.
I’ll drive fast
around and round the sorry continent—
Across forgotten lands
I’ll drive with windows down.

You were in the passenger seat
laughing or maybe crying,
I never knew with you.
I only knew the wisps
of your hair in my face;
the smell of your drugstore shampoo.
Your golden skin
and the sweat we made.

I shouted into endless
highway distance
when you left.
Unheard,
a ghost on the road,
I wandered off every exit
memorizing the face of distant godmade cathedrals.
I’ll climb their summits
with every tribulation of the spirit–
Crying out for mercy and more strength.

I’ll stand, or maybe sit,
looking out and back
to where I came from and how.
And in the height
of heaven stones
the wind will toss and pull
the hair I grew long
in my youth and life.

I’ll laugh so loud on that peak
you’ll hear me somewhere
on your own mountain.
Satisfied we’ll leave
to find one another
on some new crest.
Our bodies blending into
some godmade life.
I’ll breathe you in the mountain.

After long days I’ll lay in your bed.
You’ll run your fingers through my long grey hair—
mine through yours.
We’ll both know where we’ve been.
And I’ll love you with every ease of the spirit.

_ Kevin Kaminski 2012

Fridays

It was about 2:13 in the afternoon when Hosea saw his wife walk into the bar with another man. She was laughing, he said, and touching the man’s shoulders and laughing. I saw her glance in our direction. She knew this was where her husband liked to drink on Wednesdays and Fridays, and she knew he started around noon. Hosea loved the girl behind the bar; she made him drunk before he even sat down.

Hosea and Esther were getting a divorce. He told me he was glad because he’d now be able to get pussy like the one pouring drinks behind the bar. Told me he wanted to lay her down, right there on the rubber mats. Said he’d make her cum so hard she’d have to call off work for a week. I told him that wouldn’t be nice, that she might have bills and need to work.

Esther knew better than to bring a man here. She knew what she was doing, and she knew first hand the shortness of Hosea’s temper. “Goddamn it! That haughty cunt!” He swore as he emptied his third whiskey coke into his belly. He stood in anger. He stumbled three times, once for every three shots of whiskey the girl behind the bar loaded into his coke; she knew what she was doing too.

Hosea anchored himself to the bar with an unsteady hand. His wrath contorted his face, although it might have been the booze mixed with the effort it took for him to stand that turned him pink. That, mixing with the emotional exertion it took to hold back all but those few drops of liquid I saw welling in the gullet of his eyes.

“Jesus-Christ, man!” He repeated this holy chant twelve times before realizing people surrounding the bar inching away from him. Internalizing the mantra, he began rocking. Esther and the man found a seat in the restaurant. I told the girl I needed another gin and tonic. I had a feeling I’d be driving home.

Years before they started the process of separating, Hosea was a preacher. He had stepped down from the pulpit to work on his marriage, he often told me. He was respected in town, and carried a Testament in his back pocket at all times. When he saw old church people he’d challenge them to “sword fights.” I gathered this was a race to find a random verse in the Bible fastest, but I never got comfortable with them calling their Bibles swords.

These daily challenges translated into quoting random verses at random times–often at the worst times. Hosea wrecked his car once and blamed the other person for not being on the path toward righteousness. When I met him, he told me I had to drop everything to walk with Jesus straight away. I told him I had already dropped everything and started walking. I told him I was waiting for Jesus to catch up. Apparently the idea was so awesome to him he gave me a hug and called me brother. On our way to the bar he stepped in dog shit and quoted a psalm. I have concluded that there is a verse for everything under the sun.

Hosea stopped rocking suddenly, lifted his head off of the bar, and looked at me. He quoted something out of Leviticus about not fucking your neighbor’s wife.

“I’m.. I’m gonna walk over there,” he pointed listlessly toward the restaurant.
“No, no you’re not buddy.” I patted his knee. “You’re going to sit right here and wait for the potato skins we ordered.”
“Damn. I– wanted to go over– give them a piece of my mind,” he forced the words out of his mouth.

Hosea was half-way through his third loaded potato skin when he staggered out of his seat. I was too focused on my gin and the hips I had fucked, unbeknownst to Hosea, that kept pouring drinks behind the bar. Hosea threw what was left of his skin at the broad-shouldered man sitting with his wife. Esther stood with the man. Hosea wept.

He started screaming about her being his wife and how she knew-what-the-fuck-she was doing. She screamed, “Jesus Christ Hosey! It’s fucking Friday at Fridays!”

“It’s T-G-I-Fridays! Don’t you take God out of it! Taking God out of our marriage!” he stumbled, crying now. The waitress set the two meals down.

Hosea was torn up over his divorce. The last big trip he took was to a city to hold a sign at one of those Marriage-Defense rallies, and here he was, still trying to defend his marriage. Trying his best not to lose the marriage.

The man with Hosea’s wife stood silently throughout the marital exchange. In towns like these, quiet mountain towns, no one is embarrassed at public spats like this one. Their flare was mild, and everyone knew what went on behind carefully numbered front doors. Or at least, they wanted to give the appearance of knowing, from behind their menus.

When they were both crying, Hosea went to step beyond the man to hold his wife. Esther stepped back. The man held Hosea away from her. Hosea punched the man under the ribs. He was much shorter than the man, but he had a wife and he thought it made him stronger. He strived against the man. He cursed the man. But Hosea forgot about Samson; he forgot about how wrong it can all end up.

The man threw Hosea over his broad shoulders and carried him out. Another man and his son held open the door. The man with Hosea’s wife and the broad shoulders just kept walking. He called him a cab. Hosea walked home in his indignation.

I took another sip of my gin, watery by now. I waited until the man came back before ordering another. It took time. After I had eaten the ice cubes, the man returned bleeding slightly over his eyebrow. Esther had finished eating when the man picked up his knife and started. They spoke quietly for the rest of the meal. I knew Hosea would tell me later that evening he tried reasoning with the man before hitting him. Hosea would teach me about righteous anger.

I ordered another drink from Rebecca behind the bar. With Hosea gone, I felt more comfortable engaging her. Casually talking about the next time we could fuck behind the bar when her manager was out of town. I told her I had an idea, something new to try.

* * *

It was a while before I heard from Hosea again. After heavy nights of drinking he spends a day on his knees praying for forgiveness in a worried way. Once in the afternoon I went see him, to check on him after a late night. He answered the door with tears in his eyes. He looked over my shoulder like someone was after his life. This time, however, it was a few days before he called.

When I went over, everything was dark. I assumed he hadn’t turned the lights on since Saturday when he got home. He let me in and offered me a glass of water. I accepted because my tap carries the sulfuric taste of a well, and his comes out of a fridge without having to open any doors.

“I want you to take me to see Esther,” He said. He cracked open a beer.
“Hose, it’s 11am on a Monday. She’s working.”
“Take me there.”
“I’ll take you over to see her after she gets out.”
“Jesus said, drop everything and come with me.”
“Well then Jesus must have had a car.”

Hosea hated the fact that he didn’t have a car, and I could tell he was already a little drunk. “Get the fuck outta my house saith the Lord. At the Great White Throne Judgement, Jesus will look at you and say he never knew you. He’ll ask me too, and I’ll say I never fucking knew you.”

* * *

Later that night I took Hosea to Esther’s apartment. She had a small apartment on the outskirts of the town. She was staying there until her divorce was over. It was simple– small sofa, writing table, drapes, a cross affixed to the wall next to the door with a message– God Go With You.

On the way over I asked Hosea why he wanted to see Esther. He spun his wedding band around his finger. After a moment, he told me he wanted to ask Esther to marry him again. I told him she might not go for it. He said it was all that he could think to do, and he at least had to try to get her back.

Esther welcomed us in. She loved Hosea deeply in the midst of all his shortcomings. She knew me and liked me by default. He wouldn’t hit her if I was around.

Hosea was crying by the time we were inside. She tried to ignore this and offered us something to drink. I asked for some water and she got a glass and filled it from the fridge until it spilled on the kitchenette floor. She was crying too. They both were. She handed me the wet glass and sat on the sofa next to Hosea. I leaned against the wall, next to the cross, and took a sip of the clean fridge water.

They wept silently, together for a while. Hard as a midwestern rainstorm, so loud one can’t hear the person standing next to them. When they embraced I looked out the sole window in the room. Outside, I saw the lot with one security light fastened to the top of a wooden stake.

“What’s this?” I heard Hosea. Suddenly composed.
“The man gave it to me.”
“Your lover?”
“Hosea–” I tried.
“No!” He ripped the necklace off of her throat. “And these!” He tried to rip the bracelets from her arms, dragging her to the floor.

“Stop! I love those!” Esther was hysterical, grasping for the gold in Hosea’s hands as he flung it across the room. She scrambled across the floor in search of her loss. Hosea was already out the door and heading down the steps.

“Are you out of your goddamned mind, Hose?” I called after him. I heard the gravel shift under his boots as he turned to run at me. His fist caught the side of my face, twisting my neck. I fell over, coughing. He headed up the road while I learned how to breathe in the parking lot.

On my back, the sky was nothing but impenetrable darkness. I was in some godforsaken country staring up at the night sky, and the only star I could see was a security light held up by bungee-cords and twine. I drove home and never spoke to Hosea again.

* * *

I saw the ambulances the following morning, heading out toward the edge of town, when I was on my way home from Rebecca’s. The obituaries read “loving husband” and “caring wife.” The caskets were closed, but I could be sure that Esther wasn’t wearing any jewelry. Hosea made sure of that. People at the wake said he tore off her hands, feet, and head so she’d never be able to wear another piece of jewelry again. Esther’s neighbors said he went crazy, stabbed his own palms and feet, and ran around asking for forgiveness, asking to be like Christ. The EMTs said it was the stab in the side that killed him.

The people who found the mess said the amount of blood was incredible. They said you could have painted the apartment with it there was so much. The preacher said he died holding that cross she had on the wall and her left hand with the diamond. He said that they, like Jesus, were willing to die for love.

At the funeral, the preacher read a verse out of the Book of Hosea. It seemed to be the only thing left.

Hosea was lowered into the earth a married man, next to his wife. Bound in the grace of God.

_ Kevin Kaminski 2012

Granite

Rand McNally and pushpins come to me in dreams. Kerouac sits in the corner of the room and whispers of the Road while I hallucinate off the side of the bed and burn my money in Alaska.

* * *

There are hidden parts of the Road. Varied and mysterious as the wooden playgrounds of my youth. Before the corporate child-proofing of America tore them all down, those wooden fortresses where we’d adventure while our mothers talked. Each time we went, a new cubby, a new nook that we’d get splinters working our way into. Maybe they tore that old wooden sanctuary down because they knew I’d get stuck trying to go back. The new blueprints, mere instructions to lead me out onto the interstates and super-highways of the Great Somewhere-Else. Out to find the nooks–those mountain nooks where we climbed our way into Utah and shouted victory. Where we found broken bottles and our joy. The nooks that beckoned us into their solitude and holiness.

Rand sat in the passenger seat, silent and pointing vaguely as he guided us through the mountains. He knew we had missed a vital turn miles ago, but He just smiled and hung His arm out the window. He hadn’t drawn the road we were on. Rand was letting us go until we found the nook He knew would change us. Until we found the mountain that overwhelmed us and dropped us to our knees in humble supplication.

Avoiding an avalanche, we made our way to Montana and the Northeast Entrance. The engine had turned our wheels enough for us to finally realize, like naïve kids on a tire swing, there was no going around the Continental Divide. Then Rand relented, pointed and showed us the view and private country roads he traced to tease. He nodded because He knew we held no concern for speed. He knew we wanted to see what he was drawing out there in his solitude, and he was happy to show us. He took us, giddy as a madman.

Rand’s priest led us out in solemn procession, that old Road, with his sporadic signs to keep us going. Through mystic preparation we were carried along to insure what the Road had eagerly hoped. It was apparent from the license plate and the dirt South Dakota left on our souls and shoes; we had been baptized in gasoline and oil. This was our confirmation that we could understand the Road’s humble prayers and clever puns when he switched back over on himself in endless asphalt mantra.

The Road leads toward the Sun and swims in all of its finite blackened boundaries. The most Holy Smile. Spanning cheek to cheek with dashed and full pure teeth. Big Sur to Cadillac Mountain. Smiling to keep the traffic Holy.

* * *

The Spirit rode shotgun and read incantations out of the paperback scripture a kid at Borders recommended on his last day. The scriptures a Teacher sought to give me on my last day. Given in holy silence and sacred weight: Rand McNally / The 2011 ROAD ATLAS: America’s #1 Road Atlas. The incantations began to roll in waves of spiritual frenzy. Pouring out from guttural diaphragm like libations. Rising around the rearview like incense. Tongues on fire. We cast ourselves into the Wild Plains and Nameless Earth. The words began, unnatural and unfamiliar:

Dead Indian Pass
Heart Mountain
Sleeping Giant
Eagle Peak
Absaroka- Beartooth Wilderness
Buffalo Bill Scenic Pass
Teton, Togwotee, Wiggins, Wapiti, Dunraven, Bighorn

And the boys back in Buffalo–
Just past Crazy Woman Creek-
Who spoke late at night
And let us sleep outside,
Whose first day it was on the job
After getting laid off in Sheridan
After fourteen years of honest work
And the snow they’d seen

And how the town got the name
From a hat.
From a man
who spent his life
At the spout of the Erie Canal.

Rand whispers from the dashboard:
“^ Granite Peak, 12,799ft, is the Highest Point in Montana…”

* * *

In the silence we waited to see what would happen. We waited to see if our spells were real. To see if the omnipresent Road would see us with open ears long enough to hear our prayers. I gripped the wheel chanting, call-and-response, with the Shotgun Spirit, “Route 212. Switchbacks. Just over the Montana Border. Just before Red Lodge. Open Late May Thru Mid October.”

The Holy Road heard us, and guided us. Rand relaxed in the backseat, laughing in recollection of the time he traced this road pace by meticulous pace, barefoot as a prophet. I pulled over to join Rand laughing. We fell down on a windy rest stop, pounding and kicking the human ground until our fists bled and we stained the Earth. Pouring blood into our prayers and chants. Exchanging genes and hemoglobin and passion. Crying out to be changed. Crying out for salvation in the red valley.

Here comes Christ on a bike. Asking where we’re from. Telling us he knows where we’ve been and proving it.

* * *

Snow in the grill. In the clouds. We took turns taking shits in holes drilled into the solid, regal mountain crest. Shitting on a pew. Sins deposited directly. Removed too far to hear consequence and purgatory on the mountain.

We jumped and whooped in that windy silence. Imagining the skeleton grip of gravity loosened and we might fly and float right off into the goddamn clouds. In the same way the impossible snow-topped mountains blurred where the jet-puffed mountains began.

The Road took us by the wrist like an expert child who knew every nail hammered into the deathtrap playground. Leading us to the hideouts. Showing us how to scale the edge of the wood where no one was ever intended to climb. And our mothers died watching us, reading Readers’ Digest in their uniform minivans. We rolled back and forth in the mist. State Road, SR294 through the cathedral ventricles of Heart Mountain. Pumping back and up and forth and down toward SR296. The wipers skipped across the glass, beat by the wind.

* * *

I woke up in Cooke. I woke up in snow. Writhing over how Rand figured out that Granite Peak is exactly 12,799ft tall and not 12,800. Who can fathom the trigonometry of a mountain? Was it measured on foot, Rand? Counted off heel-to-toe? Did you use a measuring stick? The red, yellow, and green kind I won at a family picnic some childhood year? Is that how you ended up with such an accurate and pristine number?

However, it wasn’t the number that kept me up entirely. It came down to the absolute-truth-of-religion that there are no roads leading up to Granite Peak. It exists. In the middle of a green-spotted space. In the middle of Custer National Forest. I sat down at the table with Rand and he showed me that I existed as well. On the line. In Cooke. Rand showed me the distance.

That night I shaved for the fist time in a month. Shaved my whole face until it was smooth and bleeding for the first time in maybe a year. My brother taught me how he refers to his face like map locations when he shaves. I trimmed nose hairs on the Continental Divide.

I sat down on the firm, nylon hotel comforter. The Cooke City Courier was on the nightstand, next to the courtesy phone. It told the stories of the eighty-eight folks who live there year-round in stark black and white.

Nine point font. Absent of paragraphs. The town scroll. Title, written in Scroll. Printed off the HP on the front desk where we stole the last room.

We were too early to be tourists, so we shot pool with the Mountain-Dweller who ran the Super 8 where we stayed. He taught us the tricks of the trade. In the morning he bounced his martyr son on his chest and taught a girl how to pour coffee when all you have are grounds.

At the bar that night I talked to a man named Phil. He was the only gay human in the town, originally from Billings. He told me he has a house there, and I imagined a lover. Billings is on 90, and was on our way when we were planning to adventure in Glacier National Park. Phil told us he came down that way from Billings a week before, and warned that 90 had been closed for the last three days with snow. Said we shouldn’t head North until August. But we hadn’t planned to stay in Montana another day.

The bartender took our order for burgers on a napkin. Some stranger in a Budweiser hat cooked them in a kitchen. We ate and died and laughed. We thought it was a joke that the world’s best burgers were hidden in some lonely town on top of a mountain. We drank the cheapest beer and Phil ordered Long Islands for himself. He asked where we came from, and I told him from some place out East. He asked us how we got there, and I showed him the Road.

Placing a careful napkin on his drink, Phil left our conversation to help a woman with a pregnant horse. The steed was freezing down at a stable with no hay. Phil had a few bales. He said he’d be back, and the woman said her horse would be a happy-happy girl. But we drained bottles watching extreme snowboarding and hunting videos that had been shot outside. People flying on mountains like strange beasts and the man-who-looks-like-your-friend’s-uncle grabbing a dead deer by the head and making it talk.

That dark mountain night ended with us wading through the snow in gym-shorts and hiking-boots. Screaming and cursing the wind and snow. Eternal infants in the infinite and multiplying eyes of the wind. And I never saw Phil again.

* * *

Back in the room, we stomped off our boots. I showered for eternity. Through the steam I hollered a joke about how we thought it would be weeks before another shower. The last ones we stole from a lonely old farmer in South Dakota. He cornered us in the stall and invited us to have dinner with him. We were on the road the second he disappeared. I joked about how my stolen shower trickled so pathetically it could’ve been the old man weeping over my naked body, like some cruel prank. The Spirit laughed and brushed his teeth with mountain water.

We tried getting a signal on anything with a battery that night to let our families know we were trapped in Montana, just atoms away from Granite and Old Faithful. I told my brother about the splinters we got getting into Cooke, my dad about the oil change, and my mom about the consistency of the snow and the inadequacy of our sweaters. That night my brother back East told me I should walk to the top of Granite Peak. He asked me where the Road ends.

* * *

I couldn’t sleep out of ascetic devotion, being so close to the mountain. I looked out at the silhouettes. Dark cutouts in the local universe. I strained my eyes to see the mountain skin in the brightness of the snow. I could see my face reflected in the window. Behind the screen, the fog from my breath congregated on the glass. I turned the radiator up slightly to warm my toes and leaned against the nylon screen to see how snowcapped the car had become. In my reflection, I caught a glimpse of Granite and his brothers curving over my cornea. The mountains reaching, in all of their light, into my brain. I wondered how long it would take to travel from my eyes to their summits. I wondered why, when I can see the mountains on my eye, it isn’t easier to get to them.

Unable to climb the mountain from my window, I turned away and cracked the spine of the Atlas. I sat with the light coming from the bathroom and read the notes Rand had jotted between the lines. I determined how close I could get to Granite with the help of the Road before I would have to abandon asphalt and engine and turn to skin and earth. Walking toward the Granite’s temple.

* * *

I went into the bathroom to kill the light. Settling into our mountain nook under generic covers I whispered to the Spirit, “We’re out here. Trapped in the wilderness and alive.”

The Spirit smiled and said, “I could be a Ghost in these mountains.” And Rand pointed North.

* * *

I didn’t know where the manager’s son had slept that night. I would have crept down next to the crib and read scripture over his body. Raising Atlas high over the small form. No angel to grab my wrist. A tribute to the Road. A martyr for his town.

One day, wading through snow, the Road would call to him, and he would follow.

  • He would take up his incantations.
    He would lead the Nation of Wanderers.
  • _ Kevin Kaminski 2012

    Night Bicycle Ride in Detroit

    I took a bike ride around downtown last night. That means I stuck close to the people mover— the concrete pall that hangs over our heads.

    On my way toward Comerica Park I watched two cars next to each other at a stop sign. I waited my turn, but they didn’t move. I realized then that the driver of one car was hanging out the window shouting, “You think you’re so tough, huh? You think you’re so tough, huh! You think you’re so tough, huh!?” There was no response from the other car.

    I rode past expecting to hear a pop-pop, but silence fell behind me and I made my way through a tunnel of johnny-on-the-spots and fried-food vendors that were being set-up for the Detroit Ho-Down. I pedaled and thought of all the shit that would transpire on those streets.

    I turned down Broadway and was hit with Jazz. The crazed saxophone player making sweet love to reed and brass. Bending the instrument. Shaking the notes out of it. Squeezing it like a grape, pouring rich wine on the curb. The drummer played with his head down. The guitarist scratched at his strings and smoothness abounded. The bassist sat on his amp and grooved deep and true. I watched, grinning, with two other couples holding leftovers.

    We all clapped, whistled and hollered, and the band went inside to drink their success. One man said it was a pause for the cause.

    I continued on and some high school kids learning to drive laughed at me on my bike as young people, new to cars, are known to do. We slowed to a red light and I looked into them. I rode on, the unwritten freedom of having full control of the machine, and they sat at the light. The only car in the motor city. They sat for the full two minutes.

    I rode up the front steps of the Renaissance Center to see where I heard a man had crashed his car. I didn’t believe it, but he really put it in the center of the main entrance. Not an easy task. There were men working to seal the hole.

    I turned up Woodward and stopped at a fountain and a green lawn. Campus Martius, the center of downtown— or it was before it was moved for industry. There was a party, and a man and a woman kissing. I was digging it all. The water and the lights and the people. It reminded me of Washington Square in New York. A bum asked me for change, and I almost ran him over later and felt terrible.

    I rode home in the freshness of Detroit. I felt enormous and powerful in the shade of the earth and buildings. I rode fast and earnestly; I was happy to be alive and in a city that is determined to rise from the ashes into something better. I rode past the blue toilettes and the toiling people, past their chain-linked fences. They paused confused by my presence.

    I stopped again, and the cars were gone. I assumed their differences were never resolved. I guessed the other driver never thought he was so tough.

     

    _ Kevin Kaminski 2012

    Conquered

    They climbed for a day,
    maybe less.
    The wind in their hair.
    The men laughing.
    One boy brought a flag
    from his hometown.
    They took pictures
    and waved
    at cameras.
    Smiling with giant teeth.

    The boy with the flag
    searched for a place to hang it;
    for a place to write his name.
    He could hear cheers
    from the other side
    from his friends.

    We did it.
    He could hear them.

    He turned back
    to shout
    and lost his footing.
    The flag
    flew.
    His skull
    scattered his name
    across the mountain.

    _ Kevin Kaminski 2012

    Applause for Parking

    When there’s a Tiger’s game, there is no parking in my neighborhood. Period. With the exception of miracles. Like today, when there was one, solitary space right in front of my door. I was admittedly excited. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to park seven blocks away and have to move my car when the game let out at 11.

    I started out a little rough. I might have cranked the wheel somewhat overzealously. Cutting in a little too deep, and all with some guy across the street staring at me. I was embarrassed, so I had to keep going. I waited for that nudge to let me know I fucked it all and hit the curb with my back tire. I leaned forward hoping not to scrape my bumper on the car ahead. But nothing came. No bumps or scrapes. I pulled forward slightly to even out the space, and looked around to make sure everything was in its right place.

    That was when I noticed him. The man staring was now closer, and his jaw was hanging. Thumbs up, jumping, applauding occasionally. This is how all good parallel parking jobs should end. He couldn’t believe his eyes. I turned off the car and started getting my things together, and this guy was still laughing on the curb.

    In my sheepish bravado I cracked the door and said, “That’s how it’s done.”

    “Oh my god man!! I was watchin you and I thought you wadn’t gonna make it! But you kept goin’ and man! Like you’s on a thread man! You just popped it in there!” He stepped off the curb, and at this point I realized that this wasn’t a Tigers fan who was leaving early. This was one of my homeless neighbors.

    “How long you been drivin’ man!?”

    “Umm… A long time.”

    “Oh man, I wish I had a camera! That should have been on T.V.!”

    “Hah, yeah. Well. Maybe not that impressive. I didn’t think I’d make it.”

    “Hey man, listen…” the invariable words came. “Do you have anything you could spare? Change? Even if you have Canadian change.”

    I don’t think I look Canadian, or at least I hope I don’t. But I figured I’d grab a handful of my meter change, maybe an hours worth, and help him with whatever.

    “Thanks man. I’m just hungry. Is there anything else you could spare?” He stepped a little closer to my car, and perhaps my body language changed to become more guarded. He assured me, “I’m not trying to get too close man, I’m not like that. I’m just hungry.” He assured me.

    There’s always the follow up, and I always wonder how much courage or destitution it takes to start asking strangers for money, and then how much more desperation it must take, after they have given you money, to ask, immediately, for more. Is a tolerance built up over time where it simply becomes second nature? Does this man meet so much rejection a day that it doesn’t matter to him to ask again? Perhaps he finds that the follow up is even more successful, that it preys and weighs a little more heavily on a conscience that knows there is more-where-that-came-from.

    “That’s all I have for change man, I don’t carry much of it.” A lie, followed by a truth.

    “That’s okay man,” he sulked as I grabbed my bag and prepared to leave him and disappear into my many walls, leaving him with his none.

    “Is that food!” His face aglow.

    “Oh, um. Yeah. (I actually forgot I had brought that home). Here.” It was embarrassing and sad that I had forgotten I had a meal sitting on my passenger seat while this man had no idea where his next one was coming from, which was ironically coming from my passenger seat.

    “Thank you!”

    “Have a good one. Be safe.”

    We both left the street. Ascending the steps to my door I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d know how to use the chopsticks that were lying across the food in the container, or if he’d just use his hands.

     

    _ Kevin Kaminski 2012

    Collin

    We pedaled through Eastern Market and felt a few precarious raindrops heading home. On the way, the remnants of the Brewster Projects rose before us. We looked up and questioned the sky, and decided we could explore briefly before the rain clouds split open.

    We took pictures of the razor wire that had been balled up in a heap. And I took vertical shots of the places that once held windows. A plain building. Fourteen stories to tell a thousand stories. Blind MOLOCH with a thousand gaping sockets. We rode around dodging glass and rubble. I hid my camera, and we talked to some Canadians who came over from their ruin city to have a peek at ours.

    They followed us for a bit and photographed us taking pictures. We biked on the main road to save our tires. And when we saw the vacant low-rise I turned into the parking lot and locked my bike. The Canadians thought we were crazy and left. I told them we were American.

    We stood outside for a while and I said I just wanted to get to the roof. We took a dozen looks over our shoulders and went inside. Bold this time and careless. Experts at what we were doing. We opened doors that had been shut for decades. Tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate in our minds what these apartments looked like in the 1950’s just after they were erected.

    A mother’s red towel hanging from the sink where she was last seen drying dishes. A record player, singing out that Motown Sound; entertainment in the parlor. We climbed up to the second floor and saw where some had kicked off their shoes. Saw a vacuum that sat embarrassed against the wall, looking across the floor at a task too great.

    I had had enough and made my way up the stairs quickly. Looking for the service ladder that would baptize me onto the roof—where I’d come up choking and smiling—a new man on a building.

    But the service ladder was a dream, and I only found a bed of blankets strewn at the end of the stairs. I looked around for a minute until my cousin was coming up the stairs on tip toes. “There’s someone sleeping in a room on the first floor. We should go.” I looked one last time through the hole in the roof that I’d never make it through and sped down the stairs as fast as I could. There was an overwhelming sense that we had overstayed our welcome.

    Once my feet hit the first floor I heard footsteps coming from another room. I heard a door opening. I lurched out the front door and nearly collided with a man and nearly died. He was white and thin. Wearing a denim jacket and baseball cap. I realized the sounds I heard inside was him coming up the steps and collapsing the wheelchair he held in his hands. I apologized and continued toward my bike, and my cousin came out after me. We apologized for being in the building.

    “You boys gotta be careful going in places like these. People live in here ya know, and they got pistols. ‘One mighta thought you’re rollers and laid ya out.”

    “So, so sorry.”

    “Yeah, no, you just gotta let us know if you’re gonna be pokin around so we know you’re in there.”

    A pause.

    “Would you really be okay with us looking around even if you knew we were here.”

    “Well… Yeah, I mean. It’d be good if you brought some food along with you. You know so that way we’re both gettin’ somethin’.”

    “Absolutely. Well… Now that you know we’re here. Could you show us how to get on the roof?”

    “The roof?”

    “Yeah.”

    He looked around. “Okay, this way.”

    We followed him back inside and he ditched his wheelchair in the first room on the right. Took us to the stairwell, “Moe lives down there, he’s sleeping.” he gestured down the hall. “I’m Collin by the way.” And I shook his hand. We ran up the stairs after him until we got back to the top. I thought he was looking around for a service ladder until he grabbed a chair from a room and placed it under the hole in the roof. He tested it and saw it wasn’t enough. We stood and watched. He went into another room and tore a door off of a closet. He wedged the door with the chair and the wall. It made a ramp to the roof that couldn’t have been more adequate.

    We all stood back and admired his quick handiwork. “You boys just be careful going up and down now. And if you can ever just bring by a bag of chips or anything it’d be good.” My cousin had a bag of chips in his book bag, so we made the exchange and shook hands again. Collin made his way back down the stairs and we ascended to the roof, full and alive.

    We ran across the tar roof, careful for soft spots. We saw our apartment and the skyline. We saw plants growing in the holes. We saw farther than we thought, and pictures became pointless. We traced the roof with our feet one more time and descended back through the hole like Marios.

    I looked for Collin on our way out, but he must have been somewhere eating chips with Moe.

     

    _ Kevin Kaminski 2012

    Vacant Building

    At the end of the River Walk there’s a bike path that shoots out of nowhere. It’s called the Dequinder Cut because that’s what it does. Cutting across neighborhoods and burnt out factory villages. Given up, willingly, to street artists. The civic canvas rides from the river to Eastern Market. A strange park. A community garden beneath express lanes. Cars speeding above, ignorant of the secret garden. A flash of green in the driver’s eye resulting in the mysterious feeling of nostalgia and deja vu until the red light signals reality.

    At the mouth of the Cut is a worn factory. The glass in the windows, cracked almost too perfectly, like a Hollywood prop. The concrete hanging from the ceiling a little too eager to fall. The steel beams fallen a little too hauntingly.

    I had brought my camera for a building like this. Off my bike, I ran around her like a paparazzi; the building my model, my muse. And then the building groaned and we thought we could leave.

    Empty knocking echoing from behind the windows and two white kids poking their heads up over the hole in the loading dock. We stood there on our bikes watching the boys climb out of the dust and nails until they stopped. Like weird animals frozen by seeing us watching them. I asked them about their cameras and they gave me advice I couldn’t heed out of inexperience.

    They told us to go in after them. Said that it was easy. I swallowed and looked at the building embarrassed and nervous as a virgin. Breaking in for the first time. Shifting from photographer to laparoscopic surgeon, careful not to damage anything inside.

    We exchanged places with the boys and prepared to climb through the keyhole. They asked us where we came from on our bikes and we told them. They told us how far they drove and then asked about our neighborhood thinking it was a town they’d never heard of. When they learned the truth that we were from here, that the factory was our beloved neighbor, they backed away unsure. Asked for confirmation again, and embarrassed they retreated down the Cut to wherever they hid their car from the stories of our city.

    When they had vanished so did we. Inside and invisible. Stepping into a ghost. Climbing out of God’s view in the building that sighed through every wall. In the lobby of the loading area, the ghosts played the only notes that still worked on the lopsided upright piano. The wooden keys, rotted and falling out like Washington’s teeth. The notes stuck and rang horrible and forever in the emptiness.

    We explored carefully, finding money. Overwhelmed by piss and graffiti. We went until we could feel the darkness and we could sense the boogeymen of our childhoods waiting in the next silent room. Darkness that the camera flash only confirmed was solid and impenetrable.

    I laid on the floor in the dust, next to the jacket and blanket left by some ghost. The goddess drawn on the wall of the cave; the headboard. Arms extended, catching dreams. The painted Saint watching some stranger sleep here—who would be here after we were done intruding.

    We gasped for air together and nodded, acknowledging that we had all we could take. FATE written on a steel beam, still standing. FATE that would someday collapse.

    _ Kevin Kaminski 2012