Set in Ontario and Dublin, Ireland, As My Sparks Fly Upward is a collection of stories about ordinary people thrust into life-altering circumstances, where the fight-or-flight impulse kicks in, and the human heart is placed on Life's anvil for another hammer blow.
Murphy's Law PressPoem About Being Bored I wish I was doing something fun Poem While Standing in the Rain Waiting for the Bus I wish I was somewhere warm & dryThe collection is rounded-out with a series of letters I wrote to a publisher in Dublin, after pitching Sparks to her. Why should anybody care about what I’ve written? Because I’m engaged in mortal truthtelling. As the cure for cancer may reside in an obscure root in the desert known only to rattlesnakes, I present As My Sparks Fly Upward: peyote from the far end of obscurity.
It begins with “Aisling”, an ode/elegy for the city in which I grew up. The story “Oblivion Spin” was written after I saw Lou Reed at the Fox Theatre in Detroit—witnessing the weird, rhapsodic response his slow, meditative songs elicited: fierce cries, screams from a madhouse. “Journey to the Gate” depicts the afternoon I ventured to Bono’s home in Killiney, County Dublin. I lived in Ireland for a couple of years in the late 1990’s, and heard that the gate fronting Bono’s estate was an amazing copper immensity filled with etchings done in Bono’s own hand. Larry Dun in my story “Grudgingly” comes home after Spring Break to find that his name appeared on the Obituary page of the local newspaper. And then there’s “Hadley.” Every reader has told me this is the gem of the collection. Hadley is a thirteen-year-old deaf girl who writes two-line poems:
* "These stories are mine, and so is that city huddled on the Detroit River, watching the water flow past, and life extending all around."
* "The November night is bitterly autumn: cold, leavestrewn, scarcely an evening separating day from night. A wind blows off the Detroit River. Clouds sweep across the sky in ribbed strips of cirrus. The stars hold their place, faint and distant, pinpointing the vastness of space above the streetlight-glare of the city. The moon, halved and lopsided, is framed between the buildings looming over Woodward Avenue. Scraps of paper cartwheel in the gutter: candy wrappers, sections of newspaper, handbills advertising tonight's concert at the Fox Theatre. It is Saturday night, the sidewalks of Woodward are busy with fast walking, huddled couples, panhandlers, cops on the beat, parking lot attendants directing traffic with their flashlights topped with glowing orange cones."
* "The empty Interstate stretches before the car like a used wick. The morning sky is clear and pink, and I'm doing my best to keep from dozing at the wheel. I'm hungover, but conscious. Leo sleeps in the passenger seat."
* "When full dark came, I got to looking at the stars and thinking they weren't stars at all but sparks of memory, experiences lodged in the firmament. That in the night sky above the park where I first kissed a girl, one of those glowing pinpricks held that moment. Above the neighborhood where I lived as a kid, above Jessica Fountain's house where I first fell in love, above Dillon Hall where I taught my first writing class—one of those brilliant specks in the sky held each particular moment."
* "The first rock concert I ever attended was to see Bob Dylan. I was fifteen. Since then I've seen most of my favorites: U2, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughn, among others. However, the greatest rock and roll moment I ever witnessed occurred in the summer of 1985: watching Live Aid on TV.
I was fourteen, and had been playing guitar for a couple of years, steeping myself in rock 'n' roll mythology: reading Jim Morrison's biography, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, the biography of Jimi Hendrix, Neil and Me, by Neil's father, Scott Young. I discovered the film and soundtrack to Woodstock, 1969, the previous year. However, Live Aid was the first musical Happening of my life. I waited with keen anticipation to see Led Zeppelin and The Who—both reuniting for the event—along with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Santana. Before any of them took the stage, U2 played.
I was home, strumming my guitar, paying little attention to U2's performance until Bono launched into the chorus of their song "Bad"—his voice gathering like a storm, filling Wembley Stadium: ocean surf crashing upon shore. I marveled at the power, the plea in it.
Soon after, Bono dropped the microphone to the stage, and walked away.
As the band played, he jumped down to the platform where television cameras filmed the concert. He ran past a cameraman, and surveyed the massive audience.
I set my guitar aside, watching.
Bono waved his arms in a beckoning gesture, calling the crowd forward. He stopped. Seemed flustered, frustrated by the enormity of the audience. Then he bent over the platform's guardrail, pointing into the crowd. Pointed, and brought both hands to his chest. Pointed and gestured to himself, singling someone out. Again and again, saying with his emphatic movements, "Her. Bring her to me."
A gasp rippled through the audience when Bono climbed over the guardrail, and dropped into the moat between the security fence and the base of the stage. Three members of the security staff, in yellow T-shirts, worked to extract a young woman from the mob writhing at the fence. Photographers swarmed in.
When the young woman was pulled free, she threw herself into Bono's arms.
And there, amid the tumult of security, photographers—garbage strewn on the ground from the crowd along the fence—the screaming multitudes thronging the field and filling the surrounding stands, Bono danced with the girl. Eyes closed. Holding her hand, holding her close, as though alone in a quiet pub, moving to a favourite song.
I watched, transfixed, breath caught in my throat, a flash of tears searing my eyes. I was only fourteen, didn't know much about much, but always sensed there was more to rock and roll than electric guitars and long hair; more than just entertainment—and had just seen proof of that.
Bono kissed the girl, then climbed back up to the TV camera platform. He took up the microphone again, and filled Wembley—filled me—with his voice.