Archive for newville

It’s Going to Be OK

Posted in Memoir, real life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by sethdellinger

I sat, waiting, in the Big Room.

Around me were gathered about forty others, in the hardbacked plastic seats, under the blare of florescents.  Most were having side or group conversations, hushed, but I sat quietly to myself, waiting.  The Big Room was, naturally, the largest room in the rehab facility.  It was the only room that everyone gathered in at once.  We started our days there with roll call and would cycle back in a few more times each day for various large meetings and activities, and ended most nights there with, typically, something profound or at least an attempt at profundity.  This is such a night.

The hushed conversations come to a halt as the head counselor, Bob, enters the room.  He takes his time situating some papers on a small desk near the front of the room.  We all give him our full attention.  Bob is that rarest kind of person: a truly warm-hearted, immensely kind person who nonetheless is not to be trifled with.  Finally he clears his throat and begins.  “Tonight, folks, we are going to put you in touch with your younger self.”

Bob went on to explain that in a few minutes, another of the counselors was going to join us; I forget this counselor’s name, but she was one of the counselors who mainly stayed in her office and had individual therapy sessions, so her joining us at night in the Big Room was unusual.  Bob explained that she was going to walk us through an experience that was like hypnosis, but was not hypnosis, and this was going to be a special night for us.  Then the other counselor came in, and Bob turned the lights almost all the way off.

“Hello,” she said.  “I want you all to get as comfortable as you can.  If you want to stretch out and lay on the floor, please do, or stay seated if you prefer.”  I stayed in my seat.  “I want you to imagine a house you lived in when you were younger.  It doesn’t matter how much younger, just that it be a time before you started using drugs or alcohol.  Picture the outside of the house.  Now I want you to breathe as steadily, as deeply, as slowly as you can.  Picture the outside of the house and all its details until I speak again.”  Here there was a long pause.  “Now keep breathing just as you are. Slowly but steadily.  Please envision yourself gliding in toward the front door of this house.  Imagine you are a–”


I am in the kitchen.  It’s the kitchen of my childhood home, the one on Big Spring Avenue.  I smell the old smell, and the quality of the air.  I blink my eyes to make sure I am seeing this correctly.  I am seated with my back to the den, the open doorway that opens onto the den, and I am looking into the kitchen.  The trusty, dense and solid dining room table sits in the center of the room, just a few feet in front of me.  To my right is the open door into the playroom (later, the office) and to my left, the trash can and the corner of the kitchen.  In front of me and beyond the dining room table, there is the old boxy Frigidaire, the squat electric range, the closed door to the “back room”, and the cabinets, sink, the intense orange formica countertops, the paint on the cabinets so thick from multiple coats that I can see the bubbles from way over here.  But most of all, the wallpaper, the paisley-esque floral pattern that never seemed to repeat itself, the busiest walls in town,  all the swirling greens, yellows and oranges you could ever ask for.  I sit staring, agog, at a room from the dustbin of my mind, all the details intact, the sensory flash a blinding experience, like surfacing from beneath water which you did not know you were beneath. It seems that full minutes pass as I sit there–seemingly immobile–in silence except for the ticking hands on the Seth Thomas that’s above the trash can.  Then suddenly, I see him enter from the playroom.  He is quite young, perhaps eight years old.  He is a tiny little guy, and his bright blonde hair is almost blinding.  I do not take notice to what he is wearing, I am so focused on his face as he strides toward me: quite serious, bordering on dour, his skin so new and flawless, like aloe straight from the plant.  He walks toward the kitchen table with a purpose, without looking at me, then as he is directly in front of me, he turns to look at me.  The gravity of this moment is not lost on me.  He looks me in the eyes, the seriousness of him slowly morphing into steadfastness, then further into assurance, and finally, the corners of his lips turn up, and he is smiling.  Not grinning, and not smiling as though at a joke, but as if he was happy in some secure knowledge.  Then he opens his mouth to speak and his tiny voice comes forth. “It’s going to be OK,” he says.  I am unable to move or talk, but I know this statement makes me cry.  He smiles even bigger now and takes one step toward me.  “It’s going to be OK”, he repeats.  Now he steps even closer, and somehow climbs up onto my lap, even though I can’t actually see my lap.  He turns his head toward me and I can see he is now smiling the smile of the joyous, the thrilled, the exalted.  His little smile seems to go all the way up to the highest tuft of sun-touched blonde hair on his eight-year-old head.   He leans in close to me and through that gaping smile he whispers, “It’s going to be OK.”

Nowadays I share a lovely apartment with my partner, the best person I have ever known.  I have everything I could ever want, both material and ethereal.  I move through every day like it was a dream, even when they are hard days.  We listen to some good music, or read some good books, or lay and talk.  And some days, while she is in another room or out on an errand, I may be sitting on the couch when a boy runs down the hallway and jumps into my lap.  This boy is really here, in the here-and-now, and he’s glorious.  His blonde hair isn’t quite as shocking, but it is bright and fine and bounces on his head when he runs, and his skin is like aloe, straight from the leaf, and his eyes are that kind of blue that are only blue in pictures; when you look right at them it’s like you see right through them.  Many days he jumps on my lap on the couch and shows me some spot he has injured in his play; a brush burn on a knee, a scrape on a wrist.  The tears in his eyes are real, teetering there in the corners, wobbly, almost-falling down the cheeks.  “Dis gonna go down to the bone?” he will ask, or “Me am gonna die?”  I kiss his boo-boos as well as I can and gather him up into my arms as tight as he’ll allow, and I whisper to him, “No, honey, it’s going to be OK.”


Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by sethdellinger

In all these tiny useless shops, with all this
torn and tattered furniture and too-small coats and
half-working vacuum cleaners, I have never come across
a velvety orangeish curtain like the one we hung
in the living room on Big Spring Avenue; it was
wide and garish like a Lady Pope’s vestments
and it kept the heat from pouring down between the
hardwood floor slats into the musty dirt basement;
likewise, in none of these big city shops have I ever
danced around with a cocker spaniel like I did
with ours–Cocoa–one bright Saturday morning
when I was all alone with her.  I did the funny dance I
only ever did with Cocoa, one hand in my armpit,
jumping on one foot, the sound of my skin half-drum,
half-fart, the world at last and for a moment a perfect
sun-filled room, a dappled meadow, Cocoa just
staring with all-black eyes, shimmying just to
get out of my way, me whirling and singing a song
I can’t recall, then laughing and laughing in the
sun beaming through the windows, falling down
with her, as if we were dying, as if we could
never stop–in 1984, in Newville Pennsylvania–
beautiful strange small-town Newville,
home of Laughlin Mill and the Bulldogs–
a hundred miles and thirty years away from
this dingy city thrift store I stand in, remembering
the orangey curtain and the drafty floors and the
sweet temperamental dog so confused with her
round voids of eyes, she’s gone now, so gone even
her dust is gone, oh giant universe, oh wild universe!

Big Spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2015 by sethdellinger

The Big Spring Creek (as it is technically named) rises from inside the Earth somewhere about two miles from my dad’s house, which is the house that I mainly grew up in, along with my sister and mother, until we all moved away except my dad.  He’s still there, tending the hyacinths.

The Big Spring (us locals never say the ‘Creek’ part) bubbles up out of nowhere under a hillside, about twenty feet from a bend in a very pretty road.  From there it meanders about six miles—never really more than a few feet deep—until it empties into a larger creek, the Conodoguinet Creek (us locals do say that creek, although more often than not, it’s just The Conodoguinet.  We’ve all heard the story that it was named when a cowboy asked a Native American, “Can I go in it?”, which is, of course, about the stupidest story ever told).  The Big Spring hops up out of the ground (it is what is called a Karst Spring, meaning the soft limestone ground has allowed water from surrounding runoff to create underground tunnels, from which it then shoots forth), makes a very scenic area even more scenic for a few miles, and then becomes something else entirely.  Its life, from an individual molecule’s point of view, is pretty brief.

Growing up, we moved from an old house into a new house when I was about eleven years old, but both houses were very close to the Big Spring.  It’s a small creek, but nonetheless, growing up near water has its perks.  I never learned (or wanted) to fish, but I spent lots of time on the Route 233 bridge—that one right there by John Graham Medical Center—peering down into the pristine flow, tracking the movement of the brook trout as they navigated their daily lives.  I also liked how swarms of anonymous insects gathered near the surface, buzzing about in a loose ball.  I imagined they drank the water, and maybe liked the sunshine.  I think maybe I wanted to be one of those anonymous insects.

My father now lives closer to the Big Spring than any of us from my family, but he didn’t grow up near it.  He grew up in a different small town about 25 miles away.  Nowadays, that doesn’t seem far, and I grant you it wasn’t a massive distance then, either, but it was farther.  The interstates weren’t as perfectly engineered as they are today, and cars weren’t so finely manufactured.  You drove 45 miles-per-hour on the network of roads that had sprung up organically over time, as people figured out where they wanted to go.  And each town still had their own Main Street, their economic centered downtown, so there was much less reason to go from Mechanicsburg (where Dad grew up) to Newville (where I grew up).  I’m sure the chances of Dad even hearing of the Big Spring Creek in those days was pretty slim; Mechanicsburg had plenty of its own attractions.  He once told me a sad tale about his days in Little League baseball all those 25 miles away.  In those days, they made you try out for the teams.  He wasn’t good enough to play with the kids his own age and they relegated him

Dad, very young, in Mechanicsburg

Dad, very young, probably even before moving to Mechanicsburg

to “pony ball”, where he played with boys much younger than himself.  Regardless, one year, his pony league team was a very good team.  Their star player was a young pitcher by the name of Bill Shortridge who was just pitching lights-out ball.  Near the end of the season, one of the teams of older boys came and took Bill Shortridge off Dad’s team and promoted him to the older league.  Even so, Dad’s team finished undefeated, even without the star pitcher.  Later, at an awards ceremony, they were handing out a trophy for Most Valuable Player, and it was still given to Bill Shortridge!  He must have been very good.  But an adult pulled Dad aside and said to him, You know, if it wasn’t for Bill Shortridge, we were going to give that award to you.  Dad told me not long ago, “I wish they just hadn’t said anything to me at all.”

I had a very similar (although admittedly less heartbreaking) experience with little league baseball in Newville.  My dad and I are both short men, which means we were also “little” boys.  In most athletics, being a small boy is a one-way ticket to obscurity.  In addition, I was not very good at baseball.  Before I ever swung a bat it was decided I would play one age group below where I should be.  So when I arrived at the ballfield each Saturday, I would see my friends and classmates over at the bigger field, playing a version of the game that looked to me like it was on steroids.  Then I would go play a game of baseball with kids two or three years younger than me, and they were still better than I was.  I was (and always will be) afraid of the baseball.  They’re just so hard.  I’d usually get stuck in right field, and even then I’d often botch a play; when a fly ball was hit to me I would make sure I took the least-effective route to it so that it would land before I had to try and catch it.  Once, I didn’t get a single at-bat in a game and my parents stayed after to complain to the coach and he bawled them out for standing up for me.  Later on, on the car ride home, they just laughed about it because the guy had been such a maniac.  They’re good parents.  But I’m also not any good at baseball.


In my teen years, my family had moved out of the small town of Newville to a house in a more rural area.  Walking down to the Spring was no longer quite as easy; it was now a little over a mile away.  It was still easily reachable by bike and of course by car.  There was a large

Me in the gravel parking lot, age 35.

Me in the gravel parking lot, age 35.

gravel parking lot along the Spring out here in the country.  That parking lot was the site of many “firsts” in my life—most of them illicit in some way.  This creek which had been a source of innocent musings to me as a child now bore witness to very much of my growing up.  I still visit that parking lot almost every time I visit Dad, but there’s nothing really there for me anymore.  Some places don’t ever own any real magic.


My mother grew up in yet another small town—not Newville and not Mechanicsburg, but Oakville.  Now this is a tiny town, but not too far from Newville and the Big Spring.  She was probably aware of it was a child.  She grew up on a real life, honest-to-goodness farm.  She often had to gather eggs as a child.  Her sister (my aunt) tells a story of moving freshly born piglets out from under their mothers so they wouldn’t be crushed.  They had many outbuildings, as farms tend to have, including a pump house, where you would heave and ho on a big metal pump and call water up from deep underground.

As her parents got older they sold the farm and moved into a house in Newville, on Big Spring Avenue.  My parents, after meeting in college and getting married, would later buy a house just two doors down from Mom’s parent’s house.  I would spend my first days as a human being (notwithstanding a few days in Carlisle Hospital) in the big

Mom on the farm in Oakville as a young teenager

Mom on the farm in Oakville as a young teenager

yellow house at 66 Big Spring Avenue.  Both of my parents, despite being from “the next town over” came to adopt Newville as their homeland.  Mom would eventually be on the committee of the Newville Area Community Center, and Dad would be the announcer and finally the coach of the town’s ill-fated Twilight League baseball team, the Cardinals.

In those halcyon days, Newville had an annual carnival-type event down at the town playground (this was different from the current annual Fountain Festival).  As a child, the carnival seemed like the biggest event in the world.  It felt like the whole town was there.  There were dunk tanks and food stands and those things where you throw darts at balloons and face painting.  The whole shebang.  I also was made to feel special at these events, because my mom was something there, and the importance of this is not to be diminished: she was the long-standing champion of the Dual Sack Race.  This is a race where you and a partner each put just one leg in a large burlap sack, and then through teamwork you race other teams in a kind of start-and-stop hopping motion.  Mom’s partner each year was family friend Wayne Witmer, and boy-howdy, they were good.  They just simply won every year, but nobody knows for quite how many years.  One year they even made the local paper, the Valley Times-Star, with a picture and everything.  Mom recently said to me, “I can still see that picture in my mind, exactly.  I was so cute and little and lithe!”  Lithe.  There’s something time seems to take from all of us, no?  Know what Mom and Wayne won every year for their heroic efforts?  An ice cream cone.  Despite the meager winnings, when the event organizers stopped offering the event, it made Mom feel sick.  She looked forward to it so much.

When I was pretty young, but I don’t know how young, I was out at the Spring with a couple of my other pretty young friends. I’m not even sure which house we lived in at this time. I know that we were out in the country, although we might’ve lived in town. But my friends and I were out in the country, and we were taking big rocks, as big as we could actually carry, and moving them across the Spring, trying to make a dam. I don’t know why we were doing it, it’s just the sort of thing that you do when you’re a kid growing up near a body of water.  You want to manipulate it, plus, you’re also bored. We got about halfway across the spring, it was actually a pretty good dam we were building – and we can actually see the waterflow changing a little bit, when down out of one of the grand houses that stands up in the lush vegetation beside the pretty road (which is, for the record, called Spring Road) strode toward us our elementary school principal. I didn’t know it at the time, but Art MacArthur, the principal of Newville Elementary School, lived in that grand house, and he had been watching us.  But the thing was, he didn’t come to yell at us.  We were scared when we saw him, but he was very nice.  Most of us, he knew our names just by looking at us.  He talked to us for a few minutes, complimented how well we had made our dam.  Right before he left he told us that if a police officer or Game Commission official happened by, we could get in a lot of trouble, so we should put the stones back where they had been.  So that is what we did.

My sister Adrienne has always been about three years older than me, and presumably, she always will be. I say that she’s about three years older than me, because sometimes it’s only two years. It depends on what month it is. So of course, we had slightly different experiences

Adrienne in the backyard of the Newville house with grandma Dellinger

Adrienne in the backyard of the Newville house with grandma Dellinger

growing up. But we did spend an awful lot of time together by the spring. When we were very young, and still living in town, we would often walk down to the spring, where there is a large and a very old stone arch through which a bend in the stream  meanders. We could walk up a very steep embankment and get above the stone arch (which wasn’t a bridge so much as a tunnel through the embankment), and simply be there, being in our own little world. It really is a very secluded area, the town itself is almost devoid of activity during the day, even now when I visit. Back then, stifling hot summer days would send everybody who was actually home during the day inside, and we could be out and about. There was silence, and insects, and cars in the distance. We would be above this stone arch, which was probably over a hundred years old even then, and we would look for big thick branches that we could lay down on. We would pretend it was our own sort of hideout or fort. Our age difference was enough that we weren’t often playmates, we didn’t share fantasies or other worlds, but this little secret place, we could share. Later, without me, she would bring her first boyfriend Mike down to the same spot, find little coves in the trees, and make out with him. She was growing up, which I suppose is something everyone has to do. It was, I suppose, her version of the gravel parking lot that I would later find as a teenager, once we moved out to the country. Either way, that spring was just trickling past us, whether we noticed it or not.

Everything just keeps trickles right past.



I’m Not Me

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2014 by sethdellinger

My father was born into orchard country. Nestled deep in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the South Mountain.  His youngest years were spent in rolling hills crowded by apple trees, which Mexican immigrants picked nearly year-round.  There were Mexican restaurants around unassuming bends in the country roads; I never saw them but I can imagine they might have looked out of place, if one stopped to think about them.  Dad told me a story once about a fancy-looking house that sat at the bottom of a gulley and was surrounded by Red Delicious trees.  I saw the house myself—it’s still there.  It looks like a small but stately plantation.  When Dad was a boy, the house had an in-ground swimming pool, which was quite a luxury in those days, and they’d let him and his friends swim there occasionally.  One Halloween, he was trick-or-treating and the family gave all the boys little pop guns—plastic guns that shot a cork out of a barrel.  He thought they must be rich.  He never forgot it.  He remembers it like it was yesterday.  My mother was born a mere 25 miles away, in a vanishingly small town surrounded by cow pastures, clumps of trees, and lean-to outbuildings.  Farm country.  In fact, she was born on a farm—a working farm, and she grew up doing the kinds of things you might imagine: collecting eggs from innocent chickens, watching her father and brothers shear sheep, waking up at the crack of dawn. Her dream as a little girl was to somehow, someway, move to the nearby small town and help her uncle run a pharmacy he owned there.  She pictured herself sweeping the floor, stocking the shelves, maybe keeping the books.  To her, this was a version of glamour.  Her family would take in kids from “the city” who needed places to stay; Fresh Air Kids, they called them.  Sometimes my mom’s country family swelled to great numbers; a surprising-looking bunch, I’m sure.  My genes—whatever they are—are a swirl of them.  I’ve got orchards in my blood, and my skeleton is a farm.

As a young child, I didn’t know much about my parents or where I’d come from. It wasn’t an issue I pondered.  I knew that I certainly felt like me.  I knew I liked to mostly not talk about what I felt inside.  I knew I liked drawing things, and that I sure did love the outdoors.  I liked playing with small boats in the bathtub, and Matchbox cars in the sandbox, and I hated going to sleep, and the dark scared me.  There were two neighbors who lived two doors down from us—at the time it felt far away, but it is literally just thirty yards, I just looked at it not six months ago—who must have been 50 years old at the time.  I considered them my best friends, although to them I must have seemed like a just occasional little person who happened by.  I liked talking to them and imagining what their grown-up lives were like inside that big red brick house—what the kitchen looked like, what they ate for dinner.  I miss them.  They’re dead now.

I was a fairly typical teenager. I was mostly about having fun; everything was a joke.  I could be cruel.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes and experimented with just about anything that could be experimented with.  I talked a lot.  I thought I was important and smart.  I hid secret desires and interests: poetry, philosophy, sexual confusion, the occult.  I got angry, I got sad, I read classic science fiction novels late at night in my bedroom with the door locked.  Women started to like me and it took me a long time to figure out what to do about it; when I did figure it out I tried very hard to be a “good guy” but still…I often failed.  I liked comic books, American Gladiators, and MTV.  Late in my teens I discovered Tumbling Run, a long hiking trail in the nearby Appalachians that follows a truly adorable stream, which is a trickle at the trail head and as you climb higher becomes a rushing set of falls and deep, clear pools.  I would hike it by myself, find perches away from the trail, pull out a notebook and write poems tailored after E.E. Cummings.  They were full of angst and love and fear.  I thought Tumbling Run would be like my Walden Pond, but mostly, I just forgot about it.

As a young man I encountered my problems: alcoholism and depression. But those weren’t the only defining elements of my life.  As I moved into adulthood I moved away from American Gladiators and even further from the tiny boats in the bathtub.  There were surface changes, like a deeper attraction to poetry and literature and “serious films”, but I changed for real, too.  I got angry.  Angry at everything.  I became of a mind that to judge everyone as harshly and vocally as possible was actually a good trait to have.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes, often two packs a day.  I was still funny, but now with more sarcasm and less joy.  I liked staying awake until the sunrise, never cleaning my car, and throbbing rock and roll.  I hated being alive.

After young adulthood up until this moment (what we shall refer to as life) I’ve just kept on changing.  There are always the obvious, cosmetic alterations: a sudden liking for big band music and Cary Grant films, corduroy jackets and Florsheim loafers, art museum memberships and mini-figurines of Felix Mendelssohn.  But also sea changes, but so fast; one moment I don’t want to talk to people at all, the next I enjoy the communion of strangers.  Seemingly one moment, an actual pastime of mine is driving my car through the country at night, the windows down, blasting music from my CD player, smoking cigarettes.  Last night I walked home through the city, listening to my music in my headphones, stopping to read the menu in a vegan restaurant. One moment I want to be single forever, the next I’m in love more than I ever have been.  A month or so ago, I made a short visit to the area I grew up in (somewhere between orchards and farms) and had breakfast with two of my oldest, dearest friends.  They looked the same as they always had, as I’m sure I did, and the little dirt-hole diner we ate in was the same as always, and the streets and parking lots were the same as they always were, when I was spending all my days there.  But having been largely gone from the area for four years, it all felt so different, so foreign.  Was that actually me that had lived here, had called these places home, these friends familiar?  Or was it a dream had by a being who calls himself me?  After breakfast one of the friends was driving me to my dad’s house, and as I climbed in his car,  I was thinking he has a car! (I no longer have a car).  I was nearly aghast (but without judgment) when I settled into the passenger seat and realized this was the car of a very serious cigarette smoker; ashes, crumpled empty packs everywhere, the stale pall of smoke infusing the upholstery.  And it looked like many cars I had in my day: old drink cups on the floor, change everywhere, ATM receipts and food wrappers.  I wasn’t grossed out; I felt oddly at home.  It had just been so long since that had been me.  It was like time travel.

If I’m able to look directly at the thought long enough, it becomes very clear that the notion of me doesn’t exist.  I’m a collection of moments, an intricate study in cause-and-effect.  I am the orchard, and the farm, and the boats in the bathtub, and the throbbing rock and roll, and walking home through the city last night.  I am time itself.  I’m not me.

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by sethdellinger

I’m too much about me, like to think about me, write about me, do my own thing, yada yada, et cetera et cetera, and on and on. Life is hard enough to figure out as it is, hard enough inside our own heads to figure out what is right, what it means to be a good and nice person who isn’t offensive without reason and who is kind and helpful without losing one’s authentic self, am I right?  Oh geez it’s complicated to even state the problem without creating a run-on sentence.  I mean it’s like, here we are, in our own heads, all alone, wondering what everyone else makes of us, worrying about all kinds of stuff we never say out loud like money and death (especially death) and how our breath smells and if we should cross the street yet or if we have some disease or are going bald or menopause is setting in and while we’re trying to silently figure all this out in our own heads all by ourselves we’ve got to interact with all these other damned people and you never really know (do you?) if you’re being nice or being a prick or hurting people unnecessarily or using guilt just to get your own way or maybe overreacting to other people’s harmless bullshit—and how can you figure all this stuff out?  How can you be nice and helpful without actually being someone else for a bit and observing how you are?  And then maybe it’s just your blood sugar, and you’re having a down day, and you need a nap, but who knows?  Maybe it’s more than that, maybe negativity has infested you, or you are finally and actually and once and for all egotistical—I mean, it happens to some people, right?  Why not you, why not me?  I think maybe it already happened to me, I think maybe I’m lost inside myself.  Once, when I was in rehab for not being able to stop drinking (the second time) the keepers ushered us outside to play kickball.  A bunch of grown or half-grown people who days or weeks before had been sleeping in our own vomit or living drowsy lives in crack houses were now being ushered outside to play kickball.  It was an unusually hot spring morning and I was a very unhappy man—I wasn’t quite done withdrawing yet and I hated everyone—and regardless of my mood, I was in no physical shape to play kickball.  I was quite overweight and hadn’t been eating anything close to a proper diet for years, in addition to smoking two packs a day and drinking a gallon of gin every two days.  My cardiovascular system was fucked, my vision still wasn’t right from all the drink and withdrawal and lack of proper vitamin absorption—that’s a real side effect of alcoholism, look it up— frankly I was having trouble sitting in a chair straight, and here I was being suddenly expected to play kickball.  Oh and one other thing: the woman I was in love with was in this rehab with me, at the same exact time.  I was head-over-heels for her (whatever passed for my head in those days) and despite my intense and fragile emotional and physical condition, I remained unable to extricate myself from those feelings—and from the macho bullshit that I thought was required of me in front of her.  She’d seen me crying almost endlessly for days since we arrived at the rehab (for reasons even I myself didn’t understand) but out here, on this sun-drenched kickball field, I was afraid I might not impress her with my physical prowess while playing a child’s playground game.  Needless to say, I did not excel that day.  Running to first base made me so winded I had to go out of the game.  I couldn’t coordinate my hands with my eyes to catch a lofty, slow-flying red playground ball.  I laid on the outfield grass and heaved breaths, sobbed for no discernible reason, was an unsolveable mess, and had to go back indoors before everyone else.  I thought I had failed as a man, that she would never want me (turned out she never did, but for reasons other than kickball).  There, then, at a moment in which I was almost completely divorced from my body and the pressures of the regular outside world, I remained unable to understand how others might perceive me, was unable to correctly order what was important from what was trivial and ludicrous, was so set in my mind how I viewed myself that I laid in the outfield grass not worried about why I could literally see my heartbeat in my thumb, but about appearing unmanly.  Damned idiot, always a damned idiot even when I’m just inside my head.  Is this what our lot is, as human, to be stuck in this vacuum tube of a skull and never know who or what we are?  Even now, more than a decade removed from that day on the kickball field and any bottle of any type, I don’t know what kind of a person I am.  Do you?  I spend time being grateful for this wonderful little life I have all the time, and yet daily find myself drifting into needless trifles; how much is that magazine I want? Can that person actually park there?  Maybe I should shave this goatee.  What time is Under the Dome on?  Is that even on on Sundays?  I think it’s Mondays this season.  Do you think my high school teachers remember me?  Maybe I don’t make enough of an impression on people.  Or do I try too hard to make a good impression?  Maybe I’m over-bearing.  I need to work on that, start thinking about it more clearly, with more resolve.  Is that black mold over there?  I don’t know much about black mold, I should look it up.  In endless loops.  All that shit in endless loops and at the end of each day (if you measure your life in days) you are no closer to knowing if you are a good person, a good and true person who is true to yourself and doesn’t hurt other people.  How can you know?  How can you know?  I just got home from visiting my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in, in the rural central part of Pennsylvania—all rolling hills, clusters of trees, right at the foot of the Appalachians in the Cumberland Valley.  The house sits on a neat rectangular acre across the street from an expansive Mennonite farm.  It’s calm and still, and the days pass with mostly silence outdoors, the grass growing and the animals making noises in the brush, a car passing every five minutes, fading into the static as quickly as it came.  Dad has hummingbird feeders set up by the porch and we sit out there and watch them, their wings moving as fast as lightning, flitting to and fro, drinking, drinking, then buzzing off to some other urgent affair.  Occasionally one will rest on the pole that holds their feeders, sitting still for a few moments, its head moving up and down and all around, as if to contemplate the surroundings.  But we know better.  It isn’t contemplating a damned thing.  It’s just guarding its territory waiting to eat again, waiting to reproduce again, getting ready to fly again, just simply waiting to respond to impulses.  It’s a beautiful, adorable little creature, but it is not contemplating shit, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think.

Funeral Procession on the Banks of the Yangtze

Posted in Memoir, My Poetry, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2014 by sethdellinger



It wasn’t long ago that I burned with a freshly-stoked fire, all the time.  It was piss and vinegar in equal parts.  Rave and rage, rave and rage; in my early thirties I was still writing poems about the horrible old days with too much booze and darkened rooms, and long screeds about our destructive system and the persistent search for personal authenticity.  I burned for the world.

I still burn for the world, of course, but now it’s more of a smoldering, smoking thing.  Now it’s more about vintage photographs and war documentaries and less about poems called “Labia”.  It seems to be an evolution of calming that all but the most robust must go through.  For every Iggy Pop there’s a dozen Dennis Learys, their shouts quieting to quaint heartwarming television shows about firefighters before their 50th birthday.  Where does the hot blue flame go?  Why must it?  What is the fuel inside us that burns off?


Fifteen years ago:

The Duck Pond, the actual name of which is Children’s Lake, is a shallow, man-made lake in the scenic town of Boiling Springs.  It is about fifty feet across, and perhaps four-hundred feet long.  At it’s deepest point, it is perhaps five feet deep.  Large, multi-colored, boulder-sized rocks line its bottom.  It attracts a wide array of wildlife: ducks, geese, swans, turtles, beavers.  There are manicured walkways all the way around it, red park benches at regular intervals, and little vending machines that dispense corn, in case you may want to feed the ducks.  You are not supposed to go there at night, although I often have.

I make myself a fresh gin and coke in the huge plastic McDonalds cup.  Someone retrieves a few beers from the trunk.  We all make sure we have our cigarettes.  We set off, to walk around the Duck Pond.

At night, you can hear the ducks, the geese, out on the water, but you can’t see them.  They aren’t very active at night, but every now and then, you hear a splash, the flap of a wing against the heavy air, a short quick quack.  It is melancholy in that worst way: dreary foreboding.

There is a place where the path kind of ends, and you are left to walk through grass for a bit, and under the canopy of some Willows.  In the sunshine, this part of the lake is the most beautiful.  At night, it’s majesty is lost.  You can feel the grass, and perhaps the spray of the dew against your shins, but the willows are lost in the night.  The copse has disappeared.

If you were standing at this spot during the day, you would see that a narrow cement platform has been constructed, extending about fifteen feet into the lake.  This is like a small concrete dock, which serve as a place for the birds to hang out without being in direct contact with human passers-by.  During the day, this concrete dock is covered by birds; squaking, flapping, quacking birds.  During the night, it is abandoned, and is covered only in bird shit.  But it is truly covered in bird shit, like some foul Pollock.

As a group, we stop here.  We are mostly silent.  We are smoking, drinking, thinking.  I start to take my pants off.

Someone asks me, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to run down that cement dock and jump in.”

They try to tell me not to.  They warn me that the water is very shallow here, and that the concrete dock is awash in bird shit.  I wave off their warnings.  Have these guys stopped wanting to see how far they can go?

I take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, my underwear.  I’m a naked man at the Duck Pond.  The guys have warned me, so they are no longer worried.  They are watching, smiling, ready to laugh and tell me they told me so.

I take a long sip of my drink.

I start running, down through the grass and then suddenly my feet hit concrete.  It is terribly slippery, and even while I am running, I can feel the bird shit sticking to my heels, squishing between my toes.  It is a gross feeling.

In this light, it’s not easy to see where the platform ends.  Just in time, I realize I can see the moon’s reflection in the water; I use this as a guide.

At the end of the platform, I jump hard and high, as if from a diving board.  I pull my legs up under my ass and clasp my hands under my shins: the cannonball position.

And I freeze there; I hover.  Time seemingly stands still.  See me from the back: my shaggy, rarely groomed brown hair, my pimpled back, a bit of flabby belly spilling over into view, my two half-moon ghost-white butt cheeks, and directly below that, the soles of my feet.  And in front of me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me, as if you were a movie camera.  Stop when you are beside me, at my profile.  My mouth, wide like Pac-Man, my ample gut, spilling forth like a sack of oatmeal, the curve of my haunches, my arms flung below me, seeming to hold me in place, to levitate me.  And behind me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me further.  Stop when you are in front of me.  See that look on my face?  That excruciating yawp of desperate living, desperate to feel these moony waters; see that fat, oatmealy belly, my hairy, caveman chest, nipples erect by the night wind, the pale fronts of my wobbly knees, my black overgrown nest of pubics, my dangling penis reduced to a nub by a run through the darkness.  Now look behind me: look at those guys standing there, their faces frozen in various forms of laughter, disbelief, worry, apathy.  Look at those guys!  Oh, they are probably worried about so many things; I am sure they are worried that I am about to hurt myself.  Also, looking at the set of their mouths and the glint in their eyes, I’m willing to wager they’re worried about drowning in a ferry accident with two-hundred strangers in icy cold water somewhere, or whether they’ll ever get to walk the length of South America, or what they’d do if they found a dead body in a hotel hallway, or if they’ll keep having that dream where they show up to the wrong building for a college final exam, or if they have syphilis, or if they’ll ever be the father they want to be, or marry a woman as great as their mother, and in there somewhere are the realizations, too, the realizations we are having every moment of every day: the lines of morality and sanity we keep drawing and moving and drawing again with everything we observe, and the list of Hopes and Dreams that is under constant revision without us knowing, the importance of breath and bras and bicycles all neatly ordered and the smells we love so much like old books and stale cake and the things we know we’ll never do like fly a jumbo jet or hide in a refrigerator to scare the crap out of somebody and oh look at the list of regrets written all over these guys faces the women they wanted to fuck the cars they wanted to buy the movies they wanted to see as though they were already dead as though their whole story had been told but that’s not the truth now is it we lived, we were burning to live, we were burning to live!



Fifteen minutes ago:

I took a long walk this afternoon.  From my house, I went west down Jackson, all the way to Broad, where I stopped in a coffee shop for a huge iced coffee, which I then drank luxuriously slowly as I made my way south down Broad to Oregon, where I turned east and headed back home.  This is a journey of about two miles, at the end of a satisfying, long day.

You pass a lot of interesting people and places on this trek.  As I neared home (still on Oregon, though) I started seeing numerous dogs and their owners, almost all small dogs.  Dachshunds, Yorkies, that sort of thing.  They were all so nice and polite, the dogs as well as the owners.  Here we were, almost as south as you can get in the city of Philadelphia—a place with a reputation, and we’re all just smiling, saying hi, waving at little dogs.  It was nice.

I was listening to Glenn Miller on my headphones, that kind of sentimental Hallmark music with just enough swing to get your feet moving.  The trombones were sliding under the trumpets, and the stand-up bass was standing up while the guitars were laying it down in a lively rendition of “Johnson Rag”.  The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the brick row-homes, the intense angle beaming those cosmic particles onto the scruff of my neck, making me hot, hot.

At the corner of Oregon and 3rd I stopped and turned around, let the sun hit my face, felt the glory of the universe, et cetera, et cetera.  It was odd, facing that direction and the long, close-cropped street stretching out before me, how difficult it was to make out what I was seeing, with the sun directly in my eyes.  I knew I had just passed an old man on a lawn chair with a dachshund and a beer bottle at his feet, as well as a Korean Laundromat and a Little Caesars pizza joint, but the buildings and the wires and the cars, so backlit like that, could have been almost anything; one moment it was Oregon Avenue, the next, enormous Easter Island statue heads, bowing in unison, and then it was Oregon Avenue again, with the little dogs, then the sun dropped another millimeter, and I could have sworn for a fleeting moment I was standing on the ancient banks of the Yangtze, 7,000 years ago, watching a slow funeral procession walking along the shore.  Who are these people, the Hemudu?  They look so sad, so weighed-down.




First House

You can recreate the view from the balcony,
looking at the brown gray neighbor’s house
an arm’s length away.
You can recreate the slanting afternoon light
through the thin-paned windows
coated in dog-nose-snot.
You can recreate the padding dog feet
on hardwood floors,
the paisley relief-map kitchen wallpaper,
the cave-like musty humid basement,
the smell of oatmeal and warm sugar.
But you’ll never recreate (or even remember)
how you got from one room to the next,
or what order you kept things in
in that closet, or desk drawer,
or how many times you fell asleep
on the cold living room floor.
And no one will ever quite know
where that little figurine of the Asian-looking man
came from (the one next to the sink,
looking at the fridge.)



Speed Dial

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by sethdellinger

Just a few minutes ago, I went into my basement searching for a specific book which I had not heretofore been keeping upstairs.  I had no idea where it was.  While searching for it, I opened a bunch of boxes that I probably hadn’t properly explored in years…stuff I just keep lugging with me from move to move.  In one, I came across an old cigar box that I had entirely forgotten about.  This is it:



This box is the earliest version of boxes I have today, in which I keep just about everything…tickets, programs, invitations, etc.  Well there were things in this cigar box that just blew me away!  Things I have ZERO memory of keeping, and I have no idea what made me think of keeping them at the time, but now they are incredible to see…old paychecks, school class schedules, appointment cards, etc. (And, paul, I found the ticket stubs to the two Seven Mary Three shows we saw together!)  Anyway, most of it will be only interesting to me, but I might post some of it here from time to time, as it suits me.  But this one thing seemed worth posting now.  Here is the little card that was on the phone in my bedroom in high school that showed what I had set as speed dials…I couldn’t help but post this and then tag the people who appear on it (those who I am in contact with on Facebook)…what an interesting snapshot of an era for me.  And how interesting that I had the movies on speed dial even then (it’s hard to read, but #8 says “Movies”) And my grandma? (number “zero” says “Gram A.”)


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