If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of the band Marah. I’ve raved about their music for decades in print and online, and recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Pennsylvania band’s co-founding brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko. Well, on top of being an outstanding musician, Serge is also one helluva writer. If you subscribe to his weekly Thunder Pie essays via Substack, you already know. If you don’t subscribe, you should. To give you a taste, Serge has kindly agreed to let me run excerpts of his column every week. Here’s the first instalment. If I know you, you’ll like it.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
— Carl Sagan
The bats appear with the lightning bugs now. The summer evening comes on strong in these parts; the old mountains blow cool down into the valleys and the long hot day, she begins to slip and stumble. The collapse is muted. Subtle. Graceful, I guess. Across an hour or two the world/ our world here/ it dies tired and beat/ a heart that wants only rest/ ambition fading/ and is magically reborn with fresh slick skin/ right before our eyes.
Right before your eyes.
The summer evening rises up out of the maggot-riddled roadkill day like some twilight ghost ready to gamble. Ready for the limitless night.
In the Adirondack chairs Arle painted blue last year, we sit with our drinks, our Miller Lites and our cheap red wines, and we watch the whole thing go down. Just the two of us, listening to the Bluetooth speaker, the tunes somehow soundtracking these fleeting moments in marriage in full swing.
If it’s up to her: we listen to Bright Eyes. Or Bruce. Maybe Sam Cooke or Solomon Burke. Stevie Nicks. Billie Holiday. Julie London. Her music fits me too, although I also understand that she plays it that way. More than I do for her, probably.
I play my Chet Baker. My Miles. My Coltrane and blah blah blah. If I’m pretty buzzed I play old Charlie Daniels stuff and talk a blue streak about the lyrical genius of it all. Then when she tries to say something, I hush her quick.
Shhhh!, I smile, my finger to my lips. Listen to this line!
And she does, inevitably. She smiles from inside a weak frown that comes from as genuine a place as anything we’ve got. In her times of Bluetooth control, she tries harder than me to pick music that she knows I will like too. In my times, I try less, I guess. It’s not something I’m proud of. And you know, it’s never too late to just let her have the picks every damn night.
Fuck Charlie Daniels anyways. Fucking Louis L’Amour John Wayne asshole.
The bats swoop and dart at the bugs in the low sky just above us. Some nights we light some sticks and logs in the rusted fire pit she got me for Father’s Day a few years ago. We never really used it all that much. It got rusted out there in the snow and the rain. The sun pissing down hard heat on the punished body. The black paint flakes off like skin cancer. Like a dead body rotting by the tree swing. But things have changed. I don’t know why. Everything changes, I know that much. The changes come whether you want them or not and sometimes they hurt so bad and other times you end up sitting there under the bats, grinning through your buzz.
It’s 8 o’clock on a summer night.
The fire pit’s going.
I look at her over there in her tight tank top. The rust colored one. Her face looking up at the white pine branches/ looking up at the vultures a mile deep above us/ I watch it too and I feel the upsidedownness of it all/ the sudden shifting of directions/ us looking down instead of skyward, into the clear pond, the mountain lake, the tipping blues pulling us in and I can see a wild bird swimming down in there/ never flapping his goddamn wings/ forever and ever/ just moving without swimming/ soaring without flying/ on a thermal/ in a current/ I don’t understand how any of this works.
But look at her now, I tell myself.
Look at her thinking about just diving into it all.
On the edge of the thing, the drop, the climb. At the cliff with a leap in her heart.
Look at all this.
Her. The bats. The dogs over there in the grassless dirt, the summer dust. Walking tight circles and barking at the people coming down the alley, walking toward their own summer evenings getting born back behind ours popping out right here.
I tap my jelly glass with my middle finger fingernail. Clinkclinkclink.
It’s our little thing, a little bullshit game we play in the face of all the political correctness and righteous indignation lined up around every corner. Tapping your glass to tell your significant other without words that you need a refill is about as obnoxious and sexist and disgusting as it can get before you cross over into places you can never return from.
But for us/ it has taken root. There is a game, a race if you will, to be the one who gets the other one to walk the long path from the fire pit to the kitchen, or even the much shorter one from the couch to the fridge. After all, to not move a muscle and yet be rewarded with alcohol is the American Dream in a nutshell and you and me both know it. Plus, if it’s your wife doing it for you, there’s that sharply honed edge added to it all. That ironic twist of fate in which one serves the other in such a blatant fashion that it almost HAS to be seen as both wrong and foul by anyone who would be present and witness the whole process.
From the clinkclinkclink to the getting up and shuffling off with the empty vessels to the returning not long after with healthy pours and unopened cans sweating their chilled sweat balls out onto this unfolding strange beauty.
It’s almost a crime, I suppose. I guess I see it that way in the more sober light of day. But whatever. The darkness is sometimes important too. In the yard, maybe. In the bedroom, for sure.
We are not who we seem.
Our love is fierce and feral/ our souls are melting together/ and we are dirty carnals/ humanistic empaths/ bat lovers who have run from bats (me) and rescued bats (her).
Her eyes pull out of the dream above us and settle back into this one. She smiles, makes her little face.
Really? Fuck you, man.
To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.