Literature / Poetry

An Excerpt: Res Publica

The Etruscans were a unique and strange peoples; they lived north and north-east of Rome in the Po valley and Etruria. They spoke a foreign tongue and yet were so close to her dear Rome; they fought with an army consisting of Latins and their own, able-bodied Etruscan men. We have heard stories of them battling and fending off the barbarian Celts to the north of Italia’s peninsula, but we have yet to see it first-hand.

I recall my first battle with the Etruscans, and I was disappointed at their lack of ferocity and valor. Our legion was under the command of Legatus Aurelius Spartonius, and we marched north from Rome into the heart of the Po valley to encounter an Etruscan force of ca. 4,000 Italian spearmen, 400 citizen cavalry, and a ghastly sight of disorganized Italian militias who numbered around 1,000 men. Legatus Spartonius had asked the Senate for a command of 10,000, but received just shy of 3,000 hastati, 1,000 principes, and the famed Legion of Mars, which was a veteran regiment of 1,000 triarii. We also had the usual assortment of the baggage train and the flanking regiments of velites and equites¸ and I cannot forgot my own incorporation into the army: I was part of the speculatores regiment. My job was to screen and explore ahead of the main body to attain the enemy’s positions, find useful flanking and attack paths, and warn the body of any natural and unfortunate obstacles that would hamper our ability to attain victory.

We equaled the Etruscans in strength, but the fortitude and discipline of the hastati was enough to break through their front lines. We had marched onto the field just before dawn. The crop was a pale yellow, and the sun in its wee hours illuminated the sky in a pink-violet tinge. There were young ripples of clouds sprawled out in the air, and it looked as the eyes of the Gods smiled upon the sons of Rome to attain victory against the Etruscans. The night prior to the battle me and three compatriots had rode, silently, ahead of the camped legion to discover the Etruscans foolishly lying on a gorge of small hills. Their fires were easily visible to us, and we could discover their numbers and order of battle without much difficulty; they had the militias and spearmen on the immediate right flank, and the citizen cavalry on the left, for we could hear the rearing of the horses and the banter of the militias in the nighttime atmosphere.

The rising of the sun occurred just as we had finished our battle deployment. I stood to the far left of the line behind the triarii, and inspected our force; it was a terrifying and superior sight to see. The glazing of the bronze and iron on the bodies of the soldiers, and the firmness and fearless pose in which they stood, would have scared the Gods themselves. The hastati stood as the first line in the order of battle; they are young, strong and able-bodied men equipped with the gladius, two pila, and a large, rectangular shield that came to represent their rank. Behind them stood the majestic principes, who were the more seasoned and mature of the legion. And at last stood the famed and feared triarii, the heaviest infantry in the Roman realm and a force that could crash and fight against death itself. It is not often that Rome, or a legatus, fights a battle to the triarii, but certainly a battle would end in decisive victory.

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Literature / Poetry

An Excerpt: Requiem for a Man

“Can I help you, miss?” I asked nervously.

She sighed heavily in relief.

“You live on this floor, I hope?” She inquired softly.

“I sure hope I do; got keys, furniture, and rent.”

“Which apartment do you live in? I think Gloria gave me the wrong key.”

“I live in apartment 27.” I walked closer to her and stood in front of the door to my apartment. I pointed my index finger toward the door, and prepared to get out my keys.

“See, my key doesn’t open the door to apartment 25.” She demonstrated that the key would not permit the door to open.

“Did you want to come inside my apartment? Figure it out later? Can’t stay out her alone, and you look exhausted.” I said sincerely.

A surprised look came on her face. She contemplated my question for a moment, and slightly nodded to me in compliance. A small smirk came upon her face. I opened the door to my apartment, and I picked up her trunk with my left hand and motioned with my right for her to go in before me. She proceeded slowly into my living room, and I followed her inside and shut the door behind me.

The small dim of light from the sun was slowly coming in through the balcony window. The rain persisted, and gray overcast clouds covered the New York sky. I set the trunk down by the front door, removed my jacket and belongings, and sat down at my kitchen table. She removed her scarf and sat down on the opposite of me. It was quiet for a moment. The pat-pat of the rain continued, and I breathed slowly in and out, exhausted.

“Thank you.” The woman whispered quietly.

“You don’t need to thank me, its fine. Do you want to get some rest? You can sleep in my bedroom if you like, I’ll stay out here on my small loveseat. I don’t sleep a lot anyway.”

“What’s your name?” She asked solemnly.

“Vincent.” I replied. “And yours?”

“Victoria.” She said. She was staring right at me. I felt some sort of negative vibe within myself that inclined me to not look at her in any way; I stared at the middle of the kitchen table.

“What is your profession?” I inquired.

“I am studying to be a schoolteacher.” She whispered.

“Didn’t answer my question.” I replied.

“Oh, you mean my line of work right now?” She asked. A look of slight guilt came upon her face. “I don’t know whether to tell you the truth or lie to you.”

I looked up at her. I stared into her face for just a moment, and looked back down at the table.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you, Victoria. You don’t have to respond if you don’t want to.”

“I’m a prostitute…” She replied quietly. We both looked down at the table in silence. I didn’t know how to respond.

“Did you want some coffee or anything?” I asked apologetically.

A small grin came upon her face.

“No thanks.” She replied sweetly. “You know, you’re the only man in my personal life that hasn’t judged me the second I revealed myself to be an escort.”

I looked up and stared into her eyes for a moment.

“I am only but a man.” I replied softly. We stared at each other a little longer, and then she got up from the table, looked back behind her toward my bedroom, smiled slightly at me, and continued toward my bedroom. She opened the door and went inside, but left it slightly ajar. I contemplated in silence what she was asking of me. I stared at the ground, and then got up and moved toward my cushion loveseat in the living room. I sighed a heavy sigh, stared at my bedroom door, and slowly fell asleep. I remember the light of the sun was shining dimly through my balcony window, and the rain had stopped. It was quiet, and there was peace.

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Only Men

“Danny, I’m pregnant.” Samantha whispered; her eyes were pointing toward the ground.

A frosty and shocked silence overwhelmed the room. You could hear the drop of a pin, or the squeak of a mouse without difficulty. Like the world faded away for just a moment. I looked over at my brother Danny; a glazed thousand-yard stare in his eyes. I looked not into his eyes, but into his soul; into his manhood.

He got up from the couch, stared at Samantha for a moment, slowly turned around, and sludged out the front door of the house. Samantha and I sat in the living room, neither of us saying a word.

“He’ll be back. Give him some time.” I declared to her.

She didn’t reply. I looked at her, a disturbed look was upon her face. I saw a hint of shame and regret in her eyes, but I saw more of an emotion that took me aback: courage.

“Will you keep the baby?” I inquired.

She spoke in a whisper, “My mom always told me that a girl believes it takes courage to give up a baby’s life; she also told me that only the strong woman believes it takes courage to keep it, love it, raise it, cherish it.”

I didn’t know what to say; such words struck me to the core of my soul. My younger brother Danny has just walked out of our house at the news that he is to be a father. What words would I give him to make him realize that he would need to be responsible for his actions? I precipitated the notion that I may not need say anything at all: Samantha’s courage would be more than enough to inspire him.

Samantha stood up from the couch, sighed a heavy sigh, and stated she would return tomorrow to hear from Danny. I place my hand upon her face and wiped a lonely tear from her cheek. I hugged her reassuringly, and said that Everything is going to be alright. For once in my life, I think she believed me.

I sat in the living room until after dusk. Then it came around to be midnight. The darkness blanketed the world, and I was accompanied only by the lonely glow of the sapphire-colored nightlight in the bathroom hallway. I pondered and fixated preparations for how I would help Samantha and Danny deal with a child; the situation in my mind was, at most, tenuous. To the best of my ability as a man and older brother, I could not conquer the situation that, in nine months, would become a reality. I needed to talk to Danny.

He came through the front door to find me sitting in the shrouded darkness. Seemed as though he was expecting me.

“Hey, Alex.” He muttered to me. He came in, took off his shoes, and sat down opposite of me. He stared at the ground, and I stared at him; I examined the 16 year-old boy that was my younger sibling; the boy that I had raised alone since our parents died four years ago; the boy that somehow I had to teach to be a man and step up to the plate of fatherhood.

“Danny. We need to talk about this.” I said to him.

“I know. Alex: what do I do?”

“I thought father and I raised you never to ask that question.”

“Father isn’t here anymore, Alex. I’m asking you: what do I do?”

“Do you see the plaque that’s above our front door, Danny? You and I read that plaque every day of our lives before we leave the sanctity of our home. Every morning. What does that plaque say, Danny?”

“Alex, don’t give me this philosophical bul….”

“What does it say?” I screamed at him. His eyes shot up to look at my face; he possessed a look of terror. I tempered myself, and his eyes drifted back to the floor.

“It says: No Gods or Kings, only Men.

“Are you a man, Danny?” I interrogated.

“No.” He confessed.

“Then why is it you perform adult activities? Sex is not for the weak, Danny. Or for the young and innocent and foolish. Sex is for men. Are you a man, Danny?”

He didn’t reply; a look of shame overwhelmed his eyes.

“You are now, Danny. You are a man. You are going to stop looking so goddamn sorry for yourself, grow the fuck up, and take care of that woman and that baby. That is what father and mother would have you do, and that is what I would have you do. This isn’t some game or joke anymore. Samantha is going to keep the baby, and she is going to have the courage to raise it and love it as best as she can. That’s sacrifice. That is a woman. She is going to accept her mistake, forgive herself, and deal with it. I can’t tell if she’ll forgive you, but that’s out of the question. And you need to do the same, Danny. You need to get a job, be disciplined and temperate, and be prepared to become the father of a child; a child who’s life, hands, feet, and heart are your responsibility. That child will grow up, and make something of itself in this world; that child will look back upon its life and say, ‘My mom and dad did so much for me to give me the best that they could’. You know why, Danny? Because you are going to do your best. Its not going to be easy. But I’m here to help you; your 24-year old brother is here to help you. So is Samantha. But most of all: your going to need to help yourself. Can you do that?”

Danny looked me dead in the eye with a fiery passion of tears and emotion. He stood up, looked up at the plaque above our flower-covered front door, and said, “Alright.”

By Adrian Lopez

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Lament

This is an excerpt from a new novel I have begun to write. Comments appreciated.


I

     I didn’t see it on the news. None of her friends called me, and I didn’t hear from it at school. Two policemen showed up at my front door in Antioch. I answered the door on a particularly normal, humid summer afternoon. I saw the police cruiser outside, and the men took off their hats and asked if I was Adrian Lopez. When I replied yes, the tall, bearded cop on the left of the doorway said that there wasn’t any easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. Your friend Maya committed suicide this morning. She left a death note on her desk: it’s got your name on it.

I was in a state of sheer shock and disbelief. It took my brain a few seconds to comprehend the words that just came out of the man’s mouth. The policemen declared that they would have to take me to her house and have me answer a few questions. I sat in the doorway for a moment; my eyes glazed a bit. And then I followed them to the police cruiser, and I didn’t say a word. I got in the back seat, and I pressed my forehead against the window. The car rocked back and forth as we sped off toward Concord, where Maya’s father lived. I looked up outside the window into the clear blue summer sky, and I could’ve sworn I saw the eyes of God staring into my soul; he was laughing.

We arrived outside of her father’s house in exactly 12 minutes and 13 seconds. That was the longest 12 minutes of my entire life. The bearded policeman opened my car door, and I stepped outside to a funeral-type scene of medical technicians, the coroner, and Maya’s father standing outside the front porch of the house. He looked at me with his swollen, bloodshot red eyes; a look of fury and depression was infused in his pupils. As I approached the house, the plethora of people split from the stone walkway and allowed me to pass onto the porch. Maya’s father, the disdainful and violent man she would always talk about, was a pathetic and unworthy sight. He had short cut black hair, and was carrying a Giants snapback in his hands. He wore a white wife beater T-shirt, and sagged his pants a few inches below his waist without a belt. As I stepped onto the front wooden porch, I turned my head and glared right into his eyes. Not one word was spilled from his lips, but I heard everything he was trying to say.

The bearded policeman told me that Maya’s body was found in her bedroom: she had hung herself. He say that If you want to go inside to see her and read her note, you may do so; but please don’t touch anything, for the room has already been detailed. A look of suspicion and pity was upon his face; I could see it in his eyes. I trudged slowly up the staircase; there were exactly 14 wooden steps, and the last 4 to the top creaked slightly. The walls of the house were painted a pale yellow, and there was a crucifix upon the wall at the top of the staircase. A picture of Jesus Christ himself was on the hallway wall before the door to Maya’s bedroom. It was a picture of him and his disciples at the Last Supper. I glared into the picture for a moment; a sense of sadness and anxiety zipped right through my body. My hands began to shake, and my eyes began to tear up. I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

I slowly creaked open the white door that led to Maya’s room. I closed my eyes in fear of seeing a horror that I could not handle. Once I had the door pushed up against her bedroom wall, I slowly opened my eyes with my hands covering my face. She was hung in the middle of the room from her black leather belt that was attached to the plastic chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. Her eyes were closed, but she was looking right through me. Her crispy brownish-blonde curly hair was banging down the sides of her head. Her lips and skin were pale, and her body was motionless. There was a detesting and foul odor in the room: it was the smell of death. I was overwhelmed with terror, sadness, and rage. I began to cry hysterically, and I slowly slumped down to the floor holding onto my knees. I covered my face with my hands, and rocked slightly forward and backward. I sobbingly spoke the words Why, Why, Why to myself in my fit of emotion.

After a good four minutes, I composed what little I could of myself to approach her pink mahogany desk in the corner of her bedroom. There was a piece of binder paper placed directly in the center of the desk, and written upon it in pink pen were words that will haunt me for the remainder of my life:

 

Adrian,

I’m sorry things went wrong between us. I was wrong to not realize how great of a guy you are. You never betrayed me or lied to me or tried to take advantage of me. You never gave up on me and you were the only one who was there for me when even I wasn’t. I am sorry that I have tortured you for so long. I have neglected you and your love, and I have caused you unspeakable amounts of pain. I am sorry. I am sorry for everything I’ve put you through. This will be the last time I talk to you. I don’t deserve you. I am not good for you. I can never forgive myself for pushing away the one guy who was my best friend: you are my best friend. And I turned you away; I neglected how perfect our lives could be together. I love you, Adrian. I always have. I always will. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that sooner, but I am not going to hurt you anymore.

Love always and forever,

Maya

 

 I stared at the letter for a moment, and I lost it. I started screaming and crying in a state of sheer delirium. Why Maya? Why? I screamed. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry for everything! The policemen rushed inside and pulled me out of the bedroom and out to the front porch. I collapsed on my knees and sat there on the grass. A female medical technician kneeled down beside me and rubbed my back slowly, saying Its going to be OK. Shhhhh she said quietly. I hugged and cried into her shoulder.

After the coroner had taken away Maya’s body, the medical personnel began to leave. Maya’s father shook the policemen’s hands and went into the house, and I had pulled myself together just in time to see the female medical technician get into her ambulance. She waved for me to come to the window. Are you OK? she said. I nodded slightly, my eyes looking down to the street. She took her index finger under my chin, and raised my eyes to meet hers. You’ll be alright, hun. she said. I backed away from the ambulance and she drove off slowly down the street. I couldn’t forget the look she had in her sparkly greenish-bluish eyes. It was a look of hope. I trudged over to the police cruiser, and the policemen and I got inside and began to drive home. I looked through the rear windshield and saw Maya standing in the middle of the street, her curly crisp hair waving slightly in the wind. She had her glasses on, and she was waving goodbye to me. I turned back around, looked out the window, and did not say a word to anyone.

II

     I didn’t talk to anybody for two weeks. My mother called my work and told them to give me time off. It was summer vacation, so I didn’t have to go to school. I just stayed in my room. I didn’t eat much. I didn’t go outside or watch TV or play video games on my computer. I had the window closed most of the time, the blinds all the way shut. I would put on a apple cinnamon candle every night, and stare at it from my bed while it glowed in the darkness. My mother would open my bedroom door every morning before she went to work, and would say she loved me and that she hoped I feel better. My older brother didn’t talk to me much or see me; I think my mother told him not to. I just sat in my room, and did nothing. I didn’t have it in me to do anything. It felt like I was the one hanging in that bedroom. It felt like dying.

One day, I decided to go for a walk. I put on some blue PE shorts, a white plain T-shirt, some black slippers, and started walking. It was maybe 10 o’clock in the morning. The birds chirped as they usually did. The sun and the sky were out, bright and shining. I don’t know how far I walked from my home, but I stumbled upon the Antioch community park. It was a luscious, expansive patch of grass and redwood trees. I followed the white stone pathway to the center of the park: there was a colorful play structure with a sandbox in the middle of the field, a softball field to the far end of the park, and a few metal benches hidden in the shade of the trees. I sat down on one of the benches and listened to the rustling of the leaves; the chirping of the birds and sounds of the wind’s breeze. I watched the flies dance and celebrate in the sandbox. A crow flew onto the pathway to the right of the bench. It croaked several times and stared at me. What do you want? I said. It croaked again, and walked to the left side of the bench.

Maya was there sitting next to me. She was staring at the crow.

“I think he just wants someone to talk to.” She said. She looked at me, the rim of her glasses reflecting the leaves of the redwood tree.

“I don’t want to talk to anybody right now.” I replied. I looked away from her, for I couldn’t bear the thought of staring into her green eyes.

“You can talk to me. I will always be here for you. Always have been.”

I looked at her, a small smile on her face. Her pink, soft lips. Her cute little nose. It brought a lonely tear to my eye, and it slithered down my cheek.

“Why did this happen, Maya?” I asked.

“You should think about that.” She said to me. “I want you to think about that really hard. Where did we go wrong?”

“I don’t know where to start, Maya. Things were complicated between us.”

“If you don’t know where to start, why not start from the beginning?” She said. She stood up from the bench, and looked out onto the field. She put her hands on her hips, her curly hair blowing in the wind. I closed my eyes for a moment, and I felt the window blow against my face. The crow croaked again, and I opened my eyes in a shock. The crow, and Maya, were gone. I was left in the company of my bench, the redwood tree, and the wind.

III

     I first met Maya in 6th grade at Pine Hollow Middle School in Concord. She didn’t look much different than she did now. Still had glasses, the cute little nose, and the soft brown freckles on her cheeks. She had braces, and was about my height. The only real difference was her hair; its more curly now than it ever has been.

We didn’t have any classes together, though I would always see her in the halls. Never really thought anything of her. We weren’t the best of friends in 6th grade; as a matter of fact, we never really talked that much at all. We had been introduced before, but we didn’t hang out or talk very often. I was oblivious to her, and she was oblivious to me. That’s probably the one thing about 6th grade that I regret: I didn’t know who Maya was. I didn’t get to know what type of girl she was, what she was like. I didn’t pay attention to her. I still think about what life could’ve been like if I had. If we had been better friends, things could’ve been different. But life is the way it is, and it was not our time.

I remember a particular incident in Mrs. Kahl’s class. We were in the middle of Language Arts and were about to transfer over to World History when Maya, who was the office TA in 6th grade, came in with a note. Mrs. Kahl was just about finished with reading a passage from the textbook, and Maya came strolling down the aisle toward Mrs. Kahl’s desk in the front of the room. I don’t know how it happened, but a boy stuck his foot out in front of her; she tripped and nearly plowed onto the concrete floor if I had not caught her in time. Some of the boys in the class giggled, and some of the girls sneered and glared. It happened so quickly, and yet it was like I saw it coming. I jumped out of my desk in a flash and caught her with my arms in a hug-like fashion. Are you OK? I said. She nodded slightly, her cheeks red with embarrassment. I smiled slightly, and sat back down. She gave Mrs. Kahl the note, and exited the class in a hurry.

I remember later that day at lunch she came up to me when I was sitting on a green, plastic bench in the quad. Thank you. she said to me. I smiled slightly, and replied No problem. We sat there for a moment, and glared at each other. Her group of friends came along and swept her away. I still remember the glance she gave me when she turned around before they went into the cafeteria.

After that, we didn’t talk too much. I didn’t see much of her for the rest of 6th grade. I always heard about her, though. An occasional rumor here and there about “Maya the weirdo”. Some girls would be talking about how she was a loner and how she didn’t really hang out with anyone. She just sat quietly in class and did her work. I never paid much attention, but its interesting to reminisce about it now. I think in some way, I should’ve paid more attention to Maya. Maybe she was a loner, and maybe she just needed a good friend to talk to. But I was too young and foolish and naïve to pay any real attention to her or anything in the world. I didn’t understand what love or friendship meant. I didn’t understand how valuable a friend could be. I just carried on with my day-to-day affairs, and I didn’t speak to Maya. I didn’t think about Maya. If I was to put it in a blunt way, I didn’t care all that much about Maya in 6th grade. But, as life would have it, things change.

 

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“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, is one gem of a novel. It is moving, depressing, gripping, and downright surreal in its true and only form. Published in 1906, I can see how this book has changed the course of the United States business and political system, as well as reveal all sorts of atrocities and horrible experiences that makes you appreciate the type of work, and benefits, that the workingman or women possess today.

I started reading it after hearing of its grotesque and downright disturbing reputation as a novel. Even for a novel so gripping and disgusting as The Jungle, I am surprised by its lack of involvement in the curriculum of schools. To my knowledge, it is not on the official list of books to be taught in schools in California, and I have no clue whether teachers acknowledge the book at all. I have had few teachers that can say they actually read it, let alone college students and my fellow high school peers.

It is not a book for the light-hearted: in laymans terms, this book has made me want to go to work for 16 hours in a day, and believe that no breaks, low wages, and backbreaking work solely responsible off the sweat of a man’s brow is considered honorable and generous. It has changed my view of working-class citizens of not only today’s generation of men, women, and children, but also of how things have evolved.

We live in an age of unemployment checks, medical and disability leave, maternity leave, paid sick days, 8 hour work days + a little overtime, and where minimum wage is $8.75 an hour. Back when this book was written, and long before that well into the 1800s, none of these “luxuries” existed. A man was responsible for himself, his safety, his food, his family, his work, and his drive to do what was considered fair and honest work, and for sure as hell got no acknowledgement or help from his employers and bare to none help from his fellow workingclass men and women.

Perhaps I sound annoyed or disgusted with the luxuries that are provided to working-class men and women of our time, and although I may not fully understand how we have come to gain these luxuries over the course of the last 110 years, I can say for certain this The Jungle is an incredible and heartbreaking novel that has had enough of an effect on me to inspire me to write these words for any passerby who wishes to listen to them. This novel is the tale of human spirit, values, morals, and suffering in its most simplest and raw form. Over the course of these last 100 years of labor, war, advancement, and competition in the world, so have changed the values, morals, and understanding of the working class man or woman. For better or for worse, I could’ve answered the obvious common answer before I read this novel; now I am not so sure. Although they are good things that are thrust upon society, and not to say they are not honest, hardworking and good-honored men and women in this world that do deserve a break, it is nonetheless a break that not everybody deserves.

I would take that latter statement to the grave. Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest library and bookstore and read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. You will be haunted and changed as I have.