Inspiration Approaching Perfection

100-word stories inspired by the lyrics of David Berman

Image of David Berman courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

Stealing someone else’s words has always been my favorite cure for writer’s block. The key is to steal like an artist (per Austin Kleon) and avoid copyright infringement.

I hope I’ve done that here. 

The Silver Jews’s 1998 album American Waterhas long been one of my favorites. I borrowed a few words from the lyrics to each song to spark a 100-word story or, in one case, a reflection. 

The album starts off “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection.” (Hear it on YouTube.)

I didn’t dare touch that line, and though I’m sure I’m not working at Berman’s level, I think some of these came out pretty well. 


Back to Work After a Brief Summer Shutdown

Photo by Simon Hajducki on Unsplash

Three roustabouts chew tobacco outside the smoke shack. Squinting under the midnight sun, they discuss sports, child support, and tan lines on ring fingers.

They complain about low-quality fruit in the chow hall.

That they’re at a remote camp in an arctic oilfield is not considered relevant.

They scratch and spit in unison. Like they’re line dancing for cancer.

Their talk shifts to politics. They consider themselves patriots, their nation a light unto the world, their lives part of a divine plan.

I suggest American inequality, racism, and pollution highlight the need for more humane guidance.

It’s an unpopular opinion.


Road Trips Where No One’s Looking

Photo by Charles Ham on Unsplash

In Pedro Páramo, Juan Preciado travels to Comala to meet his father. Too much dust, too many ghosts in the superheated air to know what happens when he gets there.

What’s real and what’s imagined?

Does it matter?

In The One Inside, Sam Shepard writes about himself, his tiny father, about winding roads crisscrossing the landscape of memory.

What’s real and what’s imagined?

It doesn’t matter.

I’m moving to Mexico to write more. I’m hoping to catch something — not sure what, I’ll find out when I get there — in a net of words.

I hope it’s good enough to matter.


The Federal Dream Turns to Dust

Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash

A lone gull in a South Dakota parking lot tells me the water in the thunderclouds weighs more than all the gold stolen from the Black Hills.

It says that because sin compounds faster than interest, the blood money in Federal bank accounts will never be enough to buy land that wasn’t for sale.

The gull says greasy grass grows greenest where Custer’s blood flowed.

Taking wing, the gull prophecies that the granite faces will crack, that monuments built on lies will crumble to dust.

Thunder roars. Wind-blown gravel lashes my face.

A wall of water climbs over the hill.


Riding in the Backseat

Photo by Zhanjiang Chen on Unsplash

Riding in the backseat I smell gas and hope Benji wired up the muffler good, cuz when he doesn’t it drags and sparks, and I know two things for sure: gas drips outta this piece-of-shit car, and the only thing faster than fire is bullets, which is a fucked up thing to know at fifteen, but I didn’t make this shit-infested world, I just got born into it, and yeah, I’m not perfect, but most of the shit isn’t mine, and another thing I know for sure is that when things don’t suck, it feels good just to be alive.


Even Up There

Photo by Nick Tiemeyer on Unsplash

Walking home from school, Kevyn and I drag our fingers on the boards of the fence that runs around the country club. That’s enough that we get yelled at, some days, but we walk outside, on the sidewalk, and Mama says poor people are allowed to use the sidewalks.

The moon is out, even though it’s daytime, and Kevyn says his teacher told him someone is selling land on the moon.

I look at the moon a minute then say, “Even up there we have to worry about trespassing?”

Kevyn sighs and says, “Yeah, little brother, that’s how it is.”


The World’s So Full of Places

Photo by Kevin on Unsplash

I been tryin’ all day to find my way home. Been walking on dirt roads past stone walls and old barns.

I should know where I am, but I don’t.

I don’t know this oak tree. Big as it is, it’s gotta be older’n me. This hill it’s on ain’t new, either.

I don’t know where I am, but I know it smells like rain and that the road runs downhill in both directions from here.

I think I’ll sit awhile.

I’ve lived around here my whole life, but the world’s got so full of places anymore, it terrifies me.


Mark’s Not Talking Anymore

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

No blinds on the window. Can’t help watching the red and blue lights dance on the undersides of the clouds.

“Cherries and berries,” Mark said. He’s not talking anymore.

We can’t shut blinds that aren’t there. We can’t turn out lights that aren’t ours.

No choice but to let the red and blue lights in through the window and in through our eyes to burn their tracks on the backs of our brains.

“Cherries and berries,” Mark said. He’s not talking anymore.

Won’t talk ever again.

“Cherries and berries,” Mark said, running into the street, a smile on his face.


Air Crickets, Air Crickets, Air

Photo by KMA . on Unsplash

I never believed the Bible. Not the void, not the light, not even god himself.

Damn sure not the talking snake.

But this morning, well, shit felt decidedly Old Testament.

I opened the curtains and found myself subjected to a plague of crickets. So many they shaded the sun. Mm-hmm. Dead ones knee-deep on the porch. Everything on the peach trees smaller’n my thumb eaten up before I got my pants on.

Crickets didn’t bother the pigs none, though. No, Sir.

So, I’ll feed ’em crickets and live on pork chops and relief checks til next year.

I’ll be fine.


The Only Way Out is Through

Photo by Scott Van Hoy on Unsplash

Turning rent money into whiskey used to sound daring, maybe even romantic in a stupid way, but nowadays the idea makes me cringe in anticipatory fear of a hangover.

I guess age makes cowards of us all.

Or me, at least.

I remember when I bought into the idea that alcohol helped, but those days are long gone. Still, I’ve listened to enough country songs through the years that I’m tempted. Not as much by the alcohol as by the idea there’s something might help. Pill, powder, liquid, belief. What-have-you. But there ain’t. Just gotta keep going til I’m done.


Something Will Always Give Us Away

Photo by Nemuel Sereti on Unsplash

What if artists stated their pain in simple declarative sentences?

What if we didn’t hide behind chord changes and rhymes, characters and far-off future worlds?

What if we didn’t have to resort to signs on bumpers or invent a desperate morse code of car horns and headlights?

Oh, never mind.

There are so many impossibilities already waiting in line in this world that this one won’t even make it within sight of the turnstile before the oceans boil and the atmosphere burns.

With jukebox melodies, with or without friends, we’ll smile and wave and we’ll make it through the night.


Coda

Any Joos fans out there will have noticed I’ve got 10 entries here and there are 11 tracks on the album. “Night Society” is an instrumental, so I didn’t write a centina for that track. If you want one more story, try this one (that’s a free link).

© Copyright 2021 by Jim Latham