30 June, 2011

Painter Brad Greenwell Donates Artwork to Help the Free Byron Case Campaign

My tremendous thanks go to Brad Greenwell for his contribution of a fabulous framed oil-on-wood work, the sale of which will go towards legal fees as I fight my wrongful conviction. Brad also signed the petition in support of my pardon by Missouri's Governor Nixon, thus joining punk-art legend Winston Smith and the sublime pop-surrealist Henry Lewis in generosity to the cause.


The Reconciliation, 2007, Brad Greenwell

Inquiries about contributing to the cause by purchasing this work may be made via the e-mail link at FreeByronCase.com.

21 June, 2011

Confessions of a Word Nerd

I was born this way. Not an hour out of the womb, my parents told me, I babbled and burbled a proto-linguistic stream — there was no crying, just that innocent, excited exploration of verbosity. After months in utero and mute, I was too thrilled about the feel of random phonemes on my lips to get upset about my new, weirdly spacious accommodations.

The first German word I learned from my W├╝rzburg-born mother was Hubschrauber — helicopter. Flattening my three-year-old tongue and curling my mouth to get those three munchy syllables out pleased me to no end. Letting the word fly from me felt like an accomplishment, so I repeated it over and over. The meaning was secondary to the sensory experience of forming it.

Today, of course, I write. And as any writer will, I hold dear a select few words. Because I like to think I'm grown up, usually it's because of their mere usefulness. (I am forever impressed with the myriad applications that exist in life for apropos and utter, and will be the first to acknowledge my own overuse thereof.) Then, though, there is that other class of words — the one which I am less beholden than infatuated by. Like comely mannequins in a window display, who catch your eye without even being alive, these words' aesthetic perfection, effervescence on my palate, or the flawless singing in my sensitive ear draws me in. I'd buy whatever they were selling.

Except these words, like mannequins, are incapable of loving me back. I can't enjoy a night on the town with the lovely aubergene — where in this country might I take her that would be sufficiently upscale? I cannot broach meaningful conversation with crepuscular, whose chilly affect stills almost any dinner table, gorgeous though she is. It's almost impossible to sit in repose with nepenthes on the sofa; certain relationships just feel forced. And although I fooled around with handsome vermilion in my teens, the attraction being undeniable as it was socially unacceptable, that's now little more than a fondly remembered stage, almost quaint, like my puppy love, Hubschrauber.

I keep my exotic unrequited loves in mind; I fantasize about them while I'm spending time with plainer prose. Sometimes I stray — an errant poetic affair here and there — and luxuriate in sibilant bliss with, say, adscititious. I mean, I'm only human and need a thrill now and again. Too bad I've got to sneak around to do it — that's all I'm saying. My beauties deserve better than to be treated like fetish objects, hidden away. Maybe I'll live to see a day when, instead of just talking about my complex feelings for melisma and metonymy, I can actually bring them to social gatherings without attracting all that jealous condemnation. A guy can dream, can't he?

11 June, 2011

A Travesty at Ten

My friend Anastasia was eighteen and ridiculously in love when the gun was brought up to her face and fired. She was weeks away into her first year at college, and dreaming of marrying her boyfriend, Justin. The shock of her ugly death was exceeded only by news, agonizing days later, that twenty-year-old Justin had shot himself in the head before investigators even learned Anastasia's name. There followed turmoil, and grief for both of them that words could never express.

But you know this story, don't you? Hell, you may have even read the book. So you know what came next: that in a sense my own life ended three and a half years later, when I was arrested, charged, tried, and found guilty of Stasia's murder — even though I had nothing to do with the crime. The epigraph on my metaphorical tombstone reads


Today I'm ten years gone.

Consider your own life a decade ago — where you were, what your days were like, how young you were. Consider the distance between then and now. Imagine next that it had all stopped then; imagine your past self exiled to a limbo where little changed and you experienced the passage of time only through the betrayals of your own body and the aging of those who graced your purgatory with their occasional (if transcendent) presence. Who might you have become in such a place? What thoughts there might've consumed you? At what point do you suspect you'd have collapsed under the weight of it all, a snap rending in two your bitter little heart? When, in other words, would you have broken?

Ten years gone. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days spent in the shadow of oppression, denied rudimentary comforts, and tortured by the threat that it will go on and on and on, to the end of me. Not one of these days has passed without my thinking, This has to end. Something must make it right. I am obsessed with the idea that truth and justice will eventually be done, never mind the universe full of evidence to the contrary.

With so much time passed since the awful events that set the stage for this miscarriage, I often have to force myself to remember the long, rusted chain of causality that brought me here. It would be easy to forget that my circumstances are entwined with that twin tragedy of half a lifetime ago — that I am sharing my friends' fate; that a lie is bound us beyond the grave, cruelly.

I vividly remember a dream I had around Day Two Thousand. I was in an empty old warehouse. Gaps between boarded windows let dust motes swim listlessly in streams of light from a setting sun, and I was calmly searching for an exit. Battered wood floors creaked under every footfall. Turning a corner, I happened on Justin and Stasia. They were standing in front of a towering window, peeking out at the world. They looked exactly as they had in life. By dream logic, I instinctively knew that they'd never actually died but come instead to that place to be together and young forever. I choked. Years upon years of sadness from their disappearance suddenly meant nothing, which was itself a kind of loss to mourn. I wanted to rush to hug them but was afraid. Would touching them destroy whatever allowed us to share that space, like trying to capture a soap bubble in dry hands?

"I've missed you," I told them, my face burning with emotions. "So much bad shit has happened since you left."

They looked at me strangely; though, not unkindly. They both spoke. "Who are you?"

"What?" The rejection was a sting. "It's me — Byron."

"You're not Byron," laughed Stasia. In the murk of our weird meeting place, her teeth shone.

Smirking in the way I'd almost forgotten he did, Justin adjusted his wire-frame glasses. "Yeah," he said, "Byron would never dress like that. Plus, I think he was taller."

"No, guys, it's really me. Don't you remember?"

They didn't. I tried desperately to convince them of who I was — that I needed them to come away with me, back to the outside world, to straighten everything out. Proof they were alive would save me from lingering death. Except they thought it was all a joke and laughed away my earnest pleas. The harder I pressed, the less they believed me. I awoke on my upper bunk in a dark cell and hugged my chest until morning, feeling as if my heart were a fractured vacuum tube about to implode.

Everyone has a limit on what they can bear. The trick is rebounding from collapse with a sense of purpose. I like to think I keep purpose foremost on my mind. Every day I wake up dreaming of the end. Every day I wonder how I might bring it about. Every day I focus on freedom. Every day I imagine a future in which every damned day doesn't begin and end locked inside a concrete box. I'm not even angry anymore at my ex, Kelly, the pathetic character whose lies put me here —Aesop taught us we can't begrudge the scorpion for stinging — I just want back what was stolen. I just want the bad dream to be over. I just want to live.

05 June, 2011

Books for the Incarcerated

I recently found a listing for the Prison Library Project, which provides books of all genres to prisoners around the US. Prison libraries are notoriously understocked, so the generosity of the community nonprofit that runs the Project, the Claremont Forum, is a wonderful thing. Earlier this week, the Prison Library Project surprised me with a couple of books of literary fiction that will undoubtedly be shared with some fellow readers here as soon as I'm through with them.

I urge any reader and literacy advocates to click the above link to the Project's homepage and make a donation — a book, a box of books, or something. They've done right by me, and I'd like to see that their thoughtfulness can be extended to others, too.